Friday, December 30, 2011

Alex Makes Art #66

Oh wow I guess this is the last art entry for 2011, how momentous an occasion. Looking back over my archives I have 43 posts in the Alex Makes Art series for this year, so my one-a-week goal was nearly realized! And sometimes I had two things in one week so maybe it evens out. I'm too lazy to do a serious count. I really enjoy creating art for movies I love, and I hope I can continue at the same pace in 2012 as I start grad school and continue to work two jobs. Not too hopeful, to be honest, but we'll see. Plus I've had a few more commissions so that's exciting!

If you're curious about all the cool stuff I worked on this year you can check out older posts or there are a few photo albums on my facebook page for simpler viewing. And as always you can go to my etsy shop for posters, prints, and originals for sale. I promise the money is going to student loans so I can become a regularly functioning adult! I'm responsible!

ANYWAY. Today I give you something you never asked for, and will likely not appreciate as much as me, but I don't care! I love Weird Al! I love UHF! I also love Polish movie posters that feature a large, partially-obscured face as the main motif (it's a popular category). So naturally I combined all these loves in a poster design for UHF. Awesome. It's for sale, too.

See you all in 2012! I hope you have awesome New Year's Eve experiences, I know it can be a shitty holiday for some. Personally I'm just going to try and not have a cold like I usually do. So far so good.

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

While You Were Sleeping (1995)

Seen: On dvd on my parents' widescreen tv, from my mom's collection.

I tore through several Christmas movies while I was visiting my parents this weekend, and was happy to make time for one of my favorite holiday-themed romantic comedies, While You Were Sleeping. Sandra Bullock stars as Lucy, a token taker at a Chicago train station who lusts longingly for regular passenger Peter Callahan (Peter Gallagher) whenever he passes through the gate. On Christmas Eve he's pushed onto the tracks, saved from death by express train when Lucy rushes to pull him away. He's in a coma for a week, during which time Lucy is mistaken for his fiancée by his lovable but overbearing family who invite her without hesitation into their lives. Lucy- who has no remaining family- loves feeling a part of something but knows she has to tell them the truth before Peter wakes up, especially when she starts to fall for his brother, Jack (Bill Pullman).

This movie is one of most 90s-ish things ever made, I'm pretty sure. Which is one of the main reasons I dig it, clearly. Everyone dresses just awfully, which is in a way refreshing as our romantic heroine hangs out in frumpy sweaters and turtlenecks, with messy hair and general unglammed-ness. She snorts when she laughs and she makes silly jokes and she talks to her cat, and I think she's a pretty well-realized character, especially for a light-hearted romantic comedy lead. Her conversations with Bill Pullman and the rest of his family are fairly hilarious and reminiscent of holidays spent with my own relatives.

Of course in true romantic comedy fashion there are plenty of over the top situations and ridiculous misunderstandings that can detract from the strength of the characters. I think the most unrealistic thing about this movie is that Peter Gallagher is portrayed as some golden god when we all know he's really silly looking. I mean, seriously.

While You Were Sleeping is basically just super cute, primarily because of its incredible cast (Helloooo Glynis Johns, world's second-best grandma! After my own grandma of course, duh) and strong dialogue. Also maybe I kind of have a crush on Bill Pullman and maybe he's at his peak around this movie. JUST MAYBE.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Well it's no secret I find Sandra Bullock pretty adorable, so I'd go with another of her films. Maybe Miss Congeniality? The Lake House? Love Potion No. 9? Two Weeks Notice? Oh man should I be admitting I've seen all these movies... multiple times?

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011)

Seen: In IMAX at the AMC/Loews at Boston Common.

Hey you guys! Talented animation director Brad Bird directed a live-action movie, isn't that exciting? It's got, like, Tom Cruise, and there are spies, or something. Ok so I haven't seen any of the previous M:I movies, so I didn't particularly care that there was a new one coming out. Especially since I'm not a big fan of Tom Cruise. But I was so curious about Bird's live-action debut, and the supporting cast is so good, that it wasn't hard to convince me to see Ghost Protocol. Legendary secret agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is rescued from a Russian prison by agents Benji (Simon Pegg) and Jane (Paula Patton) so that he can help catch a terrorist with stolen nuclear activation codes. Eventually joining up with Brandt (Jeremy Renner), logistics analyst or something to the Secretary (of what, I'm not sure. Defense? State?), the team travels from Russia to Dubai to India, all without official aid from the American government after a bombing of the Kremlin sets the nations up for possible all-out war.

With a number of nail-biter action sequences, some well-employed IMAX visuals, and a general sense of fun, Ghost Protocol is quite simply a good time. I loved the wacky spy technology (that hallway video thing? Magic magnet suits?) and weirdly antiquated concepts (is Russia really considered a big movie villain again?) and exquisite locations (Ahh! The Burj Khalifa is SO TALL!). I dug the silly jokes from Simon Pegg- always a welcome addition to any movie- and Renner's general badassery as he prepares to take the reins from Cruise. As usual with most ladies in action movies, Paula Patton has to be "the sexy one" in most of their plans, but she gets some butt-kicking in along the way. And thank god we only had to see Tom Cruise with his shirt off for one or two scenes. I'm not saying the guy's not in shape, but there is some weird shit going on with his upper body and it makes me nervous to look at it.

ANYWAY turns out Brad Bird is an awesome director no matter the medium. There are so many thrilling action scenes and exciting chases, and it seems his experience in animation has allowed him to exaggerate reality a little bit in some of the shots. The story itself takes a back seat to the action, which is pretty normal for movies like this. I didn't really care about the threat of nuclear war here, to be honest. I just wanted to see them catch the bad guy, I mean jeez Michael Nyqvist is surprisingly spry!

Good times, movie. I was impressed.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Presumably one of the other Mission: Impossible movies? I've heard the third one is cool.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Breaking In (1989)

Seen: On my tv, streamed from netflix instant.

Well Burt Reynolds is in a movie, so I guess we'll watch it! In Breaking In he stars as Ernie Mullins, an experienced thief who takes dopey mechanic Mike (Casey Siemaszko) under his wing because he catches him breaking into a house for fun. Mike learns all about safe-breaking and home-made explosives, but becomes too frivolous with his money to show off for a prostitute (Sheila Kelley) he's crushing on. There's friction between the new partners but they reunite for a big job at a holiday weekend fair.

Breaking In is the kind of ok, mostly forgetful movie that falls through the cracks as time passes. Reynolds is wisecracking and surly, Siemaszko is goofy and idiotic; they make a decent comedic team. There are some cool thieving sequences but little over-arching plot, and the whole thing is bogged down by a pointless romantic subplot and lack of drive as it goes on. It's enjoyable enough for Reynolds and the more thrilling/actiony bits, but there's not much to say about it otherwise, really. Although Stephen Tobolowsky does have a bit part!

3/5

Pair This Movie With: Buhh I don't know. Matchstick Men?

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Monday, December 26, 2011

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr T (1953)

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

I'm pretty sure I first heard about this movie on the Frankly, My Dear podcast, the episode about messed up kids movies. The mere notion of a Dr Seuss-penned and designed live action movie excites me, regardless of its box office failure and general lack of now-classic status. Accentuated with frilly outfits and twisty setpieces, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr T primarily takes place in the daydreams of Bartholomew Collins (Tommy Rettig), a young boy terrorized by his pompous piano teacher Dr Terwilliker (Hans Conried). He envisions a future in which his tutor builds a school for his students that will actually imprison them, hypnotizing their parents and forcing 500 boys to play his songs on a massive piano. Bartholomew's mom (Mary Healy) is the first to fall under the Doctor's spell and so the boy enlists a wise-cracking plumber (Peter Lind Hayes) to help save her and prevent the school from opening.

Seeing Dr Seuss's candy-colored, Escher-esque nonsense worlds come to life on a complex soundstage is pretty magical, and a big part of what makes this movie so interesting. Story-wise it's a bit jumbled and at times oddly cliche (oh no a lady needs to be rescued, how troubling), and I wonder if Seuss was just more suited to shorter-form narratives, but with memorable characters and some fun tunes it's salvageable. I loved the nefarious Dr T, played with malicious glee by Hans Conried. He's flamboyant and evilly British and has a strong vocabulary, all traits I look for in a villain. He's also the most cartoonish of the actors, which of course is fitting for Seuss's exaggerated sensibilities. Peter Lind Hayes is enjoyable as well, playing a self-serving plumber with a heart of gold and some killer skill on roller skates.

The songs are goofy and over the top (well everything about this movie is, really) and several of the musical numbers are damned impressive. That huge piano-less band sequence? Dang. I can't find it on youtube but I'd argue the film is worth viewing just for that. I loved the terrifying implications of "Elevator Dungeon", and of course there's the gloriously frivolous fashion frenzy "Do-Mi-Do-Duds". Adorable.

I have to say though: I know it's the 50's, but did anyone except for white dudes play instruments back then? I mean it's just dudes dudes dudes, even among the students- all little boy piano players. As a former orchestra geek, I totally object.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Several weird kids movies come to mind, mainly Return to Oz, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. If you want a more grown-up movie I think some of the imagery is reminiscent of The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus. Plus they've both got doctors.

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Young Adult (2011)

Seen: At the Kendall Square Landmark Cinema in Cambridge.

Desperately trying to recapture her youth through ghostwriting a once-popular series of young adult novels, Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) doesn't realize how desperate she is. When she discovers her high school sweetheart Buddy (Patrick Wilson) has just had a baby with his wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser) she heads back to her small hometown to try and rekindle their romance. The more she interacts with her old classmates- especially Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), a bitter nerd with a crushed leg-, the clearer it becomes that she is mentally unstable and a blatant alcoholic.

Unapologetically acerbic, Young Adult is a dark comedy that manages to feel utterly realistic in its portrayal of a former bitchy prom queen who can't move past her high school perspective. This isn't a quest for self-fulfillment or some wayward daughter goes home and learns life lessons-type tale. This is a brutal, mean look at a woman in her late thirties who continues to sneer contemptuously at everyone who wasn't cool in high school, and finds most of her actions vindicated by the people around her. No one is brave enough to tell Mavis she really needs some help, except for Matt, whose biting observations are laced with sarcasm and never taken seriously by their target. Their dialogue is hilarious both in its wit and mean honesty, though sometimes it was weird to laugh with these characters while simultaneously feeling sorry for how ignorant they are of everything. Diablo Cody tones down the quirk and even pokes some fun at teenspeak, adding a self-referential element that I appreciated.

Charlize Theron is kind of awesomely crazy in this movie. She hides her crackling mental state behind a condescending stare and self-important air. I loved the attention given to her beauty routine, lending the portrayal a rawness that I think would surprise some viewers (I know the two guys who saw this with me were somewhat awed by the concept of all-over foundation and various other layers of make-up she applied). Patton Oswalt, who's the main reason I even saw this film, is his usual excellent self. He's funny and a total jerk and it's great and I hope he wins awards. Also the most important casting news is that Collette Wolf of 100 Questions fame is in this! Oh snap! 100 Questions, my favorite tv show that's also the worst show ever made!

Young Adult is at times tough to watch, but ultimately I enjoyed its cynical take on lapsed maturity. It's not perfect, of course, as Reitman's minimalist direction sometimes keeps the story from progressing and I found Patrick Wilson sort of weak in his performance. And I know Mavis as a character is polarizing, but while I found her to be pretty awful I loved that she at the very least stayed true to herself in her awfulness.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: I was sort of reminded of Margot at the Wedding, what with the depiction of a totally unlikable protagonist and annoying people surrounding her.

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

High-Ballin' (1978)

Seen: On our big-screen/projector set-up, streamed from netflix instant.

You guys, have you heard about Jerry Reed? Yes? Good, then you've been paying attention. In High-Ballin', the man co-stars alongside Peter Fonda as a good-natured trucker who is being pressured into working for a major trucking company in the wake of a series of truck hijackings in the area. Instead the two best buddies team up with a lady (Helen Shaver) who is maybe a trucker? She drives like a trailer thing but perhaps also has her own truck somewhere? Unclear. Anyway. They'll put a stop to these jerks.

After White Line Fever last week I'm really learning a lot about the apparent struggles between big trucking companies and independent drivers in the 70's, a topic I had never even considered. But I guess it was a prevailing thing (maybe it still is?) so multiple movies were made about it. High-Ballin' starts off as a sort of light-hearted action flick pitting a small group of truckers against this mysterious force of killer hijackers. There's a killer driving sequence featuring various cars on fire and thrilling antics from Peter Fonda (his character is a retired stuntperson), a bar fight, and a couple of shoot-outs.

Unfortunately as the story progresses, it shifts away from Jerry Reed being his awesome, theme-song-singing self and focuses more on Peter Fonda and his terrifying hairline as he boringly romances the lady, known as Pickup. She starts off as a cool, tough driver but naturally devolves into an eye-batting, easily-kidnapped victim and Peter Fonda has to save her or whatever. Who cares.

Mostly High-Ballin' is an ok movie, and it certainly has some awesome moments. It just sort of loses itself in the third act, and I was disappointed (but unsurprised) with the handling of the female character. I dug David Ferry as this pretty-boy villain, though. He looked like he was 12, it was kind of great. Also Jerry Reed had a killer beard. And there sure is a lot of truckin'!

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: I have to say White Line Fever, mainly because I watched them within a week of each other and they sort of deal with the same topic. High-Ballin' is better though.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

CQ (2001)

Seen: On our big screen/projector set-up, streamed from my boyfriend's hard drive.

While editing and eventually taking over directing duty of cheesy science-fiction sexploitation film Dragonfly, Paul (Jeremy Davies) seeks artistic fulfillment by making his own introspective art film in his apartment. His obsession with filming everything puts a distance between him and his live-in girlfriend Marlene (Élodie Bouchez), and he finds himself growing more attracted to Dragonfly's star, Valentine (Angela Lindvall). He hangs out with materialistic movie people in Paris and Rome but never really makes any connections.

CQ combines aspects of DIY French New Wave, goofy high-concept 60's sci-fi, and behind-the-scenes movie-making for an eclectic but ultimately uneven and unsure film. It's got a lot of good ideas and a solid cast, but as it flits around from movie-within-a-movie to narrated self-pity, it comes off too disjointed. I was often confused about what was happening, what was a dream or film scene or reality, and while I'm sure that's partially the point, there was so little actual plot to follow that I found I didn't especially care about this effect. This is writer/director Roman Coppola's only solo feature effort to date so I guess I can't be too surprised that it's a bit clunky.

Gosh I sound negative! Moving past the structure/script/pacing issues, CQ is a pretty cool movie! It's got Jeremy Davies, one of the cutest people alive, and he gets to wear nice suits and charm some ladies and nervously navigate the inner workings of the European film industry in the late 60's. The fake movie he's making actually looks pretty rad, and the various glimpses of its futuristic setting and action espionage are silly and interesting, along with a look at how some of the visuals and effects are achieved. The soundtrack is excellent (some might say... "groovy"?) and there are some funny references and neat action sequences. I just wish it had all fit together better.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Because I enjoyed the Dragonfly sequences, this put me in the mood for Barbarella or The Adventures of Stella Star or some such outing. The realistic parts were a little reminiscent of Marcello Mastroianni wandering around Rome trying to figure out what the hell is going on in this crazy time in La Dolce Vita, but I don't think I'd pair the two.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Dancer in the Dark (2000)

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

Bubbly factory worker Selma Jezkova (Björk) has a pretty shit life. A single mother, she left her home in Czechoslovakia for America with the intention of working to pay for a special surgery for her young son Gene (Vladica Kostic). He is afflicted with the same genetic illness she is, which is causing her to gradually go blind. She hides this fact from him and pretends to be saving money for a Czech dancer she claims is her father. When her neighbor and landlord Bill (David Morse) admits to near-bankruptcy, a miserable chain of events is enacted that spirals Selma's life further and further down the road to Everything Sucks-ville. To cope with her trauma, she makes up musical numbers in her head.

It's pretty easy for me to align myself with a musical lover. It's no secret I wish my life was a musical, and I've been devouring them up since I was a kid- on both stage and screen. With Dancer in the Dark, von Trier and composer Björk experiment with one of my favorite genres to create a strange melodrama that also acts as something of a commentary on the supposed "American Dream" advertised by splashy old-timey musicals. Only in her fantasies can Selma achieve the kind of sugar-coated joy she longs to experience with her friends and family; she can't even act it out onstage, as her worsening eyesight forces her to drop out of the starring role in a local production of The Sound of Music.

Set in 1964, this is just around the time when classic movie musicals were falling out of favor, with rock music and a bit of grittiness finding their way into the genre, so it seems fitting that Selma's naive dreams are offset by reality. Of course, the amount of negative developments and just depressing concepts is at an almost ridiculous level here, and the story is very blatantly emotionally manipulative and over the top. Though I recognized that von Trier was playing with my head, I gave in and was strongly affected by the trials of this beaten-down protagonist. Björk gives a beautiful performance, characterized by ebullience and childlike innocence that defy her considerable struggle. It helps that I love her singing voice and the musical numbers- though fewer than I would have liked- are heartfelt and enormously entertaining.

It's overlong and heavy-handed in its storytelling, but generally I found Dancer in the Dark a successful venture. It retains certain trappings of classic musicals, including simplistic characterization and high-concept set-pieces, but for the most part forges ahead as a dark, dirty look at a woman who is decidedly in over her head. It is clear early on that there is no way this story can end happily; the musical numbers are there to both soften the blow and drive the nail in deeper. I know some people criticize this film for being overly manipulative and seemingly intentionally dismissive of musical stereotypes, using a normally happy narrative form and subverting it just to make things worse. While I agree with the first comment, it's not like Dancer in the Dark is the first sad musical. Have you seen Carousel? (Hint: don't see Carousel.) Or Miss Saigon? The King & I? Les Miserables? And nothing good happens in Carmen. This is a thing that has happened before, is what I'm saying.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: After this was over and I had cleaned up the many tear-soaked tissues lying around, I just wanted to watch something upbeat, so I'd say go with one of your favorite comedies.

Oh and I did make some art for this, though I hope to develop it further later.

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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Bin-Jip (3-Iron) (2004)

Seen: On our big-screen/projector set-up, streamed from my boyfriend's hard drive.

Tae-suk (Lee Hyun-kyoon) spends his days breaking into vacationing rich people's homes and practicing his golf swing. He's a pretty low-key guy. He doesn't steal anything, just hangs out and enjoys their comforts while they're away, eating some of their food and straightening up the place. One day he is discovered by Sun-hwa (Lee Seung-yeon), a bitter, abused housewife who finds herself drawn to him and his strange way of life. She leaves her husband to spend time with Tae-suk, but eventually the authorities catch up to them.

I have been meaning to see any of Kim Ki-duk's films for quite some time, and finally pushed for it last week. 3-Iron was on my long-forgotten list of 11 Films to See in 2011, so that's cool too. With a largely dialogue-free script and a minimalistic but emotional approach, 3-Iron is a beautifully-rendered love story that forces you to pay attention to details without ever saying a word. It is a tribute to expression, and especially to gesture. With pointed, deliberate movements the characters feel each other out and ultimately connect on an instinctive, sub-conscious level. The pacing is slow, but the script is filled with such delightful small moments and dramatic turns that I never lost interest; the lack of speech between the protagonists encouraged me to pay more attention to visual cues.

For me sparsity and minimalism in film can often be hit and miss, but the strong performances, offbeat story, and thoughtful settings kept me riveted. At times it's like watching a modern silent film, but with a more subdued atmosphere and talkative tertiary characters in lieu of inter-title cards. I love how it starts off realistically, but then slowly adds a surreal element in Tae-suk's struggle to fully disappear. It's a sad bit of magical realism as he mentally enables himself to be unseen by anyone but Sun-hwa, finally fulfilling his earlier attempts to live invisibly. But it's also a fitting and quietly beautiful end.

It has to be said, though, that Lee Hyung-kyoon has a really dorky haircut.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: For another movie with young people breaking into homes but not stealing anything- albeit in a more political manner this time- I do enjoy the German film The Edukators. Or for another conversation-light couple there's the experimental romance Four-Eyed Monsters.

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Alex Makes Art #65

Hey guys! How's it hanging? I am a little short on art times this week, what with end-of-year stuff and both my jobs and various grad school preparatory shit going on MY WORD. But I watched Dancer in the Dark (review forthcoming) the other day and was reminded how great Bjork is. So I did a little sketch of her from a scene in the film. We'll see if it turns into anything else, only me actually having some free time will tell!

Final reminder: If you're still buying gifts for an upcoming holiday, might I recommend some awesome movie- or music-themed artwork from my shop? Totally rad, totally reasonably priced, and several items are good for kids (they love that Harry Potter stuff). Use the coupon code BLOG11 and get 10% off your whole purchase!

Have a nice weekend, everyone! I'm hoping to see both Young Adult and Tomboy, and more importantly I should design a Dungeons and Dragons t-shirt for my brother. Shh it's a surprise.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hugo (2011)

Seen: In 3D at the AMC/Loews in Harvard Square.

Hidden away in the labyrinthine inner workings of large train station in 1930s Paris, young Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) spends his days monitoring the clocks and secretly observing the daily lives of the men and women who frequent the station. At night he works to repair a mysterious automaton that belonged to his father (Jude Law), but when he loses his notebook with details of the robot's inner workings to a somewhat sad and tyrannical toy seller (Ben Kingsley), Hugo finds himself launched into an adventure involving the early film industry in France. He's helped by a book-obsessed girl (Chloe Moretz) who pushes him forward into solving the mystery of the automaton and finding his own peace of mind.

Steeped in deep hues and layered with complex sets and tracking shots, Hugo is beautifully filmed and imaginatively plotted. The atmosphere of 1930s Paris is lively but at times bleak, with cameos from James Joyce and Salvador Dali as well as vicious Dickensian orphan snatchers. I loved the gear-filled behind-the-scenes of the train station and the colorful glimpses of French film pioneer Georges Méliès. In many ways the entire movie is a love letter to Méliès and the unremembered innovations and passions of early filmmakers. While that topic is interesting and somewhat magical for movie lovers, I wonder if it's a bit lost on regular-people viewers.

The cast is impressive, with Ben Kingsley classing up the joint and Sacha Baron Cohen giving an equally humorous and sad performance. Chloe Moretz is adorable and over-the-top British and I loved how she read tons of books and tried to use big vocabulary words all the time. She's like a little fashionable Hermione who isn't quite as useful. Michael Stuhlbarg, who should be in every movie, is awesome and almost unrecognizable behind his big beard and enthusiastic air. Asa Butterfield has a bit of the crazy eyes but I admit he's cute and pretty solid as the lead. I was very worried for his character's health, though, since he kept going about in the snow without any coat and his clothes were all thin and too small for him. He's totally going to catch a chill!

Hugo is lovely and exciting and somewhat magical, but suffers from an overlong running time and an honestly slightly underwhelming payoff. I guess I expected this to be more fantasy/sci-fi/adventurey what with the robot and big mystery and everything. While I liked the story and characters, I felt like the film was building up to something more extreme. Instead it is a more contained, personal tale that would work better with a more subdued tone.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: For a truly fantastical tale that also delves a bit into early film, there is of course The Fall. Alternately, at times I was reminded of Amelie for the pretty colors and quaint view of Paris.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Cobra (1986)

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

My comrade has been pretty psyched about this movie for a while, not sure why, probably because it has all the things that make a good movie. Stallone, fighting, guns, 80's synth beats: COBRA. He's just a tough-talking, no-mercy LA cop who all the other cops call in when things get too hot to handle. Which is apparently ALL THE TIME. When a wacky fascist ax cult terrorizes the city with a string of seemingly unconnected murders, it's up to Cobra to stop them. The only person to ever escape their attacks is a statuesque model (Brigitte Nielsen), now pursued by a series of violent masked dudes. She teams up with Cobra (in bed, that is) and there's a lot of chase-fighting.

So Cobra is pretty badass, unsurprisingly. There are all kinds of crazy action scenes, from high-flying motorcycle chases and grocery store hostage-taking to destructive fires and a climactic smelting factory showdown. The story is simple, with nothing in the way of twists or turns but offering an easy-to-follow examination of one tough dude's fight for justice, even when it goes against the law. Stallone is so hard-boiled he's almost a caricature of the ass-kicking silent type, but that ends up working for him. Brigitte Nielson was something of a let-down, I guess because I expected her to be more take-charge (I only know her from Red Sonja), but that's more an issue with how her character is written.

While I definitely dug the action and presence of Sylvester Stallone, the script is just a little too weak for me to all-out love Cobra. But its violence, fast pacing, imaginative weaponry, and appearances from not one but TWO Dirty Harry supporting castmembers kept me thoroughly entertained!

4/5

Pair This Movie With: We are planning a kickass double feature with Commando!

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

White Line Fever (1975)

Seen: At Sam's house with his new projector, broadcast on a very nice sheet. Rented from the Tisch Library at Tufts.

Ok so sometimes a poster and tagline ("Carrol Jo Hummer: A working man who's had ENOUGH!) are enough to get me and my boyfriend (and main movie-viewing partner) interested in a film. I mean come on, look at that truck crashing through a building! Dang. White Line Fever. Jan-Michael Vincent plays the working man Carrol Jo, a newlywed trucker who quickly realizes that the local trucking company is super corrupt and everyone who works there is a big ol' bully. He tries to stand up for independent truck drivers who want to make an honest living, but is shut down at every turn. Finally he just gets FED UP and has to TAKE CARE OF BUSINESS.

Equal parts campy grindhouse and boring trucking business exposé, White Line Fever is a hit and miss action drama that is likely of primary interest to people experienced in southern trucking in the 70's. There are some truly kickass action sequences, with Jan-Michael Vincent just all-out climbing on top of a speeding truck and shooting his way out of a chase scene. And that whole driving through a huge glass structure thing. Unfortunately a lot of the action takes place at night in dimly-lit settings so it could be hard to follow. The script is middling; a lot of the businessy stuff lost me because it wasn't really explained well and I didn't find it particularly engrossing.

That's about all I have to say, I guess. Slim Pickens shows up for a while and he is pretty great, duh. Also everybody's got big guns.

3/5

Pair This Movie With: Well it turns out Jonathan Kaplan also directed the pretty rad Truck Turner, so I'm going with that!

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Friday, December 9, 2011

Alex Makes Art #64 (UPDATED)

Hello friends. I hope you are all well. Last night I watched one of my favorite holiday-time movies (well, any time, really), The Shop Around the Corner. Feeling I hadn't made any art inspired by an older film in a while, it seemed a good time to do a drawing of the protagonists Mr Kralik and Miss Novak (Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan) as they do their best to ignore each other in a cafe while obviously secretly falling in love. For now it's just a pen sketch but I will be playing around with it in photoshop and hope to turn it into something a little snazzier this weekend.

Also remember there is a sale going on in my shop! Tons of awesome holiday gifts to be found there, I reckon! Disney? Harry Potter? Muppets? Suspiria? Battle Royale? I've got it all and then some! Coupon code BLOG11 gets you 10% off your purchase. Yay!


*****UPDATE*****
I made it better, hurray! I added sheet music for the song the cigarette boxes play, and I think it makes a nice background. It's available as an 8x10 print on etsy, how exciting.


And this is off topic but here's a thingie I made for a friend. It's basically a rip-off of this sign that we sell where I work, a thing that is over-priced and mass-produced in China. And it was too big for her room. So I made her a print that is less expensive and designed lovingly by an artist-type person. Hmm. Hopefully this wasn't unscrupulous?


PS For those of you who are especially astute, no I didn't jump accidentally from #61 to #64. Turns out a while back I did both #32 and #43 twice in a row like a DOLT, so now I'm trying to balance it out.

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Thursday, December 8, 2011

La Piel Que Habito (The Skin I Live In) (2011)

Seen: At the Kendall Square Landmark Cinema in Cambridge.

Oh Pedro Almodóvar, I haven't seen all of your films but I can determine a few of your favorite topics, including haunted pasts and transgender folk. The Skin I Live In is a multifaceted thriller centering around Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas), a pioneering plastic surgeon who keeps a human guinea pig (Elena Anaya) locked up in his house on whom to experiment with skin grafts. Gradually his past tragedies come to light through flashbacks, and his darkness eventually proves to be all-consuming insanity.

I'm going to do my best to not give any spoilers, but if you're worried then just believe me that it's good and go into it without knowing anything.

With a controlled, deliberate shooting style and a constant air of menace, The Skin I Live In is an utterly engrossing film packed with a series of narrative and emotional twists that gradually escalate until the very end. Almodóvar is smart to give us this story in pieces, suggesting certain outcomes (the opening hints at a science-fiction angle that turns out to be a red herring) and masking others. It is intense- almost overly so- at points, with a number of cringe-worthy sex scenes and nail-biting situations, but at other times it moves along slowly as it focuses closely on these dark characters. And of course everything looks impeccable thanks to the director's astonishing color sense and style.

I think this may be the first time I've seen Antonio Banderas act in his native Spanish, and it seemed to give him a kind of seriousness, though of course that is also tied to the character of Robert, a bit of a mad scientist with myriad tragedies driving him slowly insane. Banderas is pretty awesome in the role, understated but also fierce. I was also impressed with Elena Anaya, who has the difficult task of playing a person who has been given a completely different body and must force herself to become comfortable with it.

This movie is just... masterful, I guess is the word.

4.5/5

PS I forgot to say how excited I was to see the art of Louise Bourgeois featured so prominently! Her work is fantastic.

Pair This Movie With: Maybe Incendies? Foreign thriller with lots of interesting twists and turns? Yeah.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

UHF (1989)

Seen: On netflix instant on my tv. One and a half times.

George Newman (Weird Al Yankovic) is a poor schlub who can't hold down a job because of an overactive imagination. When his wealthy uncle hands him the keys to a run-down local access television station, George believes he's finally found his calling. With the help of mulleted buddy Bob (David Bowe), aspiring news anchor Pamela (Fran Drescher), and clueless janitor Stanley (Michael Richards), he turns Channel 62 into a surprise hit with his community, much to the chagrin of rival network affiliate/professional asshole RJ Fletcher (Kevin McCarthy).

I don't know if I've ever brought it up here before, but I kind of had a serious thing with Weird Al growing up. With encouragement from my dad, who introduced me to Al with "Another One Rides the Bus", I listened ceaselessly to my Weird Al boxed set that I got for Christmas in 5th grade. Then I unearthed his mockumentary "The Compleat Al" VHS and stole the "Bad Hair Day" music video compilation tape from my friend down the street (also a big fan), and thus my entertainment habits were often centered around the man. I still think he's amazing. And thank goodness he took time away from his busy celebrity schedule to make a movie! UHF combines all the camp, goofiness, and parodic glee you might expect from him, plus famous people like Fran Drescher and Emo Phillips! Oh boy!

With tv shows like Wheel of Fish and Strip Solitaire, UHF creates the tv channel of my wildest dreams. It also features one of my favorite fake commercials ever for Spatula City. (We sell spatulas... And that's all.) Combine that with a bevy of film parodies and truly goofy sight gags and you have what amounts to maybe a perfect movie? MAYBE. There are even a few musical numbers in there, including Al's mash-up of Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing" and the Beverly Hillbillies theme song. What an amazing combo. Also an example of the many famous songs I know primarily through Weird Al parodies.

UHF is mired in its time, but in a good way, with over the top 80s costumes and pop culture references and low-budget special effects adding to the charm of a homegrown tv station. Al himself is such fun to watch, with his high-pitched enthusiasm and emotional outbursts. And you've got Fran Drescher doing her sarcastic whiny thing, Michael Richards playing a crazed man-child, Victoria Jackson wearing one of the silliest birthday dresses ever, Gedde Watanabe amping up the nonsense in a role seemingly poking fun at his "Long Duck Dong" stereotype, and a general sense of fun being had by all. Not every joke lands, and sometimes things are too hokey even for me, but I can't help but just all-out love this movie.

Although I have to say, it's a real shame that the wacky scientist role of Philo wasn't played by Joel Hodgson, as allegedly intended according to imdb trivia. That would have been incredible.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Well like I said, The Compleat Al and the Bad Hair Day music videos were my go-to Weird Al viewing experiences as a young person. Otherwise I might go with something like Wayne's World, another irreverent look at music and television in the late 80s/early 90s.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Rollerball (1975)

Seen: On dvd on my tv, rented from Hollywood Express in Cambridge.
87/100 on the Sci-Fi List.

SO IT'S THE FUTURE. And the world is totally controlled by corporations, and all anyone wants to do is watch/play the ultraviolent new sport Rollerball- sort of a blend of roller derby and rugby. Coincidentally it is also the name of the movie! James Caan stars as Jonathan E, a massively popular player and captain of the Houston team. For reasons unknown he is asked by a corporate head to retire early, and his refusal to quit the game he loves throws him into unexpected peril as he slowly realizes how corporations have been manipulating the populace for years.

With a title like Rollerball and a death sport that's replaced warfare, I don't think I was wrong in expecting something a little different from this film. It sounds like an action-heavy futuristic thriller, and in some ways it is, but more of the focus is on Jonathan E's slow search for the truth and certain realizations about his own life. This vision of the future is somewhat Orwellian, highly stratified and full of intentional misinformation. We learn bits and pieces about its inner workings, how corporate executives can just take other people's wives if they want, how only certain people can access certain knowledge. Caan is solid as the strong-willed, but surprisingly naive Jonathan E, a man feared by his evil overlords for his potential to stand out and lead in a world order maintained by erasing any emphasis on the individual.

The future Rollerball proposes is interesting, if derivative, and the sport is nice and violent, but neither are presented in a compelling enough way for me to be really into this movie. It oscillates between fast-paced sporting event and slow-moving thriller, and for the most part it remained too ambiguous to grab me. It seemed to be building to some big revelation but then there wasn't much payoff except for the requisite "big game" that had a crazy body count. The game sequences are ok, I wasn't especially engaged though I found the sport itself interesting. I think I'd need to see it again to get more into the story, but for now I'm not sure what to make of the overall film.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: I will always and forever recommend Death Race 2000 as the best futuristic death sport movie, and there are definitely some similarities here. Alternatively there is an episode of Max Headroom that seems to call back to Rollerball.

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Sunday, December 4, 2011

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey (2011)

Seen: At the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge.

I missed this at IFF Boston last year, which was too bad since Elmo himself was totally there! It doesn't seem to be getting much of a theater release but luckily The Brattle screened it for a week. Being Elmo tells the remarkable true story of Kevin Clash, a black self-taught puppeteer who grew up in Baltimore and rose to become the artist behind one of the most beloved television characters of the past few decades. A kind of puppet prodigy, he constructed and operated his own puppet characters in his teens, learning all he could from watching Sesame Street and The Muppet Show. He performed on a local television show and began attracting notice from the likes of Captain Kangaroo and Muppet builder Kermit Love, who became Kevin's mentor. He eventually was able to work with his hero Jim Henson and become a major force behind Sesame Street, but his demanding profession strained his familial relationships.

Enthusiastic and likable, Kevin Clash is a fitting subject for a documentary. He's not how most people might picture the men and women behind popular children's puppetry (I can't help but imagine everyone having a "A BLACK SHERIFF?!?!?!" moment), and yet for years he's been a driving force behind several well-known properties. And he's adorable. He starts off as a fresh-faced kid with endless determination, and eventually sees all of his biggest dreams achieved through talent, dedication and a little luck. His eventual creation of the Elmo personality is little surprise, since he comes off as a genuinely sweet and caring guy.

The highlights of Being Elmo are the behind-the-scenes footage and accounts of the productions Kevin worked on, from a look at the making of the dancing demon scene in Labyrinth to a tour of the puppet-production lab for Sesame Street. I loved learning more about how muppets are created and operated, it's something I hadn't really considered before! It was very nice to see how Kevin was inspired as a kid and now continues to inspire new generations of future puppeteers. I hope this is an art form that continues to grow.

Unfortunately at a very trim 80 minutes, the film feels like it's missing a piece. For the most part the focus is on Kevin's career, with some glimpses of his upbringing and family, but most of his personal life is unexamined. His ex-wife and daughter are very suddenly introduced in the third act, and neither are interviewed. I'm assuming they didn't want to be a part of this documentary, which is totally understandable, but the whole topic was just dealt with strangely. Kevin talks about his strained relationship with his daughter towards the end but I still feel like I'm missing something important to this story. Oh well. Elmo's still there. And I kind of cried when Jim Henson died.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: What better way to follow up The Muppets than with a little behind-the-scenes Elmo action? I myself watched these within a few days of each other and they each inform the other interestingly.

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Saturday, December 3, 2011

Alex Makes Art #61

Whoops guess I kinda dropped the ball on the whole Friday Movie Art game yesterday, huh? Oh well. Now you get a special Saturday Treat, so that's positive! I've been working on a large commission that started with the Charmed print I posted a little while ago, and now I have another piece done. My (very patient) customer asked for a Harry Potter design- something I'm all too happy to produce- with specific characters represented. I liked the way it came out so I thought I'd adjust it to make it a regular poster I could sell in my shop, removing some of the characters to make it a bit more generalized (and to keep my customer's design more personal/exclusive). Both versions are below!

The second version is available for purchase on etsy, along with many other fine items. Remember if you use the code "BLOG11" at checkout you'll get 10% off!




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Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Muppets (2011)

Seen: At the Clifton Common AMC/Loews, in Clifton, NJ. And again at the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square.

When the mere mention of a certain property can bring a smile to my face and a little bit of the warm fuzzies to my heart, it's probably something special. I didn't really realize that The Muppets were one of those properties until I started hearing more about its newest incarnation, which brought back memories of watching the films when I was a kid- especially Muppet Treasure Island-, listening to the Christmas soundtrack with John Denver, and oddly enough, Muppet Babies. Focusing on long-time Muppet fans Gary (Jason Segel, who also co-wrote the script) and his brother Walter (voiced by Peter Linz), the story seeks to re-unite the Muppets after they've been separated for years. They need to put on one more show to raise the money to buy back their old television studio from evil oil tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), who plans to destroy it. Gary's girlfriend of 10 years Mary (Amy Adams) is there too, but mostly forgotten.

With contagious ebullience and obvious reverence for the characters, The Muppets is entertaining as hell and legitimately funny. Plus it's a musical! Plus it's got... muppets! Jason Segel is having the time of his life as Gary, an aw-shucks good guy who sings, dances (sort of), and interacts with some of the cutest puppets in show business. He's torn between his human girlfriend and muppet brother, wanting to be a part of both worlds. Walter, on the other hand, has never really fit in and longs to be a part of his favorite group. They make a cute team, especially with Adams along to lend her own inherent adorability to things. And the songs... OH THE SONGS! Brett McKenzie (one half of Flight of the Conchords) gives us some downright fantastic tunes here, especially "Life's a Happy Song", which has become the only song I ever want to listen to for the rest of my life.

Though the script is funny and appropriately self-aware, it does have issues. The middle section drags as the main plot meanders around its characters, unsure where they're going to end up despite the cookie-cutter structure. There are also a few moments that just flat-out don't work, most notably the Cee-Lo chicken song (shudder) and the Chris Cooper rap (double shudder). They feel out of place and irrelevant to the type of humor and music the Muppets are associated with. Also Amy Adams' character is super under-written and complainy. Which I guess is no surprise considering the writing team.

The thing is though that every time I saw a problem, I was able to look past it because I was otherwise so delighted with the proceedings. The Muppets themselves inspire a certain warmth and friendliness, they're just so genuine. And for the most part their characters remain true to their origins, full of humor and the good kind of schmaltz. As a whole the film is so cute and goofy, though flawed, with lots of cool cameos and catchy musical numbers and flailing puppets. That works for me!

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Of course the original Muppet Movie is a good one, or whatever your favorite Muppet venture is. At times I was also reminded of Enchanted and The Blues Brothers. Personally I followed my first viewing with various clips of The Muppet Show on youtube.

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