Monday, January 30, 2012

Janghwa, Hongryeon (A Tale of Two Sisters) (2003)

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

It seems like the more I look into American horror films of the past decade, the more I realize they are all remakes of Japanese or Korean films. It's kind of ridiculous. A Tale of Two Sisters (later remade as The Uninvited) came to my attention because Kim Jee-woon is a filmmaker I want to see more of. Set almost entirely at a large lakefront home, the film follows teenage sisters Soo-mi (Lim Su-jeong) and Soo-yeon (Moon Geun-young) as they return home after an unexplained absence. Their father (Kim Kap-su) is often absent, leaving them in the clutches of their high-strung, abusive step-mother Eun-joo (Yum Jung-ah). Something is definitely haunting this family, and nothing is as it seems.

Slowly engulfing the viewer in its mysterious, atmospheric thrall, A Tale of Two Sisters is terrifying both in its periodic nightmare imagery and psychological implications. Utilizing the house's claustrophobic interiors and a few creepy demonic ghost ladies, Kim fosters a fear of the unknown history of this house, and specifically this family's experiences in it. Aside from a vague prelude set in a mental hospital and a few flashbacks, all of the action takes place here, a beautiful isolated getaway with quaint trimmings and pleasant woodland surroundings. Each room seems to contain the vengeful spirit of some recent memory, exacerbated by Eun-joo's antagonistic presence (in a standout and versatile performance from Yum Jung-ah). Soo-mi's seething hatred of her is palpable but unspecified, presumably relating to something that happened earlier, and likely to do with her replacement of their biological mother. Soo-yeon is quiet and submissive, almost inextricable from her sister, but harboring a secret of her own.

The mystery here is complex, with various realizations coming to light throughout the film. I spotted one fairly early on, but that didn't detract from the overall impact of the story. The performances are so strong that even when something was revealed that I'd guessed, I was still wholly engaged in the responses of these characters- particularly Lim Su-jeong as Soo-mi, whose veneer of confident defiance masks a decidedly troubled inner world. And the final revelations at the end I had not anticipated, and were just generally shockingly awesome. There is so much that remains under the surface in this film, so much left unsaid or under-explained as the narrative gradually progresses.

The combined elements of imaginary terror brought on by guilt and actual paranormal activity make for a layered and at times confusing viewing experience, with various pieces fitting together so interestingly that I couldn't look away even when I was scared that some ghost lady would crawl eerily into my apartment. The visuals are superb, with special effects and jump-scares used sparingly and cleverly as Kim prefers to let the moody, uncertain atmosphere linger over everything. Knowing what I know now I want to re-watch it more closely, seeing if Kim is as smart I think he is in his hints and supposed inconsistencies.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Hmm I'm not sure. Perhaps something like Pan's Labyrinth, another creepy movie that fuses reality and dreams. Personally I needed something LIGHT and familiar so I watched Shock Treatment afterward.

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Sunday, January 29, 2012

It's Always Fair Weather (1955)

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

My shop periodically gets in an assortment of super-cheap dvds, so when I found a musical with Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse that I hadn't seen buried among the numerous copies of Hellboy and Kissing Jessica Stein, I knew it was worth the $2.00. Written by one of my favorite screenwriting pairs, Adolph Green and Betty Comden, It's Always Fair Weather investigates the enforced "normalcy" of life after WWII, as experienced by three good-natured American soldiers. They make a pact to meet in a New York City bar in 10 years, only to discover upon reunion that they've all turned into jerks. Singing and hi-jinks ensue.

Produced around the time standard Hollywood musicals were falling out of favor, It's Always Fair Weather is enjoyable enough fluff that at times strives to be more down-to-earth. It's sort of a sad premise, and there's a good amount of hard drinking and introspection involved as the main characters are faced with how their priorities and personalities have changed over 10 years, and how the bonds forged in wartime might not be as strong as they thought. The musical numbers are swell (this is Kelly and Donen, after all), and the script gets in some zingy dialogue, but there is something of a disconnect between the themes and moods of the film overall. There are too many half-assed subplots and awkwardly-inserted songs, it doesn't fit together cohesively. I liked so many of its parts that it worked out ok, though.

The cast is excellent, featuring the awesome Dan Dailey, adorable Michael Kidd, and the ever-charismatic Gene Kelly as the ex-soldiers, and the jaw-droppingly sultry Cyd Charisse and hilarious Dolores Gray as their lady counterparts. Charisse gets to impress everyone with her statistic-laden memory and calculating marketing skills, while Gray- whom I hadn't seen before- impressed me personally with her fantastic singing voice. Cyd has the sexiest musical number, DUH, though I was also bowled over by Kelly's roller-skating prowess.

Green and Comden don't always make sure-fire hits but in my experience their films always entertaining, which is all I really ask of this type of musical anyway.

Oh also there's a huge fight scene at the end. UNEXPECTED.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Well this was originally meant as a sequel to On The Town so that might be a nice precursor.

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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Rango (2011)

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

The realization that I had only seen two new animated releases in 2011- and that one of them was Cars 2- made me super depressed. Everyone kept going on about how fun and movie-fan-friendly Rango was so that seemed the best place to start. A lonely, sheltered pet chameleon finds himself thrust into a harsh desert environ, where he puts his self-taught theatrical talents to use by creating a tough-talking lone gunman-type called "Rango". He becomes sheriff of Dirt, a drought-stricken town with corrupt leaders, and takes it upon himself to find their stolen water and save the day, etc, with the help of some goofy desert animals.

Combining elements of classic westerns and animal-centric family films, Rango feels like something of an anomaly within its kid-friendly genre. It's just... I'm not sure this movie is even for kids? Not really little ones anyway. I feel like a lot of the story and references would be over a child's head, though I guess the goofy-looking anthropomorphic animals might be enough to keep them entertained. Regardless, it's a pretty good movie. The script is clever and interesting, though a bit too drawn-out, the characters are varied, and the visual design and animation are solid. A few of the more action-y scenes are especially well done, like the early shot of Rango falling out of the car onto the highway. Very exciting!

With a Hunter Thompson-esque lilt (who gets a cameo), Johnny Depp imbues the character of Rango with a wacky edge, slipping easily into screenwriter John Logan's quick-witted dialogue. Isla Fisher does a good over-the-top Western-y accent, and Ned Beatty basically plays Toy Story 3's Lotso only with more turtle. There are a ton of famous people in the supporting voice cast but I'll admit most of them were unrecognizable to me, which I guess is actually impressive acting-wise. Although I caught Timothy Olyphant, oh yes I did.

I'll be honest here dudes, I liked this movie but don't really have that much to say about it. The main drawbacks were the at-times scattered narrative, some inconsistency in design, and too many characters. Otherwise, good times!

4/5

Pair This Movie With: The overall aesthetic and feeling reminded me of A Bug's Life, which also involves imposters protecting a tiny-animal community, plus movie references since it's all Seven Samurai-y.

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Friday, January 27, 2012

Alex Makes Art #70

Oh, hello! I'm suddenly knee-deep in scholarly reading for grad school so my art-making time has certainly taken a hit. I will continue to do my best to create awesome things, we'll just see if I can keep up the weekly pace. I have some neat things planned though.

Luckily this week I do have something! You may or may not recall the etsy customer who commissioned me to make Harry Potter and Charmed designs, well we sort of took an unexpected break but now I'm back working on some other prints for her! Next up was a design for Practical Magic, which I just watched this week for the first time. I like what I made for it and she does too, so everyone is happy.

Other things available in my etsy shopppppp, they're all awesome.



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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Annie Hall (1977)

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

You may recall last Friday I put up three posters I'd made recently for an etsy commission. One of them was for Annie Hall, a film I hadn't seen in a while and re-watched for design ideas. Often considered one of Woody Allen's greatest successes, the film flits into and around the relationship of neurotic (duh) comedian Alvy (Allen) and scatterbrained singer Annie (Diane Keaton). Narrating with self-aware assurance and nervous jokes, Alvy relates the story of his romance with Annie, and in turn we learn of his two failed marriages and various other memories and side-stories. Everyone learns the important lesson that LA is for wackos.

Essentially composing a portrait of a man through his experiences with women- past and present- Annie Hall is notable more for its clever nonlinear storytelling techniques and funny dialogue than for its actual narrative. I love the fourth-wall-breaking moments as Alvy complains to the audience about pretentious filmgoers and not getting enough sex. Allen's easygoing, off the cuff comedic style is well-suited to such a loose story, with a number of hilarious conversations between various characters that feel silly but natural. Keaton is a great foil for Allen, filling in his quick, not-as-smart-as-he-thinks-he-is quips with goofy lingo and brash observations. Plus, her style is rad as we all know (no need for a costumer when your own wardrobe is already that cool).

There are still some of the typical Woody Alleny things that I have never much like about his movies, mainly his depiction of women. Alvy is typically shown as smarter or more likable than most of the women in this movie, yet I usually wonder why any of them are dating him since he's so self-centered. But I like that Annie eventually stops putting up with his bullshit and chooses a path for herself, and that Alvy comes to appreciate her as a person by the end.

And just as a side note, I have so much fun with the shit ton of famous people who pop up in this movie, even a few small roles for not-yet-known actors. Carol Kane, Christopher Walken, Shelley Duvall, John Glover, Paul Simon, Jeff Goldblum (!), and an impossible-to-identify Sigourney Weaver!

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Well, I'm thinking Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind for another nonlinear look into a doomed relationship. But 8 1/2 was also suggested by Nuts4r2.

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

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Pariah (2011)

Seen: At the Kendall Square Landmark Cinema in Cambridge.

Knowing internally who she is and what she wants, 17-year-old Alike aka Lee (Adepero Oduye) feels comfortable dressing in masculine clothing at her high school and openly looking for a girlfriend as her friend Laura (Pernell Walker) drags her to a lesbian strip club, but knows to hide her homosexuality from her overprotective religious mother (Kim Wayans) and clueless father (Charles Parnell). She thinks she may have found the perfect partner in new friend Bina (Aasha Davis), but Lee's own romantic inexperience leads to misplaced feelings.

It seemed I spent a good chunk of 2011 hearing about how phenomenal Pariah is, but its distribution took its sweet time reaching Boston. Turns out all of the hype was exactly correct, and this would have made my Favorites of 2011 List for sure. Newcomer Dee Rees weaves together a story of acute emotion that feels altogether fresh in its style and outlook and familiar in its coming-of-age trappings. Here is a film that so perfectly captures the general agony and ecstasy of being a teenage girl, it is both a joy and sorrow to watch. The script is smart and realistic, never slipping into overwrought melodrama or knee-slapper comedy but maintaining subtle elements of both, working in the thrill of first love, the disappointments of friendship, and the disillusionment with parental guidance that affects so many kids. Rees' camera is up-close and personal, creating an intimate atmosphere with darkened domestic spaces and soft-glow lighting.

This is in many ways an "actor's movie", and my does the cast deliver. Adepero Oduye is absolutely fantastic in the lead role, exuding an eagerness and charismatic likability that I immediately latched on to. Here is a woman who should win every award (well, I would say that about the whole movie, really). She even makes readings of teen angst poetry less mockable than I would expect, a tricky feat in my book. I also loved everyone in the supporting cast, from Pernell Walker's tough-talking but soft-hearted portrayal of Laura to Kim Wayans' hard-edged mother misguided by religious principle. The Christian angle isn't overplayed, but does make up a key point. Lee's mother isn't some sermonizing religious zealot, but she quietly and emphatically believes what she believes, and doesn't allow anything to change that. It's scary how true that is for so many people, but I didn't feel Rees was being judgmental. She's showing things the way they are.

Lee's character embodies the title in several ways as a black lesbian who doesn't fit in comfortably at school, in her tight-lipped Christian family, or even in her local gay community. Pariah is committed to portraying multidimensional characters and non-stereotypical glimpses into multiple lifestyles and experiences, and I absolutely loved it for that. Walking out of the theater all I could think was, "Damn. What a good movie."

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: For a more satirical, comedic look at teenage homosexuality in a religious setting, I am a fan of But I'm a Cheerleader.

Further Reading:
A much more insightful review can be found at Cannonball by my friend IRL Harry Waksberg.

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Monday, January 23, 2012

Absolute Beginners (1986)

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

When Sasha described a musical from the 1980s with David Bowie that somehow I hadn't heard of, I knew it would be an Important Movie for me to see. So we had a live-tweet session as we watched it in honor of Bowie's 65th birthday this month! Goooood tiiiimes. Based loosely on the novel by Colin MacInnes, Absolute Beginners is a candy-colored peek into 1950s London subculture, following a naive young photographer (Eddie O'Connell) and his aspiring model girlfriend (Patsy Kensit) as they sell out and then fight against the adult mainstream. Also there are race riots because of NAZI GENTRIFICATION but it's not really a thing until the last 20 minutes.

On paper this movie sounds absolutely amazing: David Bowie, Ray Davies, pretty colors, punks vs mods, "Youth Culture", musical numbers, fashion shows; it's a goddamn beautiful thing. And in many ways it totally delivers. David Bowie's introductory musical sequence made me utterly, inescapably gleeful, and Ray Davies' song is a well-choreographed chunk of Kinksy beats. The costumes are gorgeous, as are the sets, and the neon color schemes and big hair makes everything feel like it's in the 80s even though it's set in the late 50s. Not that I have a problem with that. The songs are fun, the cinematography is stylish, and the cast is nothing if not enthusiastic. Eddie O'Connell is even a bit of a Bowie look-a-like, but less... alien. And less interesting.

Unfortunately, as with so many high-concept, awesome-sounding musicals, the script is really bad and the characters are mostly boring so it doesn't quite make the hype. I didn't care at all about the protagonist as he narrates with a misplaced smugness and looks around wide-eyed at everything like a big dope. The romance is dumb, the racial tension drama is stuck in at the end and handled really haphazardly, and there isn't much character delineation. Plus it's too long.

HOWEVER despite its drawbacks it has some truly incredible moments (a few Bowie-related), and I would totally watch it again for those times. It's a frivolous, ridiculous movie and I do appreciate that- it's at its weakest when it tries to be serious or sincere.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: My first thought is Hairspray for another colorful musical that clumsily deals with racial injustice. Or if you just want to see David Bowie dancing around and singing some more, I'd go with Labyrinth.

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Soylent Green (1973)

Seen: On dvd on my tv, rented from netflix.
91/100 on the Sci-Fi List.

Knowing the ending to this movie from popular knowledge and specifically a scene in Drop Dead Gorgeous, I wasn't sure if Soylent Green would be as interesting a film than if I'd gone in cold. Turns out, it's sort of a mixed bag. Charlton Heston stars as Thorn, a hardworking police detective living in a dystopic future city riddled with overpopulation and all the problems it brings- cramped living space, food shortages, drained resources, and an over-controlling governmental system. The Soylent company enters as a savior when they develop cheap and nutritious foodstuffs, but when a member of their board is found murdered Thorn finds himself embroiled in a mystery surrounding their supposedly plankton-based Soylent Green food tablets.

There's a lot of positive things I can say about this movie. It's exciting, for one, with a strong mystery at its core and a couple of cool action sequences. I liked the crumbling vision of the future, especially the quick-cut time-lapse opening that shows the world going to shit. The best cast member is easily Edward G Robinson, who plays Thorn's researcher and best buddy Sol. An older man, he is funny and sympathetic as he remembers what life was like before- green fields, fresh fruit, the works. The actor was secretly dying of cancer as he filmed his role, and there is a truly tender scene between him and Heston (who knew) towards the end, definitely the strongest moment in the film.

Heston to me comes off as a larger-than-life figure, yelling most of his lines and taking control of every situation he can. And I think I don't really like him in general. He just seems like an asshole and I don't care what happens to his characters. Everyone else kind of sucks too, with a weepy lady (Leigh Taylor-Young) who somehow falls for Thorn's dickhead schtick, thus leading to a pointless and sexist romantic subplot, one of my least favorite things. Joseph Cotton is there for a few minutes though, so that's cool.

Soylent Green is a fairly solid sci-fi mystery. Though I have personal drawbacks regarding some of the characters, I think really its biggest failing is that the final reveal... doesn't actually seem that bad. I knew "Soylent Green Is People" so I was ready for it, but I thought the company would be slaughtering innocents to get its meat supply or something. Turns out it's old people who are ready to die, and commit themselves to be euthanized with a beautiful send-off of classical music and pretty imagery? Honestly, I don't think it's that big of a deal. Maybe if I hadn't known the ending it would be more of a shock. As my friend Muffin put it, "The moral seems to be that comfortable, state-sponsored mercy killing and recycling are evil. That movie takes place in Utopia."

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: I do enjoy Jeunet's dystopia with human food, Delicatessen.

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

New Waterford Girl (1999)

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

A lady at work recommended this to me and I'm so glad she did! Setting the typical girl-coming-of-age story in a small rural town in Novia Scotia, New Waterford Girl is a quietly funny glimpse into one over-intelligent outcast's teenage experience. Moonie Pottie (Liane Balaban) is a clever high schooler who dreams of escaping her somewhat gloomy hometown, with a supportive but deadbeat English teacher (Andrew McCarthy, with sideburns) who sends her writing to programs in faraway cities with the hope she'll be able to transfer. Her parents worry she isn't "normal" enough like her social sisters and peers, and force her to see a psychiatrist. She devises a plan to establish a reputation as a "loose" woman, hoping it will make her seem more conventional, and eventually befriends new neighbor Lou (Tara Spencer-Nairn), a tough New York transplant who soon gains a reputation of her own as a vigilante hired to punch asshole ex-boyfriends.

Combining humorously disdainful narration and a likable cast, New Waterford Girl is down-to-earth and appropriately understated, though the plotting is a bit scattered. It doesn't have much of a focused narrative thread, taking a slightly episodic approach and only incorporating certain characters at spaced-out intervals, to the point of under-using them. I was happy to see Cathy Moriarty as Lou's mom, but she's only in two scenes, and Andrew McCarthy, loath as I am to say it since usually I am against him in anything, could have been in it a bit more since his washed-up teacher was interesting but not very fleshed-out, despite having a defining moment in the story towards the end.

Minor encumbrances aside, I really enjoyed this movie. Liane Balaban looks exactly like if Natalie Portman had played Winona Ryder's role in Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael, and I adored her loose-fitting sweaters and long black skirts and dour expressions, it's totally the kind of late 20th century teen angst I love. She is funny but also a bit tragic as her control over her fate slips away, and Balaban aptly carries the film. Her cohort Lou is played with gusto by Tara Spencer-Nairn, embodying the tough-talking, lonely girl with exactly the kind of moxie I appreciate: punching moxie. Seriously, by the end there's like a Girlfight situation happening and I was so happy.

While story-wise it isn't the strongest, the script is funny and the central characters are very well delineated, as is the small town environment of the title. In many ways the community is a character itself, with aspects of religion, insularity, and loyalty coming together in various interactions with townspeople, especially other young women. And everything/one looks so wonderfully 1990s, which we all know is probably my favorite thing.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: There are a few coming-of-age movies that came to mind. The fake sex thing reminded me of Easy A, while the super 90s-outcast thing reminded me of the aforementioned Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael. Also, Me Without You is an interesting study of a female friendship that might pair well, though it's more dismal.

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Alex Makes Art #69

Hi folks! It's Friday, lucky us! That means, as you may know, that it's time for some movie art. I have been hard at work on a three-poster commission for a lovely etsy customer. She chose three of her favorite romantic comedies that I rendered in a minimalistic, grayscale style with pops of color. Luckily they're all for films I enjoy- The Apartment, Bringing Up Baby, and Annie Hall (review forthcoming)- so it was really fun to work on! I am very happy with how they turned out and I am so excited that they'll be displayed next to one another in her home. I will likely start selling these individually later, in case anyone else has interest.



We're still settling on a final design for Annie Hall, here are the two possible versions: It's going to be the one with the theater marquee! Also now it's for general sale.




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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Capricorn One (1978)

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

Just before astronauts Brubaker (James Brolin), Willis (Sam Waterston), and Walker (OJ Simpson) take off for a highly-anticipated mission to Mars, they are unceremoniously pulled from the flight and enclosed in an isolated military complex. Turns out the life-support system is faulty, and in order to save face and keep the space program from losing funding, they have to fake the landing on camera on a soundstage dolled up like Mars. But as the months-long hoax continues, the risk of discovery increases, and NASA goes to great lengths to keep its secret. The astronauts doubt their decision to fool the nation, and a nosy journalist (Elliott Gould) finds his life endangered as he comes closer to the shocking truth.

Capricorn One came as a true surprise. I vaguely remembered reading about it at Snarky's Machine, and from her review I expected something campier I think. But actually, I un-ironically really liked it! Yes, it is chock-full of plot holes and unrealistic narrative leaps, and the fake Mars looked really bad, but it's got a series of killer action sequences and a strong cast, plus the premise is original (or felt so to me, anyway). I loved seeing James "My Son Looks Exactly Like Me" Brolin as the stereotypical All-American astronaut, a dude everyone listens to without question because he's gruff and stoic and badass. OJ Simpson and Sam Waterston are under-used, though the latter gets a really good scene towards the end. Of course, Elliott Gould is the real star with his goofy face and crazy collars and adorable eagerness.

It's a ridiculous movie, no doubt about it- there's a chase scene between monstrous military helicopters and a crop-dusting plane through sheer canyons, for goodness sake. And it's AWESOME. Also Elliott Gould drives his car off a bridge! WOW! James Brolin kills a snake and eats it raw! EW! It's basically a super-great film, even if it has so many plot problems I can't even get into it. And one of the hokiest, totally-spoiling-the-effects-of-the-previous-two-hours endings I have ever seen. Seriously, there are times for slow-motion and then there are times to figure out a better way to end your damn movie.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: I didn't realize it until afterward but this is a film by Peter Hyams, who also did Outland, which I think would work as a double feature about space-related crimes. Or maybe Titan AE? I feel like that movie needs more love.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Night Moves (1975)

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

Harry Moseby (Gene Hackman) is your standard hard-boiled detective, caught up in finding the missing daughter of a washed-up actress. His search leads him from an action movie set in LA to a seaside home in Florida, but even after finding the girl he realizes the real mystery runs much deeper. His crime-solving obsession distances his wife, whom he discovers is having an affair, but he can't let go until he gets to the bottom of things.

With a story that starts off as one thing but then totally derails to be about a bigger, unexpected thing, Night Moves is a smart mystery with a strong cast and satirical edge. Hackman is serious and determined, with awful shit constantly befalling him because that is what happens when you're a detective (so I've learned from the movies). I also dug Paula, a straight-talking, well-tanned lady played by Jennifer Warren. But the best thing about the cast is seeing some young people who later became pretty famous, like James Woods and Melanie Griffith! She totally shows her boobs too, like a lot, and maybe she was only 16? Anyway. Nudity.

While I appreciated how the story shifted about two thirds of the way through and the complexities of Harry's case deepened, it did mean that the middle of the film dragged as he hangs out in Florida with a whiny teenager and there isn't really anything moving forward. Still, the close attention to character and undercurrent of Hollywood indecencies, plus an exciting climax at sea, make Night Moves an enjoyable noir-esque mystery that showcases Hackman's charisma and fortitude.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Another 70s private detective noir I dig is The Long Goodbye and that would be a nice double feature. The movie this most reminded me of was Harper, another good pairing.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Them! (1954)

Seen: On dvd on my tv, rented from the Tisch Library at Tufts.
90/100 on the Sci-Fi List.


GIANT KILLER ANTS OH MY GOOOOOOOD. Thus, a problem surfaces in Them! after nuclear testing mutates an ant colony in the New Mexico desert. The military does its best to hide them from the public while they work on a way to poison their nest, but when two queens escape and fly towards Lost Angeles they need to enforce martial law. There's also a lady insect specialist (A LADY SCIENTIST?) and some kidnapped kids.

With so-so special effects and an overt anti-bomb (and anti-ants) message, Them! is certainly a product of its time. Not that I mind, of course. The hokey acting and extremely poor pacing were expected, and I must say that high-pitched screeching noise that accompanied the ants' movements was legitimately creepy. Giant bugs are a terrifying thought no matter what, and the reality of nuclear testing creating scary monsters and super creeps is easily felt in 1954.

My biggest issue with Them! is the narrative structure. The film has a decent premise, but can't seem to maintain focus, introducing new characters and subplots and locations every 20 minutes. Almost no one in the cast stood out to me and I found myself unable to really care about what was happening. The climax with the kidnapped children didn't mean all that much since I had never even seen these kids before, and had only just met their mother five minutes ago. The best part was Fess Parker as a pilot with an awesome robe, a 5-minute role that managed to be more dynamic than most of the entire film. (He went on to be Davy Crockett, so his charisma obviously paid off.)

3/5

Pair This Movie With: Another big bug movie, perhaps! Yeah! I recommend the MST3K version of "The Deadly Mantis". I've got a mantis in my pantis...

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Monday, January 16, 2012

Ghost Rider (2007)

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

Well, we're psyched for the sequel and Miles had never seen the first one, so a viewing of Ghost Rider has been looming on the horizon for some time now. Based on the Marvel comic series that I've been meaning to read forever, the film inexplicably stars Nicolas Cage as Johnny Blaze, a profession daredevil who made a deal with the devil (Peter Fonda) in his youth and finally pays for it later on. The devil's son Blackheart (Wes Bentley) is waging a war with his father, attempting to secure a mythical soul contract hidden on earth that would give him the power to bring Hell to earth. Johnny is forced to become the titular superbeing, using his fire powers and "Penance Stare" to take out Blackheart and his gang of fallen angels. Also he has to convince his newly found long-lost love Roxanne (Eva Mendes) that he's not a crazy person.

Incorporating piss-poor special effects, a clumsy screenplay, and hammy acting, Ghost Rider was doomed to fail from the beginning. It's too bad, really, since I think the premise is actually really interesting, and some of the flaming motorcycle scenes are pretty cool. Plus it's got Sam Elliott (Sam Elliott!) and he is perfectly cast as a mysterious "Caretaker" who spouts age-old wisdom and wears a cowboy hat. But Cage is a weird choice for the lead and his hairpiece is distracting, and Eva Mendes is boring, and Peter Fonda seems confused, and Donal Logue does his best as the wisecracking best friend.

The good ideas are there, just poorly executed by writer/director Mark Steven Johnson, and of course the shoddy CGI isn't helping anything. But I know there is material here for a genuinely cool movie, and I'm actually pretty confident that those wackos Neveldine and Taylor will figure out how to make Ghost Rider 2 oddly, insanely awesome.

2/5

Pair This Movie With: There are a lot of movies in this ilk that I dig, actually, so you have a few choices. Constantine and Hellboy have more heaven/hell comic book fun times, Blade sports some similar anti-hero themes, and Drive Angry also has Nicolas Cage fighting against a hell-on-earth situation (and is a seriously fun movie).

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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Catching Up With 2011 Double Feature: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and A Dangerous Method

Seen: At the Kendall Square Landmark Cinema in Cambridge.

These were two of the films I felt I should see before I made my Favorites of 2011 list, though neither made it. It was more of a just in case thing. Both come from directors whom I admire (though I've only seen one of Alfredson's other films so far) and both feature impressive, super-white casts of people with primarily British accents. So: A good pairing! Unfortunately we went on a weekend, which meant we were reminded that no one in the world knows how to behave like a human being. Like, maybe no one has ever gone to a movie before? Nobody ever taught these people how to handle it? It's too bad, really, when everyone sucks but me.

Based on the famed John le Carré novel that I haven't read (as usual), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy centers on George Smiley (Gary Oldman), a high-ranking member of the British secret service who is forced into retirement. He is convinced by a government official to privately investigate a potential mole, researching the close-lipped inner circle of the service and their agents' actions in the Soviet Union. Of course, the closer he gets, the more intricate and threatening the conspiracy becomes.

Taking a very quiet, gradual approach in its storytelling and preferring to ambiguously imply rather than tell, Tinker Tailor is certainly different than the high-octane thrillers I tend to associate with the spy genre. It takes its time (it really takes its time) to establish characters and their relationships, and rarely wears its emotions on its sleeve, much like Smiley himself. The story itself is too sparse, I think, with not enough time spent on the potential moles for me to care which one it was. Plus Cold War movies set in the 70s or 80s are always sort of hard to take completely seriously, since I know the USSR is secretly unraveling.

The strong cast and thoughtful cinematography make up for my reservations with the script, though. Oldman is able to communicate so much through a look or terse comment, while supporters Tom Hardy, Colin Firth, Svetlana Khodchenkova, and Mark Strong offer intriguing performances themselves. Of course I was most excited to see the adorable Benedict Cumberbatch out of his Sherlock role, with an indie band blonde haircut and very sharp blue tie he was looking good. He was also probably the most emotional of the characters, and there is one moment in particular that had me tearing up a bit.

4/5

I feel like the past year has been a time of finally realizing that David Cronenberg is one the coolest directors, as I caught up with a lot of his 80s offerings. I know he flipped some switch and turned away from his crazy body horror-type stuff for more realistic, Viggo Mortensen-based films in the past decade, and that's ok too, just a little less exciting. Based on a play that was based on a book, A Dangerous Method seeks to highlight the relationship between psychoanalyst pioneers Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Mortensen) through their connections with a brilliant but troubled young woman, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). As Jung helps her to better understand her sexual masochism, he finds his own beliefs (based on Freud's work) shifting, causing a rift in their intellectual partnership.

With a trio of fantastic performances and truly interesting subject matter, A Dangerous Method should have been more easy to like. I enjoyed the stimulating conversations and sexy encounters, but the haphazard pacing (so many years would pass without much warning) and lack of driving force, it's not as engrossing as it could be. I think it should have been either wholly about Jung's relationship with Sabina or with Freud, not both. Still, it's worth a watch for Fassbender's sad eyes and Knightley's truly impressive characterization. Normally I hate her performances but here I think she was quite strong. Also Mortensen's attempt at an Austrian accent is kind of funny, it's mostly just British. At least Fassbender knew he couldn't do it and stayed English.

Beautiful costumes, lovely settings, sado-masochism, and high-falutin' psychological discussions: A Dangerous Method has many things to like, but it doesn't all fit together seamlessly. And it kind of felt like anyone could have directed it- I wanted that Cronenberg grittiness. I really want to learn more about Sabina Spielrein though. Sadly it seems like there aren't many good biographies in print? I'm checking out my new school's library when I get a chance.

3.5/5

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Friday, January 13, 2012

Alex Makes Art #68

Howdy fellas, I've been working hard on the ol' art-making, trying to get as much in as I can before I get too embroiled in classes and such (I start next week). I'm very excited about a commission I'm working on for a supercool etsy customer, a series of three posters for her favorite classic romantic comedies. So far I've made one for The Apartment and hope to have the other two done by the end of the month. I'll probably do a post just for them when I'm done, to show them all together will be nice.

ANYWAY I wanted to take a break from poster design for a bit and draw one of my favorite badasses, Sarah MOTHERFUCKING Connor. You all know I'm really into the Terminator movies, and I've been meaning to do something for her for a while because we need some Terminator art that isn't just Arnold. I started with a pencil/pen drawing that I edited in photoshop with color, text, and texture. I dig it. BEHOLD.

It's for sale and everything.



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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Hostage (2005)

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

Somehow I missed this when it came out, possibly because I hadn't yet quite tapped into the notion that if Bruce Willis is in a movie I'll probably enjoy it. Hostage sets him up as hardworking hostage negotiator Jeff Talley, who is happy to move on to be captain of a small-town police force affected by relatively little crime. When a local wealthy family finds their clifftop mansion taken over by three teenage thugs with guns and short tempers, Talley finds his skills put to use as tension mounts and death is on the line.

With a plot that escalates quickly once the characters and situation are established and excellent use of the high-tech mansion location, Hostage is an intense and visceral thriller that I enjoyed quite a bit. I had no idea how far it would go, which was exciting, and I liked that the stakes kept getting higher and higher. The secondary plot of the criminal mastermind behind the hostage situation was sort of clumsily handled, but did add an extra element of mystery and surprise to the overall story. Willis is badass as ever, and surrounded by able costars Kevin Pollack, Ben Foster, Robert Knepper, and Michelle Horn. It's over the top at times but still a pretty cool movie. Not much else to say I guess.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Maybe another one-location action movie like The Nest. That movie is kickass.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Sugar Hill (1974)

Seen: On my tv, streamed on netflix instant.

A blaxploitation movie about a vengeful lady and her zombie army? Fuck yes, you know I'm easy to please. Sugar Hill stars Marki Bey as the titular character, whose club-owner boyfriend is killed by a ruthless white mobster. Embittered by a murderous taste for revenge, she coerces local voodoo priestess Mama Maitresse (Zara Cully) into calling upon undead trickster Baron Samedi (Don Pedro Colley), who takes pleasure in helping Sugar on her mission by handing over his army of zombie slaves buried in the bayou.

With a ridiculous premise and what I can only assume is poor representation of the voodoo religion, Sugar Hill was primed to be a strange and goofy time. Surprisingly, it plays it pretty straight, opting for more serious horror/revenge that of course can't help but camp it up at times. I love that Sugar had a special outfit/hairdo just to get into killing mode. You saw that white jumpsuit/afro look and you knew shit was about to go down! The design of the zombies is cool too, they're all cobwebby with huge silvery eyes like The Nightmare horse.

Sugar Hill has some of the common drawbacks of many 70s exploitation flicks: its follow through isn't as good as its premise, its story drags, and it isn't as fun as it could be. All the zombie kills are kind of underwhelming, since we don't see it most of the time. And Marki Bey as Sugar isn't quite badass enough, though I admit she grew on me as the film progressed. She seemed to toughen up as time passed, which I liked. Most of the cast overacts like crazy, especially Don Pedro Colley as the Baron, but he looks like he's having a good time. I also loved that there is a super stodgy old white dude who specializes in voodoo as a scholarly study, it is oddly hilarious.

Not bad, not great, but entertaining enough for what it is. And, you know... zombies.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: I might team it with the MST3K episode Zombie Nightmare. Yeah.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011)

Seen: In 3D at the AMC/Loews at Boston Common.

Every name attached to this movie is impressive, so despite my aversion to motion-capture animation it wasn't hard to convince me to see The Adventures of Tintin. I never read the comics but knew of them from friends who'd studied them in French language classes. Spielberg's version throws us into the action almost immediately and rarely lets up as famed boy reporter Tintin (Jamie Bell) uncovers a mystery surrounding a model ship and a family curse. He teams up with an alcoholic sea captain (Andy Serkis) on an international treasure hunt, trying to stay a few steps ahead of generally evil dude Rackham (Daniel Craig).

Seemingly hellbent on taking the phrase "action-packed" literally, Tintin is a breathless adventure tale whose phenomenal action setpieces and chase scenes were enough to distract me from some of the problems I have with the motion-capture style. The script is sharp and funny, even if the story is all over the place. The characters are set up quickly and no one needs very much development- although Captain Haddock gets a little plot-convenient baggage-, and for the most part that works fine since this is a family-friendly action movie that seeks to introduce a foreign-language comic published over fifty years ago. It shouldn't be too heavy. This simplification did keep me from having strong affection for the characters, though (or maybe that's how it always is in the books, I wouldn't know).

Mostly I was trying to figure out Tintin's age. He's a "boy" reporter who looks to be about 14-15, rents his own apartment, doesn't seem to have any parental/guardian figures about, and OWNS a GUN. I mean I know it's the 30's or whenever but jeez. Also why aren't there any women in this movie? Like, at all. And no the opera singer and landlady don't count, they each get about 5 minutes of screen time. I kept expecting some cute tween girl reporter to show up as a sassy rival/love interest.

ANYWAY. That one-shot chase scene through Bagghar was the main thing that everyone kept harping on, and my goodness they were right. My mouth kept going more and more agape as it progressed, I mean it was just so beautiful. So perfectly shot and paced. So exciting! I don't like motion capture primarily because of the uncanny plasticine look to all the figures and the strange blend of hyper-realism with exaggerated features. Everyone in Tintin would have very natural clothing and movements, but then like a huge nose that totally didn't fit the rest of their face. And everyone's hands were too big, it looked clunky. But for the intricate action scenes like that chase, and the seaplane escape, and the huge pirate ship battle, I'll pipe down.

And obviously the cast is excellent, duhhh. Andy Serkis is maybe the best part.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Obviously anything Indiana Jones-y, but also you could play Uncharted 3.

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Monday, January 9, 2012

Top Five: Favorite Movies of 2011

I kind of hate that so many Best-of lists seem to come out in December. Personally I've never seen everything I've wanted to see*, either due to late theater release dates or lack of availability in my area or just plain missed opportunities, until at least a month into the next year. So there's no shame in waiting for January to publish- it's not a race, guys! We're all in it together!

Anyway. Here are my favorites of the year, alphabetical order. Top 5 and then 5 Honorable Mentions so it's basically a Top 10! Also a few extra special mentions at the bottom.


Attack the Block

Dang this movie has everything: aliens, a killer soundtrack, action, potheads, Nick Frost, badass teenagers, British urban slang. Believe! Frequent Edgar Wright-collaborator Joe Cornish's debut is an all-out fun inner-city alien takeover adventure. I loved the tenement location, funny dialogue, fast-paced story, and undercurrent of class commentary all wrapped up in a goddamn good time. The action sequences are really well shot, and those gorilla wolf motherfuckers are pretty awesome looking.

Manborg
Ok I know this is a silly choice but I had to get some Astron-6 on here and I would sooner watch Manborg again than Father's Day. This send-up of 80's sci-fi screened at Toronto After Dark, my main festival this year, and I all-out loved it. It's cheesy but surprisingly smart, working in as many references as it does original ideas. It's a perfect combination of nostalgic homage and on-target parody, and its stop-motion monsters and complicated low-res CG backdrops work against its extremely small budget.


Martha Marcy May Marlene
Photographed beautifully and edited to perfection, this is one of the most engaging films I've seen this year. Elizabeth Olson is truly excellent in the lead role, a young woman torn between two existences and confusing her memories with present-day. The style of the film so involves the viewer in her perspective, creating a truly personal story that managed to scare the shit out of me. And as for John Hawkes: Give this man an Oscar, already. Another awesome thing is that I met Cinema Enthusiast in real life at this movie, which was one of the best things!

Take Shelter

This movie. THIS MOVIE. Jeff Nichols' sophomore feature is as terrifying in its portrayal of mental illness as it is in its suggestion of nature rebelling against mankind. Michael Shannon is intense and magnetic as ever in the lead role, and Jessica Chastain gives a solid supporting performance as his increasingly worried wife. The apocalyptic imagery is inventive and oddly beautiful, and the ending left me somewhat stunned (in the best way). I have continued to be terrified of bird formations and heavy storm clouds ever since, so it certainly stuck with me.

The Artist
This was probably my most anticipated film of 2011 so it was slightly agonizing to wait almost the entire year for it. Luckily it proved to meet my high expectations with its beautiful visuals, energetic cast, and beautiful use of silent film as a medium. I loved the 1920s/30s setting and reverence to old Hollywood. Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo shine equally in their roles, with excellent appearances from John Goodman, Missi Pyle, and James Cromwell. The fact that it constantly reminded me of my favorite movie ever Singin' in the Rain keeps it in high favor.

Honorable Mentions:
Hanna
Jane Eyre
Melancholia
The Innkeepers
The Skin I Live In

Weirdest Movie: Probably Kaboom. Though The Catechism Cataclysm and Father's Day are most definitely up there too.

Worst Movie: Ugh. Gonna go with Cars 2. But X-Men: First Class and Vs are down there too.

Some Numbers: 315 total movies seen. 208 new-to-me movies. 100 seen in a theater. 51 movies from 2011 (that number's a little mushy since some films straddle the 2010/2011 line depending on festival/official/US release, etc). The first movie I watched was Apocalypse Now and the last was Ghost in the Shell.

I want Rubber to count for 2011, but I don't think it actually does. It had a weird release situation, and I know I saw it on a few Best of 2010 lists. Anyway my point is Rubber is fantastic and maybe is my favorite 2010/2011 hybrid movie!

So. What movies did you love in 2011?

*Unfortunately I still haven't, but I have no idea when We Need to Talk About Kevin is coming out here and I have a feeling Shame, Meek's Cutoff, and Certified Copy wouldn't have made it into my top 10 anyway, though I still look forward to seeing them.

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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Kôkaku Kidôtai (Ghost in the Shell) (1995)

Seen: On dvd on our big screen/projector set-up, rented from the Tisch Library at Tufts.
89/100 on the Sci-Fi List.

Anime and science-fiction fan that I am, I'm not sure how I missed out on the influential world of Ghost in the Shell for so long. Set in a futuristic Hong Kong in which many people have had computer chip brain implants and others full-on cyborgian body modifications, the film adaptation of Masamune Shirow's manga is a complex science-fiction mystery. Major Motoko Kusanagi is a skilled secret agent in a deadly robot body hunting an elusive hacker known only as the Puppet Master. As she goes deeper into a worldwide political and technological plot, she begins to question her own humanity as a brain inside a fabricated shell.

Combining fast-paced and exciting action sequences with convoluted political maneuvering, Ghost in the Shell is an interesting but somewhat self-indulgent film that admittedly lost me a few times. But I always found my way back thanks to the strength of the Major and her partner Batou as characters. I found their conversations about the existence of a soul and how one can survive inside man-made constructs very interesting, and the climactic confrontation with a sentient hacking program is as tragic as it is eerie. Plus the Major is just an all-around badass. She goes through a suiting/arming-up routine like 5 times, it's fantastic.

Unfortunately, a lot of the more compelling ideas in this film are wrapped up in a confusing over-arching plot that I didn't get much out of. World governments, the future, politicians, corrupt officials... problems? Something to that effect. And some crazy technology. I feel like I never had a clear idea of the context of this future, as the focus was more on the action and characters. Of course this is a feature of many science fiction films set in the future, and considering I enjoyed the rest of the film I can't be too hard on it. Maybe I wasn't paying close enough attention, also.

The animation is slick and really well paced, offering a slew of well-edited chase sequences and a big mecha shoot-out set amidst crumbling stone. The character and tech design are a bit dated, but that's all part of the charm of watching a futuristic movie from any decade before the one I'm currently living through. I have to say it, though: Do we really need all the nudity? I mean, normally I'm totally pro-naked people but it's weirder when it's all just one hot robot lady being drawn a million times over frame by frame presumably by overworked male animators. And notice how the Major has to get naked to go into invisible cloak mode, but the guy she's chasing doesn't. I'm not going to get into a discussion of the male gaze here but come on, she's constantly stripping- it's just off-putting and really quite unnecessary. Also unfair to viewers who like dudes since none of them lose their clothes. Equal-opportunity eye-candy, you guys, that's all we want.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: I think it'd be a nice double feature with the Cowboy Bebop movie, especially if you want more anime. Or I read that the Wachowskis were inspired by Ghost in the Shell while making The Matrix, so that's an option.

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Friday, January 6, 2012

Alex Makes Art #67

Hi guys! Welcome to the first Alex Makes Art entry of 2012! This is most exciting. I'm pushing ahead with another movie band gig poster, this time spotlighting one of my favorite comedies, The Blues Brothers. I planned on doing this one a while ago but when I sat down to watch the film I found that my DVD had been damaged when I moved! The worst! Luckily I have the best boyfriend ever and he bought us the blu-ray. I'll review the movie soon enough, for now here's the art I made for it. Lookin' good, I think!

It's available for sale on etsy. Be a pal, support the arts, etc. Soon I'll need books for school and also money to pay for that schooling, you know?



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Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Sound of Music (1965)

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

It's no secret I love movies about nannies (au pairs, governesses, whatever) since I grew up with one (the greatest lady in the world, she is). Between The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins, Julie Andrews was one of my favorite people as a kid. She's just so magical and musical and caregiving! In this sugary classic she stars as Maria, an effervescent almost-nun who is essentially kicked out of her Austrian convent for singing and hiking too much. She is assigned to be a governess for the nearby Von Trapp family, headed by a stern widower Captain (Christopher Plummer) who orders his seven children about like soldiers. Maria uses all her magic singing powers to teach everyone about love and dancing and such. Meanwhile World War II is about to happen.

In many ways The Sound of Music is the anti-feelbad WWII movie, since most of it focuses on the love story and family fun times leading up to the Nazi invasion of Austria. Even once the Nazis get there, Captain Von Trapp is all "I love Austria. FUCK NAZIS" and then he and his family get away by Climbing Every Mountain and in real life they have a fruitful music career in the States. (This is based on a true story, you know.) The last half hour or so feels unconnected to the preceding 2.5 hours, with its action-packed getaway and depressing reality, but there are plenty of hints early on as villainous possible Nazi-sympathizers move in and out of the family's fancy estate.

I love this movie. It's the perfect family film, with fun songs and goofy moments for kids and a compelling romance and historical setting for adults. Everything is slightly simplified but not overtly so, and there are certain things I appreciated more as a child and others I understand better now as an adult. Julie Andrews is almost sickly sweet but I love her so much it doesn't matter, especially because she uses her goodness in some underhanded and clever ways at times. Plus I like her cute bob haircut. Plummer allegedly hated working on this movie and he is a bit of a sourpuss the whole time, but I love his rendition of "Edelweiss", a song that makes me sad for absolutely no reason and isn't even an Austrian folk song so its effect is completely manufactured. I like all the kids, surprisingly, possibly because they look like they're having so much fun in curtain clothes.

The Sound of Music is certainly dated in some ways- from its schmaltzy script to its somewhat sugarcoated/reductionist view of Germany's annexation of Austria- but keeping the focus on Maria and her relationship with this troubled family gives it a heartfelt, genuine feeling that is only increased with the excellent tunes from Rogers and Hammerstein. It's long as hell but never boring, carefully developing its central characters while throwing in historical references, stunning vistas, and musical numbers to keep the pace lively. Watching it now I wonder what all these British people are doing in Salzburg in the 1930's, but that never fazed me before so I guess it's not a problem now.

The main negative thing that really stuck out to me this time around was how ridiculously romantic comedy-esque the character of the Baroness is. She's all manipulative and amoral, planning to send the kids off to boarding school after she cons her way into marrying the captain for his money. She like the lady in The Parent Trap and also a billion other movies. It's just an unnecessary subplot that detracts from the otherwise positive characterization, and by now it comes off as cliche.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Well like I said earlier I usually identify this with Andrews' other 60's nanny musical, Mary Poppins. Or if you want to set it against a non-cheery vision of WWII in Austria, I thought The Counterfeiters was quite good.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Stargate (1994)

Don't worry I'm already writing slash fiction based on this photoSeen: On dvd on our big screen/projector set-up, rented from the Tisch Library at Tufts.
88/100 on the Sci-Fi List.

I've never seen any of the tv spin-offs of Stargate and admittedly knew very little about it going in, but the concept of James Spader and Kurt Russell in space in the 1990s is exactly everything I want in a movie. So, let's set up this wackness: Maverick Egyptologist Daniel Jackson (Spader) and haunted-by-the-accidental-death-of-his-son colonel Jack O'Neill (Russell) take an expedition through a mysterious "stargate" discovered on a dig in Egypt. It leads to another planet that is curiously almost exactly like ancient Egypt, with slaves building pyramids and no rights for women and everything, but there's some sort of magic element that gives them advanced technology to build inter-galactic transportation gates. There is also a MYSTERY.

This movie is so totally ridiculous I honestly loved it. I mean, it has fucking Robot Anubis for goodness sake! (I am probably wrong about that being Anubis, apologies to my one-time Egyptian Archaeology professor.) It combines Egyptology and science-fiction and ass-kicking and menacing androgyny and completely nonsensical plotting. It's way too long and the script is unintentionally silly, but the combined powers of James Spader and Kurt Russell, plus an awesome supporting cast and some imaginative visuals, keep the film in the rad zone (as I like to call it). Spader is flipping ADORABLE as the bespectacled scholar with a meek manner and presumably little experience with women. I draw the latter assumption from the really shitty romantic subplot that's thrown in haphazardly- seriously that could have totally been cut out. He's got a good foil in Russell's taciturn and tortured colonel, who just wants kids to stop playing with guns and also to kill himself with a secret bomb.

I loved the disconnect between so many of the concepts introduced in this movie. The dusty ancient-esque setting, the futuristic technology, the aliens, the antiquated gender relations, the very 90's haircuts, the secret underground government research facility, the class uprising- it's all a jumble of ideas from other movies but somehow when put together it is enormously entertaining even if most of it doesn't make sense. I'm not even saying this is so-bad-it's-good, it's more that it has to be seen to be believed because it's so weird and fun. I liked the action and the over-arching mystery, insane as it is, and I especially enjoyed Jaye Davidson as the main bad dude. He is magnetically pretty and I dug his crazy costumes. And yes I know he's in The Crying Game, which I haven't seen yet, but I've pretty much figured out what the surprise is, but please don't talk about it anyway? It's got a "long wait" on netflix so it might be a little while.

IN CONCLUSION I loved Stargate, almost ironically, but mostly genuinely. It's way too long though, which is unfortunate but unsurprising for Roland Emmerich. If it was cut down I would rate it higher.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: It's kind of like if The Mummy and Independence Day were fused into one movie, with a pinch of Battlefield Earth thrown in. But if you don't have time to watch 4 long movies in a row, I'd say Stargate plus The Mummy is your best bet.

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Monday, January 2, 2012

The Artist (2011)

Seen: At the Multiplex Cinemas in Edgewater, NJ with my friend Nicole! She's the best!

Hello, number one film I've been excited about in 2011! And it took FOREVER to come out it seems! Calling back to silent films of yesteryear and taking advantage of Jean Dujardin's amazing facial expressions, The Artist centers on silent star George Valentin (Dujardin) at the dawn of the sound era in film. He refuses to make talkies and sees his career and personal life fall to ruins while beautiful new starlet Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) becomes a talking sensation.

With reverential attention to 1920s/30s Hollywood, writer/director Michael Hazanavicius has created a film that both re-creates the atmosphere of classic silent film and updates it with self-referential flair. I loved the oddly surreal moments that incorporated sound, terrifying Valentin in his sleep as the uncanniness of it sets in. The music is lovely, including several recognizable tunes, and the 1.33:1 aspect ratio brings an unexpected element of legitimacy. And the costumes! Oh, the costumes! Everything is fringey and sparkly and furry and everyone's hair is perfectly coiffed!

It's no secret I think Jean Dujardin is inescapably watchable, he just radiates charisma and can make me laugh with a look or eyebrow raise. He's perfect in the showy silent film star way but is just as convincing as the story becomes more serious and the role requires more subtlety. And the beautiful Bejo is an expert at the flirty-eye cute flapper thing, and also the most sympathetic in the story. The best thing is they can both dance! That's like my favorite secret talent for someone to have. As the credits rolled I was instantly working on a pitch for a good-time Fred and Ginger-y musical for them both to star. And fine, it can include the dog. He was pretty spry. (And played by multiple dogs, I KNOW.) Maybe then it'll be like a Thin Man musical, solving mysteries while tap dancing? YES.

Appearances from recognizable American actors like John Goodman, James Cromwell, Malcolm McDowell, Beth Grant, and Missi Pyle were welcome additions but a little off-putting at first since I kept thinking of this as a French production. But as I thought about it I realized it lends the film a more "American" air, which is appropriate considering the setting.

The Artist has the right combination of laughs and gravitas for an all-around great movie, and the silent film angle works as a fitting tribute to a specific period in film. It's not always accurate (I know Raquelle pointed out that the language wasn't always era-appropriate), but it works in bringing some of the aesthetic and techniques of silent film into present-day. And of course, I always love movies about movies, so it's an easy sell.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: So many things reminded me of Singin' in the Rain, I think that'd be an excellent double feature. Then triple it up with Sunset Blvd. and my, are you in for an awesome day!

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