Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The 2012 Boston Science-Fiction Marathon, Part II

Seen: At the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square. Read Part I.

Alright, 4 films down and I'm doing fine! A little hungry but as always I am prepared with snacks (pear applesauce cups, it's all I need). There are some awesome trailers and such shown, but sadly no shorts like the past few years. I heard there was a great shorts program during the festival portion, and usually they pick a few to screen during the marathon itself. I wonder if the gargantuan Endhiran was too long to allow for extra stuff? Hmmph! Anyway, we continue on with more mad inventors/scientists, along with a some aliens and exploding heads. Press on!

5 Dimensions (2011)
This was one of the festival films so I was glad I got to see it after missing the original screening. A thoughtful time travel drama set in 1920s-30s England, Dimensions has some interesting ideas and lovely cinematography. I liked the main cast (who all got to wear sexy 30's outfits) and the romantic aspects so central to the sciencey portions as the main character tries to revisit a lost love from his childhood. Unfortunately its script is too light, dragging through what could have been a much shorter story, and the editing isn't great (all those fading scene transitions were so off-putting). But I appreciated it on a more basic level, especially since I assume the budget was pretty small and it did look good. The director Sloane U'Ren (who previously has been set/art designer for a ton of cool films) was there and did a Q&A but I had to leave to start my reading. Yay for ladies making sci-fi though!

6 Attack the Block (2011)
This I had to sit out for homework time. I totally love it (it's one of my favorites of 2011) but I've seen it twice and the first time was in a theater, so sacrifices had to be made. For anyone who hasn't been paying attention, this is a completely kickass movie with gorilla-wolf motherfucker aliens and a group of resourceful British urban youths who combat them. Great soundtrack, creature design, and casting makes for a fun and decidedly different sci-fi comedy. The title links to my full review from last year.

7 Island of Lost Souls (1932)
So once when I was a kid I was at a slumber party and we watched the 1996 version of this story but everyone else fell asleep really quickly but I watched the whole thing alone and it scared the SHIT out of me. Marlon Brando's creepy turban/pastiness left an impression. THIS one is a pretty cool movie, more subdued but just as eerie and strange. Based on the HG Wells novel, the film follows a castaway who finds himself unwillingly left on a mysterious, tiny island populated by animal/human hybrids- experimental creatures of the devilishly polite Dr Moreau (Charles Laughton). It's a careful thriller with a clipped runtime, wonderfully dark subject matter, and some fantastic performances. Laughton is mesmerizing as the tactful, probably deranged Moreau, but Kathleen Burke stands out as the "Panther Woman" Lota, the doctor's most "human" creation who longs for social interaction. And Bela Lugosi has a small role that led to hilarious Devo references from the crowd! The make-up effects are notable, as well. Good film, though the script felt a bit light at times.

8 Scanners (1981)
Oh, Scanners, a movie that is impossible for me not to love even though it's got some problems. I saw this last year as part of my personal Cronenberg re-awakening (realizing his 80's movies are all I need in life) and came to love it. Patrick "Mr Intensity" McGoohan sets telepaths against each other in a confusing and deadly (and Head Explody) battle, it's perfectly strange and overblown and yet super boring at parts. A weird mix of stuff but as it progresses it gets better and better, and by the time the big reveal comes (which features one of my favorite narrative twists!), I'm hooked. I skipped the first 20-30 minutes to finish reading but I knew what was going on since by now I've watched it a couple of times and could hear certain key moments. Still love it, whatever. I hope there's a Cronenberg at every 'Thon- we're 3 for 4 since I've been going. The title links to my original review.


Monday, February 27, 2012

The 2012 Boston Science-Fiction Marathon, Part I

Seen: At the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square. 24 Hours of Science-Fiction, every year!

Yay it's my favorite time of year! That's right, the 37th Annual Boston Science-Fiction Marathon! It's a film festival too but I didn't get a chance to go to any of those, so if you want reporting on that check out Jay Seaver's posts. Anyway, this is a time when a bunch of super geeks gather in the beautiful, historic Somerville Theatre for a full 24 hours of sci-fi. This was my fourth year and I feel like I pretty much have it down, though I've never quite made it the full amount of time. Unfortunately this time around I was forced to spend some time away from movies so I could get home work done (I had a class presentation the next day), so I felt like a total nerd sitting in the upstairs lobby reading about West German Pop Art and Herbert Marcuse's convoluted cultural theory while badass cinema was playing in the next room. But oh well, the good news is the intense anxiety I was feeling about school kept me awake basically the whole time! Good for me!

Also as far as I could tell the general theme was mad scientists/science gone wrong, which is really neat!

1 Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
I thought this looked ridiculous from the trailers and my general lack of interest in any of the "Apes" movies kept me from seeking it out in theaters. It's got James Franco as an oddly gaunt-looking scientist trying to cure Alzheimer's but with his new drug he accidentally produces a baby ape with an exceptionally high IQ (eventually named Caesar), and raises him in his home. After several years Caesar is taken by animal control and leads a city-wide revolution along with his fellow primates. This starts off as a thoughtful look at experimental medicine and the line between pet and friend, which was interesting, but it's basically all just a long set-up for the big action-y ending. I felt these two halves didn't quite come together, and I could have done with it being just one or the other. My biggest issue is that I didn't care at all about any of the characters (except maybe John Lithgow as Franco's sick dad), and that made it boring. It did that thing every movie does, where a lady character is added and then given nothing to do and proves totally superfluous- either write a decent female character or don't put women in your movies, guys, I'm sick of pretty actresses just floating around aimlessly next to their fleshed-out boyfriends. There are some really cool moments and the effects are fantastic (with the help of Andy Serkis, of course), but for the most part I was ambivalent.

2 Brainstorm (1983)
Now this is more my kind of movie! It's got Christopher Walken and crazy science and a totally nonsensical plot AND it's from the 80's! Sadly, it's mainly remembered as Natalie Wood's last movie since she died while it was still filming. Walken stars as an overworked scientist who, along with his totally badass best friend Louise Fletcher, invents a device that can relay sights, sounds, and sensations through a headset, meaning a person can experience a road race or skydiving while sitting in a desk chair. (It's very Strange Days.) Of course bad people want to do bad things with it because of military vs science problems, etc. Also he wants to get back with his wife (Wood) and there's sort of a boring romance thing going on. This movie has some awesome ideas but a scattershot execution, leading to a somewhat campy but totally enjoyable experience. Plus Louise Fletcher, come on, she's so in charge. Also it contains what has become maybe my favorite Christopher Walken moment ever? It's sort of hard to explain its greatness out of context, but it basically involves a quick shot of Walken carrying a huge bicycle and yelling "SO I WANNA RIDE MY BIKE, BIG DEAL!" You kinda had to be there...

3 War of the Satellites (1958)
Time for some Corman! There's always room for Roger Corman at the 'Thon, and this is one of the better ones I've seen. It's got familiar face Dick Miller plus a bunch of other stocky white people. The plot revolves around a pioneering space program that is hotly debated once Earth receives messages from an alien race warning them to abandon space travel. The scientist in charge (Richard Devon) is replaced by some menacing self-replicating alien creature who pushes the mission ahead for his own unclear purposes. I kind of lost what his intentions were, but overall I dug the movie. Miller is strong as a suspicious astronaut who tries to figure out what's happened to his boss. The script is decent, the run time is short, the sets and effects are adorably 50's, and I had a fun time. Proper Corman action.

4 Endhiran (2010)
Ok. This is the main super WTF movie of the 'Thon. Seriously, I'm still questioning what is going on and it's been a week. Known on the internet as the "Bollywood Terminator", Endhiran is actually a sort of Frankenstein musical mash-up with Terminator imagery, if that makes sense. It's got wacky inventor Dr Vaseegaran played by Bollywood superstar Rajnikanth, who creates an advanced android in his own image named Chitti. The robot is a hit within his community and especially with Vaseegaran's medical student girlfriend Sana (Aishwarya Rai), but after he implants a hormonal emotional program to give Chitti feelings, his creation falls in love with Sana and then gets destroyed and then put back together as a crazy megalomaniacal killing machine. There are musical numbers and comedic side-trips and some insane action stunts (I believe this is the most expensive Bollywood film made to date for the effects), but it's a really bad movie. It's over 3 hours, the story and characters are incredibly stupid, and several of the musical numbers are unwarranted (and this coming from a person who loves musicals). One of them features uncomfortable ethnic appropriation that I didn't understand at all. BUT at the same time there is enough weirdness and a few truly fun and catchy dance numbers that I couldn't look away. I had to see what the fuck else could happen. Because, seriously, what the fuck? I will be writing a more in-depth review for 366 Weird Movies sometime in the upcoming weeks, so keep an eye out for it.

Stay tuned for Part II of the 'Thon, it's got aliens and exploding heads and a new sci-fi movie directed by a lady! A rarity!


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Mononoke-hime (Princess Mononoke) (1997)

Seen: At the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, as part of their Studio Ghibli "Castles in the Sky" screening series.

After he kills a rampaging boar-god who attacks his village, young warrior Ashitaka is inflicted with a degenerative curse that only the elusive (and fucking TERRIFYING) Forest Spirit can heal. He travels from his isolated village to seek help, eventually taking refuge in a prosperous iron mining facility whose ambitious leader Lady Eboshi is waging a war with the surrounding nature gods so that she can expand the operation. Ashitaka tries to prevent the battle, hoping to gain the support of San, a mysterious human woman raised by wolf gods, but realizes he is dealing with forces much bigger than both of them.

It is a sad thing that though I love his films, I haven't seen any Miyazaki movies in a theater. Part of the reason is that I try to avoid dubbed anime if I can, and all the American theater releases have the Disneyfied vocal tracks. But when I saw that the MFA had a big series on the films of Studio Ghibli, I had to make time to see at least one. Princess Mononoke has remained one of my favorites of his, though it'd been years since I'd seen it. Plus, the MFA's print was subtitled! Exciting!

Presenting a complex, ethically fascinating dilemma surrounding a number of interesting characters and exciting action scenes, Princess Mononoke is definitely not the kind of "family" film Miyazaki is known for. Of course, the trademarks are there- the animation is stunning, incorporating lush forest backgrounds and attention to detail in character and set design, and the whole "strong-willed young people" thing that he likes is in full view. The inclusion of Shinto-influenced animism and bursts of fantasy has a strong presence as well.

What makes this film so smart is how it deals with multiple points of view, as opposed to presenting a black and white vision of the man vs nature debate. Of course, the forest spirits have a recognizable argument- they were there first and did nothing to warrant having their habitats destroyed by greedy humans. But, many of them fight against each other, or fight for their home at the expense of the land itself. Some allow their hatred and resentment to become a wildly destructive force, transforming them into something evil when afflicted with unnatural bullet wounds. On the human side Lady Eboshi at first seems a cold-hearted anti-environmentalist with nothing but profit in mind and little concern for life- human or otherwise. It is later revealed that she is an attentive and open-minded employer, providing jobs and living quarters for those who wouldn't find work anywhere else, and generally imbuing those around her with a sense of empowerment. She is shrewd and a little ruthless, but not an evil person, and her wish to protect her business is understandable. She doesn't really believe in the power of forest spirits, and wants to dispel the hold they claim over the more superstitious. And let's face it, she's a goddamn badass.

Ashitaka and San act as composites of both worlds, unexpected representatives of both sides. He is supportive of Eboshi's self-sustaining enterprise, but also respectful of the forest gods. He carries a curse that derives from man-made weaponry, feeling the pain of similarly-afflicted animal spirits. San has been raised as a wolf and feels at home among animals, but sees something of a kindred soul in Ashitaka, perhaps because deep down she senses her own humanness. Both seek to mediate the situation, but find themselves unable to fully stand between such monumental oppositional forces.

It is an intense and brutal situation, leading to moments of unexpected violence and at times, beauty, as Miyazaki expertly weaves multiple plot lines and characters together in an intricate but generally accessible story. I love that it takes place during the Muromachi period, when Western technology was just making its way into Japanese hands (early firearms play a major role in the film). Usually this type of tale would be told closer to the present-day, after industrialization had ripped out so much of the natural world and cataclysmic environmental change is palpably imminent. In fifteenth/sixteenth century Japan such widespread domination of humans over nature is much less at the forefront of people's consciousness, but here we see an early recognition of the possibility. The forest gods are defending themselves now before a much worse future swallows them up, while humans aren't yet as concerned with their self-motivated actions.

FYI you guys I'm currently attempting to write a paper for my postwar German art class and I feel like my blogging style is being affected tonight by overthought language choices. Sorry? Or... you're welcome? Or maybe nothing noticeable?


Pair This Movie With: Hmm environmentally-themed animation with a magic forest lady and a regular dude... Fern Gully!

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


Friday, February 24, 2012

Alex Makes Art #72

Oh hey! Look who's here! It's me, the rapidly unraveling grad student who can't seem to keep her shit together to blog more than once a week! Look at that. I haven't had much time to make art either, which is really depressing me. I can only say that updating (both reviews and art posts) will continue to be lessened- but never completely stopped- until at least April. You'll all survive, somehow, I'm sure, even if I don't.

Anyway. I managed to make a new movie poster! Wow! I saw Princess Mononoke at the Boston MFA last week and it was splendid to see on a big screen (and with subtitles, my goodness!) so I was inspired to design something for it. I hope you enjoy this thing I have made, it is available for purchase if you really do! A review is on the way.

Also as a little extra, here's another entry in that big commission series I've been working on for an etsy customer. I've never seen One Tree Hill but she had a more specific idea for the subject matter and after reading up a bit on the characters I came up with this. She likes it! Hurray!

Oh also my Bringing Up Baby and The Apartment posters are for sale, did I mention that?


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Stormy Weather (1943)

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

Well you know me, I dig musicals of all sorts but am always finding ones I haven't seen, which is exciting. Stormy Weather impressed me with its awesome cast, and I thought a musical with a predominately black cast from 1943 was an interesting anomaly. The light script tells the story of Bill Williamson (Bill Robinson), a returning soldier who's a natural dancer but can't catch a break in show business, and Selina Rogers (Lena Horne), a successful club singer who is manipulated by her manager. As Bill recounts their romance to a group of kids hanging out on his porch, a wealth of talented singers, dancers, and musicians parade across his memories to show their stuff. It's loosely based on Robinson's real experiences.

I can't begin to tell you how many awesome people do awesome things in this movie, because that is basically what's happening at any given point. Fats Waller, Cab Calloway, Ada Brown, Katherine Dunham, Ada Brown, my new favorite people the Nicholas Brothers, and a host of supporting players are all dead-set on flat-out entertaining us. Sure, the plot is minimal and cliche as hell, but when there's a kickass musical number every few minutes I couldn't really complain that much. There are fantastic costumes and sets, and everyone just looks like they're having fun. Sometimes there are even jokes! Robinson brings the gleeful soft-shoe tapping and fucking mind-blowing agelessness (he was 65 in this movie! WHATTTTT????), while Lena Horne brings the grace and general loveliness with her song. They have a nice easygoing chemistry with each other and I enjoined their scenes together, along with the comedic touches of Dooley Wilson as a friend who's a bit of a con artist.

What helps Stormy Weather move past its mediocre script is the great range of musical numbers, and the performers' enthusiasm and dedication to their craft is so palpable. Fats gets in a swingin' version of his classic "Ain't Misbehavin", Lena breaks hearts with the titular ballad, Calloway charms in his zoot suit best with "Geechy Joe", and the Nicholas Brothers break out a truly jaw-dropping dance number that I had to watch several times in a row out of sheer disbelief. I just watched it again to get the link to it. Gave me fucking CHILLS, I tell you.

The main misstep, at least from my contemporary point of view, was the cultural appropriation-themed performance, first with "Diga Diga Doo", followed by "African Dance". Both of these feature the kind of fascination with "primitive", "tribal" culture of Africa and the Pacific Islands/Tropical-type places that seemed fairly widespread at the time, at least if several musicals I've seen are any indication. Obviously this is a slightly different scenario since those posing in these roles aren't in blackface, but it's still a noticeably dated display of ethnocentrism that I have trouble dealing with, and hard to not view seriously since so many of these stereotypes are still in the (Western) public consciousness today.

Interestingly, there's a comedic bit between Miller and Lyles wherein the actors don blackface. I'm not familiar with them so maybe this was a normal part of their act? It seemed a bit of a dig at Hollywood's insistence on perpetuating the use of blackface and general racial stereotypes into the 40's and 50's/ever using them at all, I think? I will not pretend to have any legitimate background in the history of black Hollywood so I am certainly not in a position to competently discuss the self-awareness of race in this movie. For the most part it isn't discussed, especially since the all-black cast lends the illusion of an all-black world, and it seems primarily to be meant as a showcase for these performers, not as a serious discussion of black actors' limited opportunities in show business (especially since I can only assume that the filmmakers were all white).

I'm just happy these wonderful people were able to be in one film together so I could bask in their beauty for 78 minutes. I'll be looking into other films of this ilk, I think, and hopefully I'll find one with a more engaging script.


Pair This Movie With: Oh dear, I don't know! I just wanted to watch videos of the Nicholas Brothers for ever and ever after this (and I did, for at least an hour). I guess another revue-type musical would be nice, like 1945's Ziegfeld Follies.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie (2012) at 366 Weird Movies

Seen: On our big screen/projector set-up, rented and streamed from youtube.

Soooo my boyfriend is a pretty big fan of Tim and Eric. I like them too, but to a lesser extent. Their first foray into feature-length film seemed like something too bizarre and horrifying to miss, so he rented it within a week of its release. I have to say... we weren't too impressed. Their style just doesn't carry over well into long-form content, I think, though there were some hilarious and weird segments and a few cool cameos. I wrote a full review for 366 Weird Movies, why don't you check it out?


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Explorers (1985)

Seen: On dvd on my laptop, rented from Hollywood Express.
93/100 on the Sci-Fi List.

Dude, somehow I hadn't even heard of this movie despite the fact that it's River Phoenix's first role? And it has a baby Ethan Hawke. What? I know. Joe Dante's ambiguously-titled Explorers follows the adventures of three tween boys who accidentally invent a means of flying into outer space. Ben (Hawke) is a sci-fi-obsessed kid who wants to be an astronaut and dreams about circuit boards. He shows his dream imagery to his friend Wolfgang (River Phoenix), a serious-minded scientific genius, who manages to build a machine that creates a movable forcefield with it. Local loner Darren (Jason Presson) joins them in building a ship that can fit inside the forcefield, and after a test flight through the drive-in theater they realize that someone (or something) is trying to contact them and steer them into space.

With a premise that starts off pretty basic and then gradually evolves into something much bigger, Explorers does capture that sort of innocent wonder of young kids who discover something secret. The script and effects are so-so and the pacing draaaags but I the kids are cute and there are some very cool moments- including an awesome b-movie spoof called "STARKILLER". I could have done without the half-assed romantic subplot, though, it just wasted time and nobody cared. It's got a weird, unexpected ending, though- kind of a let-down, really.

Ethan Hawke exudes the kind of charming enthusiasm that eventually just gets annoying, but River Phoenix is fucking adorable as Wolfgang. He's stiff and kind of mean and wears big glasses, and in real life Phoenix didn't know how to be a regular kid since he was raised in communes or whatever, which just makes the character more endearing and weird. I liked Jason Presson too, though as an actor he's the weakest. They look like they're having fun and that's what counts. I liked their little scientific montages and adventures, I won't lie. There are some good ideas and some bad ideas, basically, so I can't really feel strongly one way or the other about the film as a whole.
A plus: it's got James Cromwell for like 5 minutes as a wacky mad scientist dad! Roger Corman stalwart Dick Miller pops up for a bit too, which was a nice little wink to the audience I thought, even though his character is totally unnecessary and gets no resolution.


Pair This Movie With: I think if you put this with Invaders From Mars (the remake) you could have an 80s-riffic "Kids and Aliens"-themed evening.


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Senna (2010)

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

Going on numerous claims of its best-of-the-year/best-documentary-ever-type status, it seemed worthwhile to give Senna a try despite my lack of interest/knowledge in racing. Ayrton Senna was a wildly popular Brazilian Formula One racer in the 1980's and early 90's. With an intense, almost obsessive dedication and fearless driving style, he won 3 world championships and appeared to be unstoppable until his fatal crash at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. The film deals almost exclusively with his professional racing career- especially his rivalry with fellow driver Alain Prost-, with some mention of his family life and Christian spirituality.

So here's the thing about Senna: It is entirely composed of archive footage from Senna's races, interviews, and personal life, with some voiceovers from family members and no expository narration. While this makes for a more narratively consistent, filmic viewing experience, it also limits how much of our protagonist's story can actually be told, and how explanatory the filmmakers can be. I admit I know basically nothing about racing or cars, and had no idea who Ayrton Senna was or any of the other people discussed in the film. This means that the constant references to racing terms and minutiae were lost on me, and made it difficult for me to follow some of the conversations and problems brought up during Senna's career. It also means that there is very little insight into his personal life, with passing glimpses of girlfriends and a few words from his immediate family members. The whole movie is really just racing.

WHICH I'm sure is fine for people who are into it, and that's cool! I just don't actually care about racing at all except when it's like, Burt Reynolds or something. All the technical stuff meant nothing to me, and I got bored of constantly watching loud little cars speeding down a winding track. Sorry racing fans. It was also frustrating that there are many things mentioned that aren't really elaborated on or brought up again, from Senna's various romances (I had to find out from wikipedia that he was married at one point?) and early experiences to his relationship with his Brazilian public (the nation was struggling and he became an important sign of hope) and his charity work. It might have been nice to have his religious leanings gone into a little more, too, since it seemed like a central part of his personal outlook but I wasn't even sure what denomination he was or how he came to be so devout.

Ok so this is way too much negativity. Senna is an interesting documentary. I learned a lot about a topic I was completely unfamiliar with, and I applaud the filmmakers' use of existing footage to create a respectful portrait of their deceased subject. For the most part it is an engaging and informative film, I just found it far too narrow in focus. I know this isn't necessarily a failing of the film itself, though, since part of it stems from my own tastes. I guess what disappoints me most is that I had come under the impression that this was a great documentary even for viewers who weren't familiar with pro racing; I have to conclude that's not necessarily so.


Pair This Movie With: Um something else about racing, I guess? I haven't seen too many, and the ones that come to mind aren't very good (Cars, Stroker Ace, The Fast and the Furious movies, etc). Or maybe another sports-type documentary? I haven't really seen... any. So, sorry. You're on your own.


Friday, February 10, 2012

Gojira (Godzilla) (1954)

Seen: On blu-ray on our big screen/projector set-up, a gift I bought for Miles, because I am an awesome girlfriend (sometimes).
92/100 on the Sci-Fi List.

Despite my love of Japanese culture and affinity for sci-fi movies, I had never seen the original Godzilla. Luckily this was righted after Criterion released a blu-ray edition this month! The now-famous lizard monster started off as a mysterious creature birthed in the fires of radiation after WWII, stumbling upon the shores of Japan and just generally tearing shit up. The government works to find a way to destroy him, while a consulting paleontologist wants to study him. When nothing seems powerful enough to take this fire-breathing monster down, a troubled scientist may be forced to use a weapon he invented accidentally that he fears more than anything.

Made in response to Japan's experiences during WWII, Godzilla is mostly devoid of the "Ahhhh IT'S GODZILLAAAAA" camp silliness that the series is known for. It's a fairly serious, straightforward look at a country in crisis, still recovering from a cataclysmic event and now faced with another unstoppable force. The characters were all alive during the war, and know the dangers of extreme military force and experimental weaponry. The story is primarily seen through the eyes of Ogata (Akira Takarada), a ship captain, and his fiancee Emiko (Momoko Kochi), the daughter of consulting scientist Dr Yamane (Takashi Shimura)- regular, compassionate citizens who know that dangerous means must be taken to overcome this unrelenting force of nature that's killing so many citizens. Using their friend Daisuke's secret weapon is an ethical dilemma- unleashing this kind of technology could cause future damage, and lead to catastrophe on the same level as Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The film's anti-violence message is strong, but not over done, working itself smoothly into the happenings of the story instead of being tacked on awkwardly like in several other movies of its ilk.

One thing I didn't expect about Godzilla is the BABES! Seriously, the two main dudes are super attractive in different ways. Ogata's got the boyish charm and form-fitting undershirt, while Daisuke's got an eyepatch, lab coat, and a sexy, sexy tortured soul. I figure the filmmakers were like, "Ok, we have a giant fire-breathing monster for the kids, an undercurrent of social commentary for the adults, we gotta throw in some hunks for the ladies." But the joke's on you, filmmakers, because I like all three of those things! Sure the effects are dated but overall I think the monster looks really good, there is some great use of miniatures and a number of fiery explosions. And that metallic sound effect for his roar is killer. The soundtrack is fantastic overall, especially that driving, dramatic main theme.

Great job, Godzilla. I hope you aren't really incinerated or whatever so you can come back for a million more installments!


Pair This Movie With: There are traces of The Thing From Another World in the science vs military aspects. Although generally I think The Day the Earth Stood Still is a good pairing for a "Great Sci-Fi With a Message" kind of night.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Haywire (2012)

Seen: At Fresh Pond Entertainment Cinemas in Cambridge.

All I ever want is a kickass action movie with a kickass lady at the center that doesn't get bogged down in stupid romance or sexism or boring parts. DO YOU KNOW HOW HARD THIS IS TO FIND. (Side note: give me recommendations, as usual.) Thankfully that inscrutable trickster Steven Soderbergh stepped up to the plate with Haywire. American Gladiator Gina Carano stars as Mallory, a tough-as-nails secret agent/assassin-type-thing who is betrayed by her own people and thrust into a deadly international chase. Told primarily in flashbacks as she narrates her tale to a half-terrified, half-turned-on dude (Michael Angarano) she's sort of carjacking, the story moves through several missions and countries, all with their own bloody fistfights, until the asshole who sold Mallory out is identified.

Packed with crazy action scenes, an impressive cast, and lots of intrigue, Haywire is basically the perfect thriller. The narrative is complex enough to keep me interested but never gets in the way of the wonderfully intense action. There are multiple chase scenes, lots of expertly choreographed hand-to-hand combat sequences, and some awesome sneak attacks. Nothing is over-directed, there's no shaky-cam or frenetic close-ups that only serve to confuse the audience and mask a lack of imagination. The story clips along at a good pace, allowing enough quiet moments for character exposition but never really losing its momentum.

Ok so sure this movie has Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas, Bill Paxton, and now I finally know who Channing Tatum is, but I can't even pretend to give a shit about ANY of them when Gina Carano is on screen. Have you seen this woman? She is spectacular. My god. She's charismatic, stunning, chic, and just fucking radiates badassery. And she will just beat the shit out of EVERYTHING and there's NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT. I can't even. Ugh. Star in every action movie, please.

Admittedly the ending gets a little dragged-out, and there's a moment of super shitty CGI, but otherwise I had very few problems with Haywire. There is a trace of a romantic subplot but it barely even registers, and there's never any lost time with boring mushy stuff. It's just all kickass action. Bam.


Pair This Movie With: For another recent awesome, badass lady action hero, I was pretty taken with Hanna. Alternatively you can go the more grindhousey route with something like Foxy Brown, Cleopatra Jones, Faster, Pussycat!, or newer throwbacks like Planet Terror.


Monday, February 6, 2012

Witchy Double Feature: Practical Magic (1998) and The Witches of Eastwick (1987)

Seen: On netflix instant on my tv (Practical Magic); On dvd on my computer, rented from Hollywood Express in Cambridge (The Witches of Eastwick).

In my past few Alex Makes Art posts I've mentioned an etsy customer who's commissioned me to make some prints for her. She has a lot of different films and tv shows and musicians she'd like art for, which is exciting, but also it means I have some properties to see if I'm not familiar with them already! I can tell she likes fantasy/witch-related stories from some of her choices, so I got to check out Practical Magic and The Witches of Eastwick as sort of prep-work for the designs. Wouldn't this be the perfect job? Watching movies as research and then just making art for them? Jeez. Dream life right there, I'm realizing. Anyway. (Commission me!)

Based on the novel by Alice Hoffman, Practical Magic tells the story of the Owens women, a clan who dates back to Salem as known for their witchcraft. They're nice people, typically, but cursed to suffer if they ever fall in love- their significant others always die. Sisters Sally (Sandra Bullock) and Gillian (Nicole Kidman) are orphaned at a young age and grow up with their wacky aunts (Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest). Sally is a practical homebody affected by the curse after several years of marriage and two daughters. Gillian is a world-tripping free spirit who brings horror to her childhood home when her abusive boyfriend is accidentally killed and then kind of brought back as a zombie.

This movie was certainly not what I expected, I'll say that! There's a lot more... murder? The cast is great, and includes appearances from Aidan Quinn and Margo Martindale! I do typically enjoy witch/fantasy-type stories in general, so the magical shenanigans going on are cool to me, and I liked the sisterly camaraderie theme and goofy antics of Channing and Wiest. Plus it has these unexpected dark moments that were a nice surprise. So much is going on here, though. That is not necessarily a bad thing, it just felt scattered overall. Several years pass, multiple stories are told, and there isn't much cohesion from beginning to end. I can see this working as a book, with more time to deal with all the plot lines and better develop certain characters and narratives. Plus it gets too cheesy at times.

Also did you guys know this was directed by Griffin Dunne? I had no idea he'd directed several movies (mostly romantic comedy-types) over the years. The more you know.


The Witches of Eastwick had been vaguely on my radar for a while, mainly I knew it as a witchy movie with Jack Nicholson and several famous ladies and that it had a hilariously-named porn parody called The Witches of Breastwick. Hehehe. Turns out it's a pretty weird and ambiguous comedy-thriller based on a book by John Updike. What? I know. Nicholson plays the sleazy but magnetic Daryl Van Horne, a new resident in the quiet American suburb of Eastwick. He romances three best friends who turn out to have magic powers when they work together. Alex (Cher) is a strong-willed widow/mom/sculptor, Jane (Susan Sarandon) is a recently-divorced, downtrodden music teacher, and Sukie (Michelle Pfeiffer) is a hardworking reporter and mother of 6 (I think? There were always a ton of kids surrounding her, I never counted) whose husband deserted her.

This is a strange movie, totally not what I was expecting. Parts of it are awesome: big, nay- HUGE- 80s hair, strong and sexy ladies, free love, levitating, and a pretty rad climax with magic and feathers and lingerie and ice cream and demon transformation. I thought the idea of three approaching-middle-age women who find their true strengths after losing their men interesting, especially since magic powers were involved. But in truth most of this film didn't really make much sense to me, it is totally all over the place with its narrative and its messages. I'm all for sexual liberation and whatnot, but it seemed to me that a premise involving three women who are clearly manipulated by some demonic asshole, who basically gets his way in the end (he wanted kids to prolong his evil line or whatever) despite physical defeat, and then showing at least one of those women still pining for him even after learning he's some kind of psychotic devil, is self-defeating. I know it's a comedy, but it's still a backwards message. And their magical-ness is never explained or even fully explored, so not sure what's going on there.

Also this movie has way too much throwing up. Like, at one point I was trying to eat a pizza. Then I had to stop because watching the film was too gross. Goddamn cherry vomit everywhere. Poor Veronica Cartwright! Her character was dumped on the entire movie, poor thing. And her ability to figure out Van Horne's plot was never even explained, come to think of it. Oh well. Anyway this movie was ok.

Also also: It's directed by George Miller, like the Mad Max guy. He also made Babe and the Happy Feet movies. What is with this?



Friday, February 3, 2012

Alex Makes Art #71

Oh boy have I got lots of stuff to show you guys today! How exciting! I imagine that grad school will really start taking up all of my non-job time as the semester progresses so this might not happen much for a while, we shall see. I can almost guarantee no new art for next week, at any rate, since I'm visiting my parents for a few days and have a class presentation on Thursday.

ANYWAY. Art Things! First of all, I'm really excited because I've finally been able to get a number of postcards printed up from posters and things I've designed in the past. They are glossy and excellent-looking. I have two packs for sale, one is a 5-pack of movie band gig poster designs and the other is an 8-pack of gig posters and other movie things. Maybe these are your thing? Also did I mention my Annie Hall poster is for sale?

I am continuing with the same big etsy commission I posted about last week, this time with a print for The Witches of Eastwick (review forthcoming). I just watched it for the first time yesterday and it was sort of strange but entertaining. Mostly I liked the big final battle at the end, which is where I took this design inspiration from. I think it came out well!

On the personal side I did an ink drawing of Buster Keaton, sparked by my viewing of Sherlock Jr. last week. I dig it, so that's cool. It's for sale.

Phew, that's it! Have an awesome weekend everybody!


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Face/Off (1997)

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

Ok so there is a movie in which Nicolas Cage and John Travolta play mortal enemies and for some reason they SWITCH FACES and then, like, duel each other? How have I known about this movie for at least 10 years and not seen it? I don't know, man, I don't know. Face/Off pits Sean Archer (Travolta), a hardened FBI agent still mourning the death of his young son after several years, and Castor Troy (Cage), a wild-eyed terrorist who totally killed Archer's son, against each other in a super weird game of cat and mouse. They take over each other's lives, find each other's weaknesses, and then get caught up in a crazy long battle sequence for like 45 minutes.

This movie is ri-goddamn-diculous and I loved it for that. I mean, my god, have you seen this thing? The basic premise makes absolutely no sense but it's taken so seriously. The action set pieces are wonderfully high-concept: a car and a plane play chicken, a beautiful multi-level apartment gets shot up to pieces, there's a speed boat chase, a spark-ridden prison break-out, and so many explosions. John Travolta and Nicolas Cage are having so much fun in their dual roles, both cackling evilly as Castor Troy and staring intensely as Sean Archer. Cage even gets a few Peter Loew-y facial expressions in there.

Of course, Woo's heavy-handed symbolism and penchant for drawn-out slow motion can be as hilarious as it is cringe-inducing. It's almost a so-bad-it's-good kind of movie but I found its wackiness so genuinely appealing I can't quite peg it that way. Then again all the grave, out-of-place face-touching has left us with joke fodder for weeks to come. Every time someone strokes a face it is funny and corny, and can easily be carried into real life interactions.

Also I was so excited to re-watch that episode of Delocated and fully get all the Face/Off references!


Pair This Movie With: There are multiple parallels to Double Team, so if you have the time/stamina for another movie after this that's the best way to go.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Sherlock Jr. (1924)

Seen: On netflix instant on my tv.

Yeah yeah so Sherlock Jr. is my first Buster Keaton film, so I'm unschooled in a lot of things, so what. In his remarkably prescient look at the magic of the movies, Keaton plays a mild-mannered film projectionist/wannabe detective who sees his romantic aspirations crushed when a rival suitor pins the theft of the lady's father's pocket watch on him. He slips into a dream world inspired by the film he's projecting, wherein he becomes a Sherlock Holmes-esque character who endeavors to save the girl from her villainous thieving beau.

Packed with imaginative sight gags and a few truly impressive stunts, this is the kind of film that has continued to make me giggle as I look back on certain scenes and jokes. I loved the early segment wherein Keaton's character finds money in the movie theater rubbish, and when a girl comes by looking for her lost dollar, he asks her to describe it to him before he gives it back to her. And of course the booby-trapped mansion in the film-within-a-film, the death-defying chase scene that is both thrilling and hilarious, and the various little looks and tricks all made me smile. True to my expectations, Keaton himself is fantastic, entertaining easily with his oblivious air, mournful face, and careful movements. I'm pretty enamored of Ford West as Sherlock's steadfast sidekick Gillette, entirely because his frequent disguises reminded me of Gene Parmesan. I just imagined Keaton squealing with delight every time he unmasked himself, I don't know. The lady character (Kathryn McGuire) is pretty neat too, she totally solves the mystery and helps clear The Projectionist's name.

Sherlock Jr. may be a silly comedy at face value but it is also a technical masterpiece that slips in class commentary, almost in anticipation of the next decade's Depression with its depiction of a down-on-his-luck working man who dreams of a richer, more exciting existence. The effects are wonderful, with Keaton's ghostlike form stepping out of his corporeal body and seamlessly entering the movie screen, only to find himself switching scenes and backdrops in a jaw-dropping sequence that had me scratching my head. The moment when he jumps through Gillette's stomach to escape the bad guys had me gasp with glee, it was just so cool.

At a tragically trim 44 minutes, Sherlock Jr.'s only failing is that it's too short. I wanted more of Sherlock's adorable antics and Gillette's costume changes and Keaton's loving camera eye and a dreamlike movie fantasy that pleases on every level. Sigh.


Pair This Movie With: Well from where I sit today I think of Hugo for its ardent expression of silent film's magic. But personally I just wanted to set out and see all of Keaton's other movies (more will surely follow this month).

Further Reading: Jake Cole has a much more well-written and in-depth post on the film, check it out.