Friday, March 30, 2012

Alex Makes Art #77

Oh hello! I haven't posted much this week, it seems. To be fair, I haven't been watching many movies I haven't yet blogged about so there's only so much that can be done! But I've started going through the Star Wars series with a friend, following the Machete Order, and that reminded me that I've wanted to make a gig poster for Figrin D'an and the Modal Nodes (the Cantina Band) for a long time. So I did it! I wanted to try being more graphic and patterny than usual, and I think it worked out ok. Took some wookiepedia research, though, and I've emerged slightly nerdier than before with the expanded universe stuff. I accept this.

Anyway here it is, let me know what you think! It's for sale in my etsy shop.



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Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Brothers Grimm (2005)

Seen: On dvd at a friend's house, from my personal collection.

My freshman-year college dorm room was known as a movie-watching hangout, and I always left my dvd collection accessible to friends who stopped by, even if I wasn't around. One day I came home to find several of them watching The Brothers Grimm, and of course outrightly hating it. I'm pretty sure they were mad at me for even owning such a movie, and not warning them against it, though I assured them it's something I would never recommend they watch. I wouldn't really recommend it to anyone who wasn't a crazy Gilliam fan. The film is a strange combination of comedy, fantasy, and action that pits the eponymous German storytellers Jacob (Heath Ledger) and Wilhelm (Matt Damon)- who con small towns into thinking they have otherworldly intruders and then "eradicate" them- against an honest-to-goodness evil magic queen. The occupying French government assigns them to the small town of Marbaden to root out the cause of several missing girls, and generally keep the peace so that the superstitious German people don't rise up against them.

I really liked this movie when it came out. It's an interesting blend of "fairy tale update" and historical satire, with imaginative visuals and a fantastic cast. It's got this sinister edge that's so Gilliam-esque even in a primarily light-hearted comedy. Several of the child-snatching scenes are down-right creepy, but then the affectations of Heath Ledger (who is adorable in this) and Peter Stormare remind us it is mainly a comedy-adventure. And it's got jokes about hoity-toity French people! Awesome! Seriously, every scene with Jonathan Pryce as the French general are completely perfect. He creates his own hall of mirrors in a basement! That's hilarious, you guys!

But watching it now after several years I really see its flaws. The visuals are beautiful, but limited technologically and it's just too noticeable to my spoiled eye. The blending of multiple fairy tales is well-done, but the script is pretty weak and it drags like crazy. I remembered Lena Headey as being this total hunting badass, and she starts out that way, but she spends way too much time being held captive by both Peter Stormare and then the Queen, and it's pretty bullshitty. The script was written by the same guy who wrote both Transformers sequels, though, so... maybe I shouldn't expect much.

Oh well, I'll still defend Gilliam for everything. He's my guy.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Several points reminded me of Stardust, another movie most people hated but I enjoy (and own).

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969)

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

Whaaaaaaat? Kurt Russell got his start making a slew of live-action films for Disney in the 60's and 70's? Really? I thought he just busted onto the scene fully formed as Snake Plissken. I had to see this madness for myself, so I started with the first in a trilogy of family-friendly college comedies wherein he plays doofy student Dexter Riley: The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. While stupidly trying to replace a part in the school's new room-size computer, Dexter gets a shock and finds all of the machine's data imprinted onto his brain. With his encyclopedic knowledge he becomes a worldwide sensation and also kind of a dick. He has to compete in a national college trivia contest to help his school, but also resident crime boss AJ Arno (Cesar Romero) wants the secret crime files he'd stored in the computer that are now sitting within Dexter.

Oh man you guys. This movie. What a weird time. So partly it's just a study of a doofy asshole who becomes a cocky overly-intelligent asshole and alienates all his friends. But also it's got science-fiction since his brain literally becomes a computer. BUT ALSO it's got like, criminal intrigue and action-y parts what with Cesar Romero's illicit dealings and eventual paint-laden high-speed car chase. And of course, it's a comedy. And a commentary on the sorry state of public undergraduate institutions. Some might say, "That's too much for one movie!" but I say, "It's got something for EVERYBODY." Including a goddamn stupendous theme song.

Naturally the main draw here is to see baby Kurt Russell in a silly comedy. He's about 18 and hasn't quite grown into his features yet, plus he's got a totally square haircut. Supporting performances from Cesar Romero and Joe Flynn are strong, though my favorite was William Schallert as Dexter's main professor. He just comes off as such a nice guy! Narratively and thematically the movie is all over the place, switching its focus every 10 minutes, but I can't say I wasn't entertained. And it certainly keeps you guessing what direction it'll go next!

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Presumably the others in the Dexter Riley saga, Now You See Him, Now You Don't and The Strongest Man in the World would make fitting follow-ups. I'll let you know. Alternatively, this is kind of the basic premise of Chuck- as I remember the first two episodes anyway.

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Monday, March 26, 2012

99 and 44/100% Dead (1974)

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

The absolutely awful title (a reference to this) and crazy plot summary proved a heady mix to my mind, so 99 and 44/100% Dead seemed worth a try. Richard Harris (yeah, THAT Richard Harris, though I didn't recognize him since I haven't seen his earlier films) stars as Harry Crown, a hitman with the worst haircut in the world who is called in to stop a massive gang war that's taken over whatever city this is set in. There are a few car chases and shoot-outs. And there's a lady who likes him (Ann Turkel). And his sidekick (Zooey Hall) is super tiny and only wears white. He has a lady who likes him too (Kathrine Baumann). Um... that's it, I think.

This movie is trying so hard to be cool, it's kind of adorable. Richard Harris wants to be badass Michael Caine, I guess? I've never seen Get Carter but I'm pretty sure that's the vibe they're going for. But... it's not cool. Like, at all. It's just sort of boring and nonsensical. I had little grasp of the characters or conflicts, also maybe this is set in the future? Unclear. Harry is supposed to be this alluring, mysterious gangster but mostly he just hangs around with a stolid expression showing off his very pretty ivory-handled guns and sporadically narrating. The plot doesn't make any sense since the script is purposefully obtuse, and at times it's funny but I don't think it's usually intentional. Everything is just slightly off in this film, and had it been played for laughs or taken to truly Weird depths, I would have been on board, but it just sort of coasts along the surface of actually being interesting.

There are some good ideas here, and some very cool moments, to be sure. I dug the weird stripey fertility sculptures around the city, and the score from Henry Mancini. There's a pretty awesome car chase with a school bus, a one-handed bad guy with multiple weapons attachments, and an exploding school. So, that's neat. And I liked Bradford Dillman as rival gang boss Big Eddie. But overall, 99 and 44/100% Dead falls flat.

It's got a great opening credits sequence, though, followed by some killer underwater shots of a corpse city. Check it out.

2/5

Pair This Movie With: Aw man, I don't know. Like I said, I think maybe this is somewhat Get Carter-y? Though I haven't actually seen that movie?

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Friday, March 23, 2012

Alex Makes Art #76

Okay I'm sure everyone is already sick of The Hunger Games even though it only just came out today, but hear me out. I read the book fairly recently, and I will be making a commissioned poster for it later. BUT I had this idea for a poster also, so I did this first. I hope it can apply to both the book and movie, since presumably Katniss is an archery badass in the film too, and she will probably blow something up? Let's hope so. Anyway, I think this came out pretty ok. My more talented boyfriend helped with the composition. I was trying to be braver with the color scheme.

It's available on etsy. I hope to see the movie soon. And I hope it rules.


PS A friend of mine is starting up a design blog and she interviewed me for one of her first posts! It was pretty fun, I got to list my favorite movie posters (So. Hard.) and link to lots of other artists I dig. Check it out and maybe leave a nice comment so she'll feel awesome?

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Wanderlust (2012)

Seen: At the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square.

Well it's no secret I dig all them folks from The State, with my frequent viewings of Wet Hot American Summer, Stella, The Ten, Childrens Hospital, and anything else those guys pop up in. I want to support David Wain as a director (I dug Role Models, after all) and even though Wanderlust features two actresses I don't like very much and seemed hokey from the trailer, it seemed worth a theatrical visit. Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston star as George and Linda, an overworked New York couple who are suddenly forced to sell their new apartment when they both lose their jobs. They plan to stay with George's cocky (and rich) brother (Ken Marino) in Atlanta, but eventually decide to try their luck at a hippie commune (ahem, "intentional community") where they hope to shed their materialism and reliance on technology.

Introducing a plethora of goofy characters and thrusting a pair of normies in among them is a pretty standard set-up for a comedy. But when the cast is this good and the jokes are this silly, I'm ok with it. Wanderlust isn't breaking any new comedic ground, and indeed its at-times generic humor is its weakest point, but it definitely made me laugh, which is the whole point, right? There's nudity (thanks, Joe Lo Truglio), pooping, funny outfits, lots of yelling, and a good message in the end. And Jennifer Aniston manages not to grate! She was actually pretty suited to the film, I thought.

The actual narrative is mediocre, with contrived romantic misunderstandings and a weird subplot about the commune being turned into a casino that is only brought out once in a while for convenience (luckily it features Mather Zickel!). It's really a character-focused piece, a spotlight for awesome comedians like Kerri Kenney, Alan Alda, Kathryn Hahn, and Jordan Peele. While Paul Rudd is excellent, I think Justin Theroux is the standout- I tend to forget how downright ridiculous that guy can be because he's so handsome. He's got some good moves in this movie.

So yeah. Pretty good stuff. It was beyond satisfying to see Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter, and David Wain re-unite as a trio of hilarious newscasters (can you guys do a fake news show or something? Please?) but that's mainly because Stella is one of my favorite shows/groups. While it is funny, Wanderlust is too... wandering (HAH!) and lets itself take some jokes too far to be a really great comedy.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: This might seem weird but the commune-with-an-overly-charismatic-leader thing made me think of Martha Marcy May Marlene. That would be quite the change-up.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Fast Five (2011)

Seen: On blu-ray on our big screen/projector set-up. Our version didn't have subtitles, though, so I missed the Portuguese dialogue.

Remember last summer when Miles and I were watching all the Fast and the Furious movies and was a weird, mostly shitty, time with overt homosexual undertones? Yeah, well the whole point was so we could watch Fast Five, since it looked awesome and featured Dwayne Johnson. (We skipped Fast & Furious since I'd already seen it- albeit dubbed in German- and Miles didn't want to sit through it.) Well, WE FINALLY WATCHED FAST FIVE. It's basically Ocean's Eleven with less polish, a higher body count, and a more ethnically diverse cast, collecting together several characters from all four previous films. And Dwayne Johnson's there as the government agent who's gotta catch 'em all.

It's got car chases, parkour, shoot-outs, bad jokes, scantily clad ladies who love cars (seriously, apparently hot women everywhere will just drop all of their clothes if a nice car is nearby?), con hijinks, ridiculous moments of sentimentality (of COURSE someone is pregnant and of COURSE we need to discuss the importance of "family" every five minutes because that's the ITALIAN WAY), and a fucking unbelievable climax. The dialogue is terrible and I didn't remember who most of the characters were (except everyone's favorite character Han, obviously), but there usually wasn't enough down time to get too bored. All of the action scenes are awesome and usually ludicrous, and everyone seems like they're having grand old time. Well, except Jordana Brewster, who spends basically the entire movie hanging out in a dingy warehouse looking at computers.

The defining point of Fast Five is its completely unexpected focus on continuity and general inter-connectivity. Normally for a mainstream action movie like this I wouldn't expect a familiarity with the previous films to be all that crucial, but it actually really is here. So many of the characters come from earlier installments, and several past events play an important role here. Then, of course, there's a secret ending that LITERALLY blew my mind with how it brought various pieces together and also seemed to defy reality, I mean jeez. What the fuck.

Now the sequel (currently in the works) has given me a new reason to live, so that's something.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Well I guess one of the other FF films? But most of them are really shitty? I'm pretty sure any fan of Lost will appreciate the crazy levels of interconnections that go on in this movie, so that's an option. But the most appropriate pairing would probably be Ocean's Eleven.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Enjô (1958)

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

I'm currently taking a course on the cultural history of Kyoto, and for my final paper I'm writing about Yukio Mishima's novel The Temple of the Golden Pavilion. Kon Ichikawa's film Enjô ("Conflagration") is the only film adaptation I could get a copy of, and I plan to work it into my paper as well. Inspired by true events, the story centers around young Buddhist monk Mizoguchi (Raizo Ichikawa), who joins the famous golden temple after his father's death. A shy stutterer, he becomes obsessed with the temple itself, seeing in it a reflection of all the beauty that can never exist in his world, especially as the horrors of World War II and the following years of scarcity take their toll. In an act of inscrutable madness, he sets the temple on fire, intending to die in the flames but ultimately escaping death and falling into police hands.

I'll be upfront: I was pretty sick when I watched this movie, and I know my focus wasn't the best. Plus it turns out that low-quality black and white VHS tapes are kind of hard to see clearly when blown up on a home projector. So... there's that. Also looking back on it I keep getting confused between what happens in the book and what they included in the film. Oh well.

Anyway. Filmed in a quiet, deliberate style with limited revealing dialogue, Enjô is an interesting look at wartime/postwar outer Kyoto as well as a character study of a confused and obsessive young man. It gives insight into the day-to-day lives of priests at a zen temple during this period, including the corrupt practices of its members as the evils of war seep into every consciousness. The lead actor is quite good, as is Tatsuya Nakadai as the scurrilous clubfooted friend. (I'm sorry if "clubfooted" is an offensive term- I'm unfamiliar with it, but it's used in the book and film to describe him.)

As a whole, though, I found the film a bit too reserved, and I'm more engaged with the book as we see the story through Mizoguchi's eyes with his very self-reflective first-person narration.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Hmm unsure... perhaps another film that focuses on the psychology of a crime and/or the motives behind it? Like The United States of Leland? Or Primal Fear. Or you could also just read Mishima's book, I'm currently about halfway through and it's quite interesting.

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Chico & Rita (2010)

Seen: At the Kendall Square Landmark Cinema in Cambridge.

There's always that one (sometimes two) film nominated for an Animated Feature Oscar that I never heard of and can't get access to until long after the ceremony. It's one of the few categories I actually pay attention to since I'm always looking for great animated films to watch. Chico & Rita seemed promising: A musical that begins in 1940s Havana and then moves into 1950s New York, following the stop-and-go romance of clueless pianist Chico and sultry singer Rita. Laced with jazzy tunes, a number of recognizable musical cameos, and a smidgeon of race commentary, it seemed a breath of fresh air for the animated musical genre so often reserved for family-friendly fare.

The thing everyone needs to know about this movie is that it is essentially a standard 50s musical, only with people of color and more nudity. The under-written romance, show biz lifestyle, inundation of jazz numbers, and character archetypes (dopey male lead who thinks he's charming, sassy lady who just needs her outer shell cracked, jokester best friend who's morally flexible, asshole white guy manager, etc) are all in keeping with the basic formula. I like those movies, so I didn't mind it. It was like an homage, really, with a few moments of self-aware criticism as Rita's character reacts against the racism she experiences in the American movie industry. Plus there's a dream sequence that features Fred Astaire, Humphrey Bogart, and On the Town!

The music is great, and I loved that musicians like Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Tito Puente make appearances as Chico navigates the New York music scene. It becomes sort of a mini music history lesson on the influence of Cuban culture on American jazz. For the most part I liked the animation- it's energetic and colorful- but there is a weird disconnect between the backgrounds and characters that gave it an off-putting floating effect. Presumably they used Flash for some parts? The painted backdrops are gorgeous though.

In the end I think it's the script that's weakest. Like many a classic musical, this romance isn't strong enough to hold the film together. But there's no clever banter or high-flying dance numbers to distract the audience. I really wish the issues surrounding Latin American performers in American theater and films had been more explored, but I think the filmmakers wanted to keep it more focused on the music.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: One of those other show bizzy-type old musicals, I'd say. There's No Business Like Show Business comes to mind. Or Stormy Weather.

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Friday, March 16, 2012

Alex Makes Art #75

Hey duuuudes so this has been my spring break this week which has been nice, even if now I'm freaking out because I haven't been doing enough school work! Ack! Anyway luckily I found time to make some art things, so that's been positive. It's been sort of a Disney-themed week as you shall see. First, I re-did my Tangled poster from last year, since I realized that I like the idea but hated the final product. It looks a lot better now, I think! And it's for sale.

Then I was thinking about how I'd never done anything based on a Pixar movie so I made an ink drawing of Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl from the Toy Story series. I colored it both in photoshop and with inks for two different versions. Cool! The digital print version is available on etsy.





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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Pitch Black (2000)

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

Oh, you know me, always looking for science-fiction that I've missed. Pitch Black throws together a motley crew of space travelers who crash-land on a seemingly deserted and definitely sandy planet. Young pilot Carolyn (Radha Mitchell) takes over as captain when her superior dies in the crash, and she does her best to find a way off the planet while keeping her passengers safe from the deadly creatures they discover. One of her transports is an infamous criminal named Riddick (Vin Diesel), whose special set of skills may be their best line of defense despite his questionable loyalties.

Supposedly made in 2000 but feeling in most ways like it comes from at least five years earlier, Pitch Black is a dark survival thriller that manages to hit enough of the right notes for me to really enjoy it, even if I am well aware of its shortcomings. The cast is strong, and the premise is a solid- if not especially inventive- one. Of course, the anti-hero formula fits well here, with Diesel really suited to the role of the confident, enigmatic Riddick. He's a vicious murderer with eerie glowing eyes that see in the dark, but you can't help but get the feeling that he's an ok dude. I liked Radha Mitchell a lot as Carolyn, since she is the main other competent person in the group (aside from Claudia Black's cool Australian lady, Shazza). The main problem is that she looks like a 12 year old, so I was sort of taken aback when she assumed leadership. But for the most part she is strong and resilient, which as a woman of course means she is *SPOILER ALERT* killed off. Many movies are jerks in this way.

Shot primarily with a white-blue filter to suggest the multiple suns and weird stretches of semi-twilight, the film at first manages to not completely visually date itself as the CG alien creatures aren't shown in full for quite a while. Unfortunately once the big conflict at the end emerges there is no stopping the mediocre effects from coming out, which detracts from the overall intense horror-thriller vibe they had going. That being said, it's still a pretty damn exciting final sequence.

ALSO this is a *SPOILER* but can I just ask whether it was a surprise to anyone that Jack was really a girl? Like, the moment he was introduced I said, is that guy being played by a woman? And then it's some kind of big reveal at the end and periods are involved. I mean you know I love it when women dress in drag, I seriously do, but I felt strange for pointing it out early on and then questioning whether I was right or not (not that it actually matters) while I waited for the other characters to catch up.

Anyway. I liked Pitch Black, but acknowledge that it's pretty dated and often slips into cheesiness in not the best way. I totally want cool shiny eyes like Riddick, though.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: When the movie started I was pretty convinced we were secretly watching Stargate, and I know they'd make a killer double feature of half cheesy/half legitimately awesome sci-fi set on desert planets.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Tenebre (1982)

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

I rented this ages ago for the Argento blogathon at the LAMB, but totally dropped the ball on watching it on time what with all my grad school activity and Real Life Job and all that. Oh well. Anyway. Tenebre follows popular American horror author Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa) after he arrives in Rome for a publicity tour promoting his new book. It quickly becomes apparent that an unknown serial killer is trying to get Neal's attention by murdering pretty young women in ways inspired by the book, and local police detectives enlist his help in finding the criminal.

Riddled with requisite bloody killings of scantily-clad ladies- as well as a few fully-clad dudes- and clumsily scripted, Tenebre lacks the sort of naive wonder and fantastic color saturation of Suspiria, the only other Argento movie I've seen to date. I know that the poorly-dubbed vocal track and stilted narrative style are typical of giallo films, but I'm realizing it just isn't my thing. The acting is just so, so bad- it's as if every actor in this movie is trying to out-bad-act everyone in the room, all at once, in every scene. So everyone (and no one) wins. And the story is so sparse that I could barely pretend to be engaged. There's a decent twist at the end but it felt tacked-on, and by that point I had lost most of my interest.

It's not a horrible movie, though! The murder scenes are all pretty rad, with that glossy red blood just spurting everywhere, and a range of weapons and scenarios. I loved the settings as well, which showed a more modern side to domestic architecture in Rome, and there are a few wonderfully bizarre moments thrown into the fairly straightforward story. I dug Anthony Franciosa in the lead role, too, and Argento gets in some nice self-referential digs through his character. Plus it was cool to see Argento's long-time partner Daria Nicolodi as Neal's loyal secretary, since I knew she had written Suspiria!

Oh and the soundtrack by Goblin is actually awesome. Spooky 80's synths and pulsing beats: I dug it. Their score was one of my favorite things about Suspiria, too, so that's a nice link.

3/5

Pair This Movie With: Ermmm I guess another film with a murderer who kills according to a theme? I haven't seen Se7en but I know that fits.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Third Man (1949)

Seen: In HD on our big-screen/projector set-up, streamed from Miles' computer.

Set in Vienna a few years after the end of World War II, The Third Man is an unexpected mystery that unravels around the governmentally fractured city and its drifting inhabitants. Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton), an American pulp western writer, arrives to visit his friend Harry Lime, just in time to discover he was killed by a negligent driver. He seeks out Lime's friends, fails to avoid local British authorities, and stumbles upon a questionable murder plot that no one seems fully intent on solving. He also sort of falls in love with Lime's grieving girlfriend, Anna (Alida Valli). Oops.

With a strong cast, intriguing story, and jaw-dropping cinematography, The Third Man becomes more and more interesting as the story progresses. The stark black and white visuals are exceptional, and I was happy just to drink in every shot. The attention to shadow and sound, added to the slick cobblestone streets and twisted alleyways, makes for an aesthetically gripping experience, with certain images burned in my memory. That immortal final chase scene in the sewers is just one in a series of memorable visual sequences.

At the start, I couldn't get over what a total dick Martins was, and how idiotically he was trying to solve this crime. Seriously, he'd announce his presence to everyone, yell at everything, agitate both the police authorities and the potential bad guys, and just generally make a mess of things. What a doofus. BUT as he becomes more and more embroiled in the puzzling events surrounding Lime's death, Martins also becomes more likable- primarily because it is abundantly clear that he's in over his head and can't seem to get out. I loved the revolving door of smarmy side characters, from the adorably sly gay duo of "Baron" Kurtz (Ernst Deutsch) and Dr Winkel (Erich Ponto) to the possibly good/possibly bad British detective Major Calloway (Trevor Howard). Martins is a typical brash American, incapable of navigating the tumultuous waters of international forces operating in postwar Vienna, but he clings so strongly to the idea of Lime- and through that, Anna- that he's somehow able to persevere.

Of course, Orson Welles steals the show, though he takes his sweet time showing up. The only thing I knew about The Third Man was that he was in it, so I spent most of the film waiting for him to appear. When he finally does, it's awesome, and I was reminded that he was actually a pretty handsome guy at one point. And I know that he was a total dick on set and showed up for filming weeks late, but hey, he's got charisma and his character/performance adds an integral layer to the proceedings.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: I was describing the general premise of this to someone and she was like, "Oh, so it's what happened after The Sound of Music?" What a double feature that would be!

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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Kari-gurashi no Arietti (The Secret World of Arrietty) (2010)

Seen: On our big screen/projector set-up, streamed from Miles' computer. Subtitled, not dubbed, hooray.

My only experience with the world of the Borrowers comes from the 1997 live-action film, which has an interesting premise and some cool visuals but wasn't a very good movie as a whole. That's kind of how The Secret World of Arrietty- Studio Ghibli's newest feature based on the same novels- works out. Arrietty Clock and her parents Pod and Homily are each a few inches tall, living secretly in an isolated old house in the woods while the human "beans" who reside there unknowingly supply them with food and other necessities. When a sickly boy named Sho moves in and discovers Arrietty, they begin a tepid friendship that is troubled by her natural distrust of humans and a housekeeper's vendetta against what she had always thought she'd just imagined.

Visually, the film is of course top-notch, with lush vegetative landscapes and a lot of adorable uses of big-sized human things by little Borrowers- ie, a tea container as a bureau, a sewing pin as a sword, a binder clip as a hair tie, etc. I really loved the way the animation swiveled around to show Arrietty's perspective, conveying the general bigness of everything. Sound effects are put to good use in this manner as well, with Arrietty feeling every human heartbeat and footstep with deep resonance. First-time director Hiromasa Yonebayashi- who served as a key animator on several Ghibli films- proves himself a capable and imaginative filmmaker.

Unfortunately, the script (co-written by Hayao Miyazaki) is what's really lacking. It takes forever to get going, and seems uncertain what the focal point of the story should be. By the end, Arrietty and Sho's friendship seems to be the central emotional hook, but it's given about 10, maybe 15 minutes of screentime in total. Their cheesy tearful goodbye meant nothing to me since they didn't have any actual relationship to be crying over. And then the whole conflict with the suddenly crazed housekeeper calling pest control comes and goes without warning, feeling completely contrived and out of place. Arrietty's closeness with her family is better shown, but even that isn't really given any kind of focus.

There's very little actual narrative to go by here, leaving the audience to absorb the beautiful scenery without becoming invested in any of the film's happenings. The introduction of a fourth Borrower in the slightly wild Spiller, who lives in the woods, was the most interesting point, since the existence of Borrowers is such a vague thing as it is. The Secret World of Arrietty is not a bad film by any means, and for me it was worth it for the lovely animation and cute premise, but I would expect more substance from Studio Ghibli, especially with Miyazaki's input on the script.

3/5

Pair This Movie With: Ummmm something else with tiny fantasy people, I guess? Thumbelina? Fern Gully? Gulliver's Travels?

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Friday, March 9, 2012

Alex Makes Art #74

Oh hey, I am sort of in between works at the moment but next week is my spring break and I'm excited to hopefully make some awesome art work! For today though I present another commissioned piece that took a surprisingly long time, and I'm not even sure if it's really done yet since I haven't heard back from my customer about it. It is a portrait of Janis Joplin. I've been trying some new things with it, but experimenting always makes me more anxious so hopefully it looks ok. I've been working on it so much I don't even know anymore.


PS My etsy shop is always there for you, if you need it.

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Crappy 90's VHS Double Feature: Arcade (1993) and Masterminds (1997)

Seen: On VHS on our big screen/projector set-up, both drawn from friends' collections.

Last weekend I- along with some like-minded friends- took in a nice late-night double feature of two horrendously dated VHS tapes from the 1990's. It was truly a glorious period, filled with ridiculous hairstyles, skateboarding, silly lingo, video games, and an apparent deluge of whiny white teenagers with the uncanny ability to outsmart and out-perform their elders. So not much has changed, really. First up was Arcade, a delightful romp through some evil video game bent on world domination, or something. It's got baby Seth Green! We followed it up, sort of accidentally, with Masterminds, a weird "Die Hard in a Private School"-type thriller that I'm sure Patrick Stewart wants to forget.

When a new cool arcade game is released, our cool slacker teen heroes are the first to try it out at their cool underground hangout spot THE INFERNO. Also shit I just realized I don't know who anyone is in Arcade except the main character, sooo I might just make up epithets. Overconfident Gamer Kid is the first to test-drive this new game ARCADE, and then he disappears. His girlfriend Alex (not me, a different person!), who can't play games because she's a girl (and also maybe crazy? It's mentioned briefly.), is the only one worried about him. She finds out that all her friends who took home the test version of the game are getting sucked into it or something, so she tries to save everybody herself because adults just don't LISTEN. Her cocky turtle-necked friend Nick (Peter Billingsley, aka Ralphie from A Christmas Story) helps her out. But the game is possessed by some evil spirit and everything is totally scary.

With hilariously shitty special-effects- which primarily amount to the same shot of a CG maze re-used twenty times and some flying skeletons-, a frequent lack of proper lighting, weird cheap sets, and a cast of adorably bad actors, Arcade is fun for all the right reasons. Interesting facts: This straight-to-video masterpiece was written by Charles Band (Trancers I AND II, plus producer to a billion awesome movies including Re-Animator), and David Goyer (Dark City, Ghost Rider II: Spirit of Vengeance, Blade I and II, The Dark Knight Rises!), and directed by Albert Pyun (Cyborg, Alien From LA, the original 1990 Captain America movie). SO BASICALLY SOME PRETTY HEFTY TALENT.

It's a dumb movie, the script doesn't make any sense, but boy oh boy is it entertaining, especially from our worldly 2012 perspective. It's the kind of movie that confirms all the stereotypes we already had from foggy memories of the early 90s, from the seemingly infantile CG graphics to the abundance of baggy t-shirts. It's pretty terrible, but definitely watchable. And hey, a lady saves the day, for once! And it's got a weird twist (sort of?) ending that I guess is scary if you are put off by creepy video game children with deep-voiced potty mouths (which I TOTALLY am).

As a movie: 1.5/5
As entertainment: 4/5

The night took a bit of a turn with Masterminds since it's actually not a horrendous movie, just super dated and weird for the recognizability of its actors. Vincent Kartheiser (aka Pete on Mad Men, aka Connor on Angel, aka a surprisingly pretty teenager) stars as Ozzie, a slacker hacker (hah!) who finds himself the sole witness to a hostage situation when his younger sister's private academy is taken over by criminal security expert Bentley (Patrick Stewart). Having dropped his sister off for class, Ozzie is trapped in the school but able to hide from the large group of militaristic terrorists who take control. He's able to outwit Bentley's henchmen in a series of dangerous scenarios while the villain waits for ransom to be paid from the wealthiest children's parents, and the people outside try to find a way in that won't endanger the kids. Like I said, it's basically Die Hard.

While the premise is obviously derivative, Masterminds manages to be entertaining thanks to some legitimately intense action scenes, charismatic leads, and some charmingly archaic fashions and plot conventions. Also the more it goes on, the more it doesn't really make any sense. Good use of the castle-y prep school location, though, and some nice digs at snooty rich people, especially businesspeople. I was excited to see Bradley Whitford in the opening credits but he's only in like two scenes. The best part is probably the adorable romantic subtext between Ozzie and his BFFL, K-Dog (actual name). They are totally in love.

Also the ending is rad. Like, an explosive chase scene just finds its way into this movie with no warning. And the frumpy principal gets to be a badass!

As a movie: 3/5
As entertainment: 3.5/5

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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Shall We Dance (1937)

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

I was pleased as punch to discover my new school's library has a small Ginger Rogers exhibition going on, and after walking through it I immediately needed some Fred and Ginger. In Shall We Dance, one of their many partnerships together, Fred Astaire plays an American dancer posing as Russian ballet superstar "Petrov", who falls in love with American tap dancer Linda Keene (Ginger Rogers). To win her over he follows her to America on a cruise ship, but when gossip-hungry reporters take a white lie and begin spreading rumors that they're secretly married, it kills their relationship before it even gets started. I guess they'll have to sing and dance about it until they figure things out.

Shall We Dance was always one of my favorites- a musical number on rollerskates, fake Russian accents, and a romance on a cruise ship; it's got it all! I love how Fred's character is moving from a strict ballet background into a freer, jazzier style, so several numbers have a nice blending of classical ballet and snazzy tap. I also like how Ginger does... everything. She's just amazing, you know? I definitely don't talk about her enough around here, but I have a serious crush on Ginger Rogers. She just brings this charm and wit to everything, plus she is of course a fantastic dancer and wears clothes incredibly well. I love me some Fred, don't get me wrong, but for me it's Ginger who imbues their films with an enjoyable dash of moxie.

Anyway, this movie is a fun time, even if it's pretty silly. I love the totally gay side characters played by stalwarts Edward Everett Horton and Eric Blore, and the various wacky misunderstandings and oscillating romantic entanglements. Great Art Deco sets, beautiful costumes, the works. The score from George and Ira Gershwin is lovely, featuring "Let's Call The Whole Thing Off", a personal favorite. I also totally forgot that there is a dance scene with Fred and a group of African-American musicians, which isn't really a usual thing to see in a mainstream film of this time. So that's interesting.

4/5

PS Weird bit of trivia: This movie has eight different screenwriters. Eight.

Pair This Movie With: Oh, any other Fred and Ginger musical is fine, though I don't much care for Carefree.

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Monday, March 5, 2012

Gokudô heiki (Yakuza Weapon) (2011) at 366 Weird Movies

Seen: On blu-ray on our big-screen/projector set-up, a recent purchase.

Well Miles saw this at Fantastic Fest and kept going on and onnn about it, and a Japanese splatterpunk-y movie about a crazy fighter who becomes a weaponized cyborg seemed right up my alley. And it was! Yakuza Weapon is incredibly over the top and really fun, with bits of complete weirdness thrown in. Plus the action sequences are top-notch thanks to the literally back-breaking efforts of star/stunt coordinator Tak Sakaguchi. And there's a lady who throws a boat. And hilarious henchmen. And weird Japanese fetishes. Also it's got a hilarious ending that reminded me a little bit of Miike's Dead or Alive.

For a full review check out my post at 366 Weird Movies. I worked pretty hard on it!

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Sunday, March 4, 2012

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012)

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

A few years after the events of the first film- in which stunt biker Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) becomes the devil's fire-breathing bounty hunter after selling his soul as a teen to save his father's life- our hero is chilling Eastern Europe. He is called upon by an adorable alcoholic priest (Idris Elba) to find and protect a mysterious, possibly demonic boy (Fergus Riordan) and his sexy eye-liner mom (Violante Placido). They're chased after by the devil's henchmen and then the devil himself (Ciarán Hinds), whose face got super gross.

Let it be known that the main draw for us here was directing team Neveldine and Taylor, who know how to entertain, and the idea of them teaming up with crazy Nicolas Cage was too good to pass up. It seemed like the perfect match. Plus it's got Idris Elba! Wowee! And while the filmmakers certainly delivered in the crazy-action, fast-paced storytelling department, I don't think there was much to be done about the truly awful script. It's just, everything was really stupid. And I know that's sort of part of the charm, but it was too much, really. I dug the action sequences, and I like how utterly ridiculous Neveldine and Taylor always are, from pissing fire to a wacky long-term car chase. These guys can't stand long stretches of dialogue, leading to some hilarious points when weird editing and other distractions render the actual conversation irrelevant, but that only goes so far. It's way boring for large stretches.

It's better than the first one, I can say that with certainty, but aside from some cool action scenes, totally wacky performances from Elba and Cage, and a few beautifully-animated expository sequences, Spirit of Vengeance isn't really recommend-able. I mostly wonder who wanted this? Just Cage, right? Like, no one could have wanted this.

Some nice locations, though. I dug the white-faced priests' desert cave headquarters. And Anthony Stewart Head pops up for like 30 seconds in the beginning! That was exciting! I think a new game will be to spot him in blink-and-you'll-miss-it bit parts, like Sweeney Todd.

3/5

Pair This Movie With: The whole saving a potentially evil kid-thing made me think of Night Watch, a much better movie. Or if you want to see more of Nicolas Cage saving a kid and fighting a satanic cult, you can't go wrong with Drive Angry.

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Friday, March 2, 2012

Alex Makes Art #73

Oh hey! I guess my new thing will be staying up on Thursday nights making art things since I usually don't have to wake up early on Fridays and I don't really have time otherwise. That's ok, I guess. This week I finally made a poster I've had in mind for a while, but couldn't quite get the composition layout right in my head. It honors the lovely Hedwig and her band, The Angry Inch. It's super high-concept, and I doubt even fans of the movie will like it, so sorry this is just for me I guess. Basically I was thinking about "I'm the new Berlin Wall" remark and her backstory in East Berlin, so I took some photos I had from my visit to the East Side Gallery (the longest remaining stretch of the Wall) and Hedwig-ized them with graffiti wigs. I don't know. It happened, here it is.

And it's for sale on the off chance someone else likes it!





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Thursday, March 1, 2012

The 2012 Boston Science-Fiction Marathon, Pt III

Seen: At the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square. Read Parts I and II.

Ok, final stretch. I've given up on finishing that dang cultural theory essay, but I'm still pretty awake due to my general nervousness. This helps me keep a keen eye on most of the following movies! Also I bust out the secondary pillow for help with my aching butt, and load up on the tea.

Click on for not one but TWO crazed scientists trying to defeat death, planet-hopping bounty hunters, and an alien-themed road trip! Coooool.

9 Frankenstein (1931)
I am woefully under-educated in classic horror, so it was exciting to see the classic Frankenstein whose imagery has so permeated representations of Mary Shelley's monster. The film itself is sort of slow, but I liked the crazy assholery of Colin Clive as the titular doctor and of course the iconic performance of Boris Karloff as his towering, grumpy creation. I liked it but I find I don't have much to say about it, I guess. It's fairly muted at first and then gains momentum as the monster goes on an accidental crime spree, and there are some very cool shots and effects. And I had fun trying to pick out some of the sets re-used for Young Frankenstein!
3.5/5

10 Re-Animator (1985)
Remember how I saw this at the Coolidge Horror Marathon over a year ago? I still haven't done a full review of it but you'd better believe I watch this movie all the fucking time, because it is goddamned great. Jeffrey Combs just DOMINATES as the adorably insane Herbert West, whose neon green "re-agent" can bring the dead back to life, often with violent consequences. It's hilarious and campy in the best way, packed with awesome special effects and a kickass theme that I don't care was stolen from Psycho. I also don't care that it's not particularly true to Lovecraft's original story. I will never get tired of this movie, it's just perfect. I promise I will write a real review of it... EVENTUALLY.
5/5

11 Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (2001)
It's no secret I love Cowboy Bebop- it's among my top favorite anime series- and I'm a big fan of the film despite its pacing problems. But after fifteen minutes I suddenly realized how tired I was and allowed myself some sleep, missing most of the film and forcing myself to wake up during the final battle so I could go out and grab some Dunkin Donuts. For those who don't know, though, it's a fun sci-fi action anime that follows a group of cool bounty hunters trying to avert a deadly terrorist crisis. I was impressed they showed the subtitled version, though I think that the dubbed would have been easier to deal with at that time in the thon, but in the long run I'm just happy to see anime- I hope there's more in the future! The title links to my full review of the recent blu-ray release at 366 Weird Movies.
4.5/5

12 Paul (2011)
Missed this in theaters despite my love for Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who penned the script and also star as sci-fi nerds on a geeky road trip who pick up a wisecracking, runaway alien named Paul. There are about a billion references to nerd things and a shit ton of cameos from cool people. This is the kind of movie that in theory is aimed directly at me but doesn't actually work 100 percent. It was too reference-heavy, and most of them weren't especially clever or new (like, I get it, Star Wars, lol you guys), though that doesn't mean there weren't several geeky moments I loved. Also I cannot separate Seth Rogen from being Seth Rogen, so it was really hard for me to buy him in the vocal role of Paul. Also also this movie draaaaaagged which wasn't fun for a person operating on minimal sleep. Luckily I find its stars so enjoyable (especially since it felt like they were rehashing their roles from Spaced a little bit- mainly Pegg) that it was just entertaining enough.
3/5

Well that's it! After Paul they showed Mission Galactica: The Cylon Attack (sequel to the Battlestar Galactica movie they showed last time) and Folklore, another film from the festival, but admittedly I didn't especially care about either of those movies and wanted to get some sleep before waking up to finish my homework in the evening. So, a little less than 24 hours of sci-fi, but still pretty good, I think. Til next year, eager young space cadets!

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