Thursday, May 31, 2012

BMX Bandits (1983)

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

Ok remember how I really didn't like Cocoon? Well I didn't. So that night all I wanted was to watch something that didn't suck, and thankfully BMX Bandits was there for me. Notorious mainly for being Nicole Kidman's earliest movie role (although technically it looks like her other 1983 flick, Bush Christmas, was released a week earlier), the film follows the exploits of three teenage friends- all experts at BMX riding- as they accidentally foil the plot of some bumbling bank robbers and problems happen. There's also a strange subplot with the cops listening in on what's going on most of the time because the kids' walkie talkies are set to their frequency. Also a romantic triangle. Also a scary graveyard chase. Alsoooooo big hair and synthy music.

So yeah this movie is a pretty fun time. It's totally over the top Australian fluff, and it does a good job of it. The story is ludicrous and poorly structured, the tone is all over the place, and the focus switches from teen love triangle to light-hearted action to serious criminal drama every other scene. It's great. The BMX stuff is legitimately cool and well-staged, and while the acting isn't exceptional I did like the characters and funny dialogue. The villains are very weird but entertaining, especially the two main henchmen who are adorable with their lovers' tiffs as they try to catch these meddling kids.

BMX Bandits is a little bit "so bad it's good" and a little bit "actually this movie rules", with the now-oddball casting of teenage Nicole Kidman as a thrill-seeking biker tomboy just icing on the cake. (Her character really is cool, though, and smarter than you'd think.) At times it gets mired in its own family-friendly limitations but ultimately it's a convoluted action movie that manages to be very enjoyable.

As a movie: 3/5
As entertainment: 4/5

Pair This Movie With: Oh you know, there was a time in the late 80s and early 90s when skateboarding/biking/rollerblading movies were a thing, so any of those. There's Airborne with Seth Green, or Brink! with Eric von Detten, or other things Disney made.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Cocoon (1985)

Seen: On dvd on my tv, rented from Hollywood Express in Cambridge.
95/100 of the Total Sci-Fi List.


So I've been working on this sci-fi watchlist for a long time now, and I'm so close to finishing! But that also means the few I have left are ones I've put off for whatever reason, so there's less likelihood they'll be good. I had some inexplicable bias against Cocoon, I'm not sure why, but it proved completely valid after I actually watched the film. When a group of senior citizens living in a retirement home discover a hidden swimming pool that makes them feel young and energetic, they stumble upon a group of aliens who hang out with Steve Guttenberg. The aliens' intentions are at first unclear but the old fellows believe their magic pool can help save their friend from a terminal disease.

Ok. Blergh. Let's just say Cocoon is somehow one of the longest movies I've ever seen, taking a fairly simple story ("Old people get rejuvenated. Thanks, Aliens.") and just dragggggggged it outttttt until I couldn't believe it wasn't over yet. Seriously the story ends like half an hour before the movie does, it's exhausting to watch. There's barely any story here, and certainly not 117 minutes of it. Yes, the cast is fun, with Don Ameche, Wilford Brimley, and Hume Cronyn pal-ing around and having a grand ole' time as goofy old dudes who like to dance, but that's about the only redeeming feature. Steve Guttenberg's character is completely irrelevant and doesn't fit into the plot at all really, except as an excuse to get Tahnee Welch naked? Whatever dudes. Boring. And the aliens aren't very interesting, just glowy sometimes. And... very Scandinavian-looking.

Total Sci-Fi describes their choice for the 96th best sci-fi movie of all time thusly:

"A life-affirming movie in more ways than one. Cocoon was a rare genre picture to feature interesting, non-stereotypical elderly characters (played by veterans Don Ameche, Wilford Brimley, Hume Croyn, Jessica Tandy), along with Tahnee Welch at her sexiest and Steve Guttenberg at his least annoying, and the film manages to be affectionate without descending too far into sentimentality."

I totally agree that science-fiction doesn't often feature elderly characters in lead roles, and indeed as much as I love the genre it isn't exactly known for its diversity in general. I applaud Cocoon for presenting a positive portrayal of senior citizens, never playing their age for laughs or pity. BUT it's still not a very good movie. It's so fucking cheesy, I couldn't take it, and it tries to be equally funny and dramatic and doesn't adequately achieve either tone. There's old people break-dancing, which is gross. But also old people boning, which is cool. And the entire film is oozing sentimentality no matter what Total Sci-fi says. I'm sure it appeals to a lot of people, but it wasn't my thing.

2/5

Pair This Movie With: Ack I don't know. I just wanted to watch a movie that was good after this. So do that.

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Monday, May 28, 2012

Doctor Mordrid (1992)

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

It is a pretty well-known fact among like three of my friends that by this point I will watch anything for Jeffrey Combs. I'm completely smitten with Re-Animator (which I SWEAR I'll one day write a full review of!) and I think Combs makes anything awesome. With its horror/fantasy premise and connection to Full Moon Features, I knew Doctor Mordrid would be killer. Combs stars as the titular "doctor", a centuries-old sorcerer who is sworn to protect mankind from the evil Kabal (Brian Thompson), a powerful opponent hellbent on dominion over humans. He busts out of his prison and works to open a portal to Earth for his demonic followers, and only Mordrid and his neighbor Samantha (Yvette Nipar), an occult specialist who consults for the police, stand in his way.

Heh heh heh. Ok. Let's just cull together a few of the completely awesome things this movie features. It's got Jeffrey Combs in electric blue parachute pants. Boobs. Magic. Stop-motion dinosaur skeletons fighting each other. Punks. Big hair. A dude who looks like Gimli. Astral projection. Alchemy. And some more Jeffrey Combs. It's pretty much everything you need in a movie, no kidding. The story is simple, good-vs-evil-type stuff, but the script keeps it tense and fast-paced enough to make it interesting. At a quick one hour and seventeen minutes. Doctor Mordrid never over-taxes its premise, and the filmmakers make do with their limited resources. The effects aren't realistic but they still look pretty cool, and there's great detail in the sets and costumes. Obviously I wasn't watching this for high production values, but I appreciated the effort nonetheless.

Jeffrey Combs is the main attraction, of course, with his adorable intensity and energetic delivery, but I also enjoyed Brian Thompson as Kabal, probably because he reminded me of Dolph Lundgren. Also maybe he was dubbed the entire movie? Or something was weird with his voice. I was pretty taken with Yvette Nipar's striking eyebrows and mane of curls as well, especially when paired with that snarky attitude against her jerk cop coworkers. She even gets to kick a punk in the nuts. Always hilarious!

As a whole Doctor Mordrid is a satisfying combination of schlocky horror/fantasy and goofy pseudo-thriller. I know without Combs it would have been completely forgettable, but I had a darn good time watching!

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Well I can tell you that I personally followed it up with Re-Animator for another Jeffrey Combs fix. Otherwise I don't know. More b-movies with magic I guess.

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Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Card (aka The Promoter) (1952)

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

Scanning through titles randomly on netflix instant is always a gamble, but the promise of Alec Guinness being goofy and Glynis Johns being anything proved tempting despite knowing nothing else about The Card (released as The Promoter in the US). Based on the book by Arnold Bennett, the film chronicles the rise of one Edward Henry "Denry" Machin (Guinness), a clever opportunist who moves from an entry-level solicitor's clerk to mayor of his city in early twentieth century England. A beautiful but equally sly dance tutor (Johns) romances him for his increasing fortune, but her true intentions are unclear.

Much too old for the "young upstart"-type role but fooling the eye with his baby face and silly haircut, Guinness is an adorable and goofy lead. He charms his way in and out of various scams, but he's rarely mean about it so no one seems to mind. His naivete only really shows through in his interactions with Ruth Earp, played by the enthusiastic Glynis Johns, whose affected high-pitched voice and comedic timing make for the most memorable performance in the film. Or maybe that's my personal preference showing through.

The script is nicely understated, but at times I wished it wouldn't be so quiet about its humor. The story is so sparse that the jokes needed to be stronger to really make an impact. As it stands, The Card is a cute, quirky comedy whose strong lead actors make it more entertaining. It wasn't bad, I just don't have much to say about it. Some great costumes, though.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Ummm there's always Mary Poppins for more shots of Glynis Johns in awesome turn-of-the-century outfits!

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Friday, May 25, 2012

Alex Makes Art #81

Oh hey. I know last week got a little scattered, what with the lack of posting, but mostly that's because I was too busy in New York hanging out with a bunch of doofy Canadians and before that it was inventory at my store so I had more work to do. BUT LUCKILY. I made a lot of art this week, exclusively in the genre of "portraits of pretty white ladies". So that's nice.

Firstly though I want to point out that my framed watercolor postcards from two weeks ago are going up for sale in my shop. Rango and Jack Skellington are already available, the Up one will be listed later this week. Get 'em while they're hot! As they say in the art world, maybe.

Ok so most exciting is that I started a portrait of Louise Brooks, which I've been meaning to do since seeing her sultry self in Pandora's Box last month. First I did a pencil sketch then just sort of played around with water and ink for a while to make a slightly drippy image of her in profile. This is for sale.

I dug how it came out but wanted more so I took the ink drawing and did Photoshoppy things to it. Mainly going over it with a digital painting and then re-using the inky textures for her hair and shirt. This is for sale as well, as a print. I like both!

Finally, for those keeping up with that major commission series I've been doing for a while, here's a portrait of Kelly Clarkson. I don't know her music but she was nice to draw. It's meant to sort of go with the Janis Joplin one from a while ago, and there'll be three more musician portraits to make it a set.

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Bloodsport (1988)

Seen: On our big screen/projector set-up, streamed from Miles's computer.

It makes me so happy to know that in the year of my birth something as fantastic as Bloodsport was going on. It was released two days before I was born. Like, my parents could have been watching it at that moment, if they wanted. If they weren't sort of boring (loljk ilu mom&dad). Supposedly based on a true story, Bloodsport stars ultrahuman Jean-Claude Van Damme as Frank Dux (that's DUKES), a super awesome fighter guy who leaves the army so he can compete in a super-secret underground fighting tournament in Hong Kong, known as KUMITE. He pals around with a brawny American wrestler-type, romances a blonde reporter lady, runs from military police hot on his trail, and kicks the shit out of a lot of people. And meditates while doing splits. Like, a lot. What a showoff.

What an easy movie to like. It's pretty simple, even for someone like me who often has trouble paying attention to plots of things (I seriously space out during expository dialogue all the freaking time). Van Damme and his cohorts just know how to give the people what they want. Bloody fights, butts, weird dialogue, over-the-top chase scenes, young Forest Whitaker for some reason, an amazing theme song, and lots of high kicks! The validity of Dux's autobiographical claims may be highly questionable, but I can't deny it makes for a good action movie. It's exciting and silly in equal measure, pretty much just what you want in a Van Damme movie.

Its main flaw is that there's way too much set-up. I know they had to explain how a tiny Frenchman became super-skilled at martial arts, but the set of flashback sequences are shoddily put together and mostly unnecessary. At first I thought Dux's "bromance" (oh, what a term) with the meathead guy was out of place too, but it gets so ludicrously serious that I ended up loving it. Dux totally has to AVENGE this asshole he's known for two days! MELODRAMA.

In the end, Bloodsport is worth it even if only for Van Damme's crazyface. And also for everything else.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Admittedly we kept thinking about the Frisky Dingo episode with the fighting rabbits ("Chinatown's got something for everybody!") but maybe that's not your thing. It should be, though.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Lost in La Mancha (2002)

Seen: On my boyfriend's Macbook Air, streamed from my hard drive. On a bus.

Oh Terry Gilliam, the man who makes the movies I am most likely to obsess over, why do you always have all the problems? Somewhat accidental documentary Lost in La Mancha chronicles the auteur's failed attempt (one of several) to film an adaptation of Don Quixote, his dream project. He manages to cull together European funds and a production team, working in several countries to put together the extensive puppets, props, and period costumes needed for the planned film. He secures actors Johnny Depp, Jean Rochefort, and Vanessa Paradis- tenuously, really, since their contracts aren't exactly finalized and he has trouble contacting them during pre-production. Finally filming begins in a desert region of Spain, where a nearby army base frequently sends noisy planes over the set and a freak flood destroys the equipment and changes the landscape entirely. When the lead actor becomes ill, production is halted indefinitely.

A wealth of behind-the-scenes footage and some telling interviews make up the bulk of Lost in La Mancha, certainly sating my desire for Gilliam secrets and working methods. The animated storyboards, clips of various high-concept props being tested, and general enthusiasm surrounding pre-production are certainly titillating, and even knowing the outcome of the project I started the film with some optimism (it must be catching). But then as the AD reminds Gilliam of their extremely tight schedule, and Gilliam admits to a budget significantly smaller than he needs, the seeds of destruction are planted and all one can do is sit back and wait for everything to go to shit. And it does. It really does.

While of course I'm bummed that The Man Who Killed Don Quixote has continued to not get made (Gilliam's still working on it, I think), I'm grateful that filmmakers Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe happened to be around to record all the goings-on. I love learning about movie-making since there are always so many small details and outside factors that I don't even think about, not being in the industry myself. (Hehe... "the industry".) It's a sad but enlightening tale that if anything reminds us of the remarkable fortitude of Gilliam and his stalwart crewmembers. They'll find a way, eventually... maybe. 'Til then I'll be debating trying out Johnny Depp's bleached-streak hairstyle.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Aw this made me want to show Gilliam my support and watch his movies! Brazil is my favorite, though they mentioned The Adventures of Baron Munchausen a few times so that came to mind.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Avengers (2012)

Seen: In 3D at the AMC/Loews Boston Common, and again in 2D at the AMC/Loews in Ridgefield Park, NJ.

Ok I know it's like weeks late and totally irrelevant by now but dagnabbit I want to talk about The Avengers! Like, all the time I want to talk about it. Story? Do I need to lay down the plot here? A bunch of kickass people (mostly white dudes), some with superpowers, team up to save the world from a megalomaniacal alien-god and his army of fleshy extraterrestrials. There are numerous explosions and lots of international travel, plus a big airship and pseudoscience and brainwashing and backflips and magic. And jokes! Oh, the jokes!

After years of Marvel superhero movies building up to this great big thing, I didn't really think it would all work out. I'll be honest, I don't especially care about the Avengers as a team, since I pretty much have devoted all of my Marvel comic love to X-Men. (And yes I know some mutants are in the Avengers but I don't give a fuck about Beast and anyway none of them are in the movie versions so shush.) BUT BUT BUT. Joss Whedon, that man whose work I like but whose somewhat scary rabid fanbase freaks me out a little (as all rabid fanbases do, really), just knew what to do. He knew that with this many characters you had to balance their roles carefully and not get too wrapped up in plotting, and that snappy dialogue and big-budget action can be given equal screen time. And he knew that everything could fit together so well that the end result would be a straight-up entertaining movie. Even in 3D. So good job, Joss Whedon.

One of the main things that holds this movie together is all the goddamn charisma on screen. I was convinced no one would be able to keep up with Robert Downey, Jr but dang then Mark Ruffalo steps in and he's just the best somehow, he just gets Bruce Banner and it's perfect, and I find myself wanting another Hulk movie against all better judgment. And then there's the adorable quipping back and forth between Tony Stark and Captain America, and Black Widow and Hawkeye being badass all the time (more on that later), and Sam Jackson being his dominating self, and of course Tom Hiddleston swaggering all over the place in his villainy. And Clark Gregg! Too cute! So basically I like everyone even though the size of Chris Hemsworth's arms freaks me out (his hair is mesmerizing, though- I wanted to stroke it).

Sure, it's long and the actual plot is pretty predictable but the writing is strong and I would have settled for a three-hour-long movie if it meant I could just spend more time with these characters. The action is solid, sporting CG monsters and fancy high-tech gadgets and lots of "who would win in this Superhero vs Superhero fight?"-type set-ups. The whole Cosmic Cube thing gets sort of convoluted, mostly because the first time I watched it I totally wasn't paying attention to the smaller details concerning it, but the second time it came together better. And even though they aren't given much explanation the Chitauri are sort of formidable I guess, mostly because of their flying armored beast things. I never got very far into the Ultimate Universe so I didn't have much background on them, but the ethics are pretty straightforward: Chitauri bad, Avengers good, humans are dicks but let's give them another chance anyway.

Ok I really really need to talk about Black Widow for awhile. This is so important. You know how there aren't really any good female-fronted superhero movies (aside from Tank Girl)? And how even in the dude-centric ones (aka all of them), female characters are typically there just as girlfriends or sexy villains or something? WELL Black Widow is totally amazing in this movie. And despite not being a typical action star Scarlet Johansson is great! She is usually the only lady onscreen (though of course Cobie Smulders has some great moments in a bit part), and is pretty much placed on equal footing with the rest of the team. She may not have superpowers but she is a highly trained spy with both fighting and interrogation prowess, plus a dismissive attitude that I find charming. She and the also-awesome Hawkeye get some of the coolest moments in the climactic battle, and I would argue that it is Black Widow who would save the day in the end since she (SPOILER) is the one who closes the portal. I know, I know Iron Man averts the bomb and blows up the Chitauri, whatever, but she's the one who could have stopped the alien threat if the bomb wasn't on the table. Most importantly, she's never singled out for being a woman, she's treated equally as a member of the team. There are no sarcastic digs at her gender or snarky come-ons, she's just there as another kickass fighter. There's no half-assed romantic angle, although I'll admit that while I loved her and Hawkeye as best buddies I wouldn't have minded if they were also romantically involved. Which they probably are/were anyway if the comics are anything to go by. Anyway for more on why Black Widow is great (and to be depressed by how ignorant some male reviewers are), read this.

Ok ok enough about Black Widow and my insane crush on her. But expect some artwork for her later. Basically The Avengers is flipping awesome and any flaws it has are easy to overlook because I was having too much fun to really notice. I've seen it twice and I'd see it again in a heartbeat. Thanks, Joss!

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: I just wanted to watch it again right afterward. Or I wanted to watch all the imaginary movies that should be made after this, like a Black Widow/Hawkeye prequel, or a Tony Stark/Bruce Banner buddy road trip comedy.

PS For all your Avengers needs you should just look at gingerhaze on tumblr. She has the most amazing Avengers comics. And other awesome stuff too.

My digital artwork for Black Widow is for sale as a print.

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Monday, May 21, 2012

Adaptation. (2002)

Seen: On blu-ray on our big screen/projector set-up, newly purchased for our collection.

The other day I tried to explain the plot of Adaptation. to a lady at work without giving too much away but still making it sound worth watching and, like, sensible. It's really hard. But here I go again. Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage) was given Susan Orlean's (Meryl Streep) nonfiction book The Orchid Thief to adapt into a film, but found the task so difficult he ends up writing himself into his script so that the plot becomes about him writing the screenplay. He makes up a fake twin brother obsessed with writing a psychological crime thriller to offset his own neuroses and uncertainties. Susan Orlean's experiences with idiosyncratic rogue botanist John Laroche (Chris Cooper)- both real and imagined- are sprinkled throughout Charlie's awkward social interactions and frustrated writing attempts.

Fusing real and unreal in an often confusing blend of comedic observation and dark melodrama, Adaptation. is as weird as it is brilliant. Nicolas Cage goes against his own acting instincts to deliver a wonderfully neurotic, self-deprecating performance as possible genius Charlie Kaufman, doubling as his dopey, ever-present made-up twin. This is the movie that Cage naysayers have to admit they like, bemoaning the fact that he doesn't act this well all the time. (As we know I'm cool with Cage when he's being crazy and weird, but this is a nice change of pace nonetheless.) Of course, the fact that he's surrounded by beautiful people like Tilda Swinton and Maggie Gyllenhaal and Meryl Streep and a memorably earnest Chris Cooper helps.

What makes the film so successful is its honest portrayal of writer's block and the perils of creative genius through the process of adaptation. Questions of originality, staying true to one's instincts, and mainstream appeal are handled seriously as well as satirically. Kaufman combines so many genre tropes and narrative devices, but manages to keep the story on track through his focus on, oddly enough, himself, and his own obsession with Susan Orlean. Jonze gives it enough visual oomph and compelling editing tactics to give pacing to Kaufman's somewhat meandering style, which intentionally switches its tone in the equally ludicrous and tragic last act. In his signature way, Kaufman aptly blends the wild with the heartfelt and produces a story as moving as it is darkly comedic. It's great. He's great.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Hmm I'm not sure, I guess more Charlie Kaufman! All the "behind the scenes" stuff for Being John Malkovich put me in the mood for that, while some of the layering of storylines presaged Synecdoche, New York.

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Griff the Invisible (2010)

Seen: On my friend Rachel's tv, streamed from netflix instant.

Oh hey cute Australian superhero romance? Why not? Griff the Invisible stars Ryan Kwanten as the titular wannabe superhero, a quiet office drone who spends his nights prowling the streets in a rubber suit. Bullied endlessly by a meathead coworker, he longs to battle evil-doers and protect the innocent when in his superhero guise. His boring brother introduces him to his new girlfriend Melody (Maeve Dermody), an adorable and weird lady with big ideas about science, and the sparks fly. Kind of.

Soooo I'm of two minds on this one! On the one hand, it's an incredibly cute, whimsical romance with likable leads and an interesting take on the superhero thing. I liked Ryan Kwanten's shy, intentionally stilted performance, and Maeve Dermody is remarkably endearing as she bangs her head on every wall trying to pass through solid matter like Shadowcat. The script is smart and the story balances Griff's two lives well, bringing in his relationships with his brother and coworkers and offsetting that with his secret escapades. It doesn't get too hung up on its own quirkiness, and pulls a believable romance out of abnormal circumstances. There are also some really funny jokes, especially visual gags.

BUT ON THE OTHER HAND. When it's not being super adorable, Griff the Invisible does the Super and Defendor thing in that it sees a darker, grimly realistic side to the whole wannabe superhero complex. I'm fine with that in theory, but it's handled strangely here. It becomes apparent pretty early on that most of Griff's superheroing that we see is taking place in his head. He runs around Sydney late at night freaking people out as he battles imaginary villains. His brother references some problems in his past, believing he needs looking after. It's pretty clear that while adorable and well-meaning, Griff has actual issues that should probably be looked into through therapy or something. The movie takes the stance that it's better to indulge Griff in these fantasies as long as he's not hurting anyone, since he just sees the world differently and shouldn't have to conform to a more "normal" outlook. I totally get that, and it's a message many other stories have, but in this case it made me feel a little uncomfortable because it is something that interferes with the character's regular life. He has trouble interacting with people and has lost multiple jobs because of his delusions, and even gets arrested at one point. I don't know. At first I was like oh no why is no one helping Griff with his problems? Then I was like oh man I have become one of those boring suits-type villains who stomp all over imagination and whatnot because they just want everyone to be normal, I should totally be supporting his superhero dreams! IT'S TEARING ME APART.

Anyway. This movie is cute but I guess it left me with some concerns. The friend I watched it with absolutely loved it though, probably because she is not a grouch who finds fault with everything. Good for her!

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: I know it makes the most sense to recommend another realistic superhero movie but actually this just put me in the mood for Danny Deckchair, another whimsical Australian romantic comedy.

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Sunday, May 13, 2012

xXx (2002)

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

Man when this came out I was not yet on the Vin Diesel train and probably thought it looked dumb. I was TOTALLY WRONG. xXx shoves thrill seeker/extreme sports athlete/guerrilla filmmaker Xander Cage ("X" to his friends) into a world of super spies and Russian mobsters after he's forcibly recruited by mysterious government soldier guy Agent Gibbons (Samuel L Jackson). After performing a lot of cool stunts and daring (but non sequitur) escapades, he's sent to the Czech Republic to infiltrate a Russian crimelord who is developing weapons of bio-terrorism. Xander wants to save the world but he does things his OWN WAY because FUCK THE GOVERNMENT, etc.

Packed with some jaw-dropping stunts and a ridiculous, mostly nonsensical storyline, xXx is a wholly satisfying dumb action movie. The action is fantastic, and done without much CGI, just a host of super talented stuntpeople and lots of fire and vehicles and explosions and expendable henchmen. It's awesome. Seriously, at one point he like drives a motorcycle over a building and it explodes and he lands on the roof as it collapses. And he parasails onto a submarine with missiles attached and has to duck under a bridge. Whaaaaaat. There's shootouts and stuff too. This movie has it all!

Vin Diesel basically plays his overconfident, goofy self as he powers around various dangerous situations with a cocky smirk and an oft-zoomed-on XXX tattoo. Asia Argento is there too, showing off a strange set of teeth and refusing to bone anyone because she's too busy being a super spy or something. And Danny Trejo and Eve pop up for like a minute each! Cool! Mostly just be impressed with the crazy stunts, though. And the questionable science employed in the bad guy's evil plan.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Well due to the nature of Xander being approached by Samuel Jackson for a mysterious government agency that wants to save the world or whatever, we're pretty sure this movie is secretly a prequel to The Avengers. Which I'll be writing about in a few days.

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Friday, May 11, 2012

Alex Makes Art #80

Oh hiiii! Look at me, blogging away like I actually have my act together, isn't that nice? My first semester of grad school is over and I'm taking advantage of having more free time by watching movies and making art, my two favorite things! Tomorrow (Saturday, May 12) is The Art of Craft, a craft fair at the Fayerweather School in Cambridge in which I'm participating, along with my more talented boyfriend. If anyone's in the Cambridge area please stop by! We'll have lots of prints and some originals for sale. More information here. New art after the jump!

So this week I've mainly been preparing for this thing. I've got lots of small prints and posters made up (which are also available in my shop, hey) and I made some new hand-inked watercolor paper postcards. You know, for kids! If they don't sell tomorrow I'll put them on etsy. Up there is an in-progress shot as I was inking.

Rango. This might be my favorite. Playing around with the ink a bit.

Jack Skellington. Duh.

Up. Because I wanted to play with the pretty colors.

I also got more regular postcards printed up. For sale as a sci-fi pack!

PS This is my 1000th post! Wowee!

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Colombiana (2011)

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

When Colombiana came out last year I thought it looked awesome, but kept hearing negative things about it and eventually it got lost in the shuffle. More recently a friend recommended it to me and when I realized it had a Luc Besson connection I hurried to see it. Zoe Saldana stars as Cataleya, a young woman who witnesses her parents' slaughter when she's 8, and vows to become a hardened killer so she can take revenge on the Colombian mobsters who took her life away. She moves from Bogota to Chicago and learns to be an assassin from her uncle, killing leading criminal figures and leaving a cataleya flower calling card with the hope of drawing out Don Luis (Beto Benites), her father's one-time drug lord boss.
Ok I have to immediately say that I do not get why people didn't like this movie? It's not the best thing ever but it's a pretty fucking solid action movie and it stars the exceptionally talented (and gorgeous) Zoe Saldana so where is the problem? Don't people like ladies with big guns anymore? I don't get it.

Anyway this movie is pretty cool. I really like Saldana and was disappointed that she didn't get to do much in Star Trek, plus she was the only one saddled with the miniskirt, so I'm glad she busted out the badassery and practical outfits for Colombiana. She's tough but sympathetic, and I really felt for her character. It helps that young Cataleya is played by Amandla Stenberg, who continues to seriously impress me after her stint as Rue in The Hunger Games. She's one kickass little girl, and I'm really excited to see what she does next. All the dudes in the cast are ok, I guess, nothing special. I liked Michael Vartan as the clueless artist boyfriend, which is weird since usually I resent unnecessary romance in action movies but it was handled pretty well and was actually relevant to the story.

Action-wise there are some awesome sequences, notably little Cataleya's nail-biter run through Bogota to escape the bad guys and her grown-up infiltration of a police station to kill a prisoner. There's also a nice bit with sharks. And the climax reminded me of the ending of Commando, in that it's basically one person taking out a shitload of criminal henchmen in the antagonist's fortified mansion. Only this time it's a woman of color! And most of the time she isn't hyper-sexualized or anything, so that's nice! Doesn't pass the Bechdel Test though, since there aren't really any other ladies, but still a generally good example of a kickass action movie starring a woman, I think.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Another recently lady-centric action film I dug was Haywire. Also available, Leon/The Professional for more Besson taking a little girl and making her an assassin.

PS For a while I've felt that Zoe Saldana would make a fantastic Catwoman, and seeing her in a black bodysuit slinking around the police station just sealed the deal. Someone make this happen, please? Can we digitally replace Anne Hathaway in the new one? Because I do not have confidence that she will do a good job.

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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Pirates! Band of Misfits (2012)

Seen: At the AMC/Loews at Boston Common, in 3-D.

Well, you know me. Stop-motion animation and silly jokes about British history... I'm there! Based on the series of novels by Gideon Dafoe (who also wrote the screenplay), The Pirates! Band of Misfits follows the luxuriantly-bearded Pirate Captain (actual name) and his loyal crew of adorable seamen as they fight for the "Pirate of the Year" award. In trying to plunder enough gold to nab the coveted title, they find themselves mixed up in a surprisingly scientific adventure involving Charles Darwin, rare animals, aeronautics, and an unexpectedly spry Queen Victoria.

Aw jeez how could I not be utterly charmed by this movie? I mean, it's just this super cute, completely irreverent bunch of nonsense wrapped in a beautiful stop-motion package, and the incredible voice cast is just the bow on top! It's got the general silly atmosphere and wonky facial expressions that I love about Wallace & Gromit, plus some truly impressive set pieces and visual design. The sight gags are plentiful, and often pretty smart, including the use of literal travel-by-map and a phenomenal bathtub chase down a long staircase, but it's the goofy dialogue that's strongest. The story becomes more and more ludicrous as it goes on, and so the script rises to the occasion with a wealth of weird jokes and self-aware observations.

Ok so mostly I really enjoyed this movie but there are times when it's too... kidsy? Like there are some jokes that are corny and easy. The strangest thing about the whole movie (aside from the sword-wielding evilness of Queen Victoria, which ruled) was the use of the Flight of the Conchords song "I'm Not Crying". Now, I loooove me some Flight of the Conchords but you can't really take their songs out of context, the whole time that track is playing in this movie I was picturing the scene in the show, and seeing Brett and Jemaine singing it. It just took me out of the film.


That voice cast though, seriously. Every other character was a new famous person I loved. Hugh Grant, David Tennant, Martin Freeman (!), Salma Hayek, Brian Blessed, Brendan Gleeson, Imelda Staunton, Anton Yelchin (!!)... it was great. Everyone did a good job.


4/5


Pair This Movie With: Is it too obvious to suggest Muppet Treasure Island? I DON'T CARE BECAUSE IT WOULD BE SO PERFECT A NIGHT.

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Monday, May 7, 2012

Quick Change (1990)

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

Fed up with the gritty surroundings and unpleasant attitudes of New York City, friends Grimm (Bill Murray), Phyllis (Geena Davis), and Loomis (Randy Quaid) decide to rob a bank and run away to Fiji. They successfully pull off the job and get away from the building with the cops none the wiser, until Loomis gives them away accidentally over the phone. Now with the police on their tail and a plane to catch they try to navigate the weirder parts of the city with their wits and their millions intact.

I bought Quick Change from the shop where I work ages ago since it was in the bargain bin for $2.00. I kept seeing it on cult movie lists so I figured I should finally watch it. Turns out it's a pretty weird time, and funny sometimes. The story and pacing are sort of episodic, with the gang meeting various goofballs around New York, including Phil Hartman, Stanley Tucci, and Tony Shalhoub. These interactions are hit and miss, with some very silly situations and some uncomfortable ones (I seriously didn't get Shalhoub as a skittish cab driver who didn't speak English and wanted to confess to something?). But mostly it's a fun time with Geena Davis and Bill Murray and that wacky Randy Quaid. And while it usually wasn't laugh-out-loud funny it did make me chuckle, and I did care about the characters enough to be invested in their journey.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Ummm probably After Hours for another crazy night in New York City!

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Sunday, May 6, 2012

Maximum Risk (1996)

Seen: On our big screen/projector set-up, one half of a Jean-Claude Van Damme double feature dvd with Double Team.

After a long day of working all I really wanted was a good, stupid action movie, and thank goodness we've got several Van Damme movies lying around that I've never seen. In Maximum Risk he plays twins (which he totally loves to do apparently!) separated as babies, one (Mikhail) raised by a Russian mob family and the other (Alain) remaining in France. When supercop Alain is shown his surprise brother's corpse, he sets out to solve the mystery of his death. He travels to New York, where he is usually mistaken for his twin, and uncovers a plot that starts with the mob and goes up through the FBI. There are a lot of people just asking to be high-kicked, and he helps them out. Also he and his brother's hot girlfriend (Natasha Henstridge) start dating. That's not weird, right? Part of the mourning process to date someone who looks exactly like your dead boyfriend?

Opening with a killer car chase and laced with shoot-outs and destructive battles (including a slippery fight in a sauna in which you can ALMOST see Van Damme's junk!), Maximum Risk's action scenes more than make up for its totally stupid and nonsensical plot. Like, remember the crazy chase through the Paris streets and you're like "Whaaaaaa?" and remember that part in the bank elevator where Van Damme and that Lundgren stand-in are just wailing on each other?! This movie is awesome. Plus Van Damme looks super handsome, and we see his butt! Not that that's anything new. Natasha Henstridge's boobs also make an appearance, in a very uncomfortable-looking bathroom sex scene.

Ummm so the story is hard to follow and there are a shit ton of characters, several of whom aren't really necessary. That cab driver/aspiring novelist? Blegh. And everybody moves around too much. BUT Van Damme and Co. sell it with their earnest dialogue delivery and all the asskicking that goes on. It's a really fun action movie, I am not being ironic. It's stupid, yes, but that doesn't make it any less fun! Makes it better, really.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: More Van Damme? Universal Soldier is pretty rad. Or District B13 for more French action? Ooooor Little Odessa for more NYC Russian mob stuff.

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Friday, May 4, 2012

Steamboat Bill, Jr (1928)

Seen: On my tv, streamed from netflix instant.

I'm really glad netflix has several Buster Keaton films on instant, since it's encouraging me to finally see his films. And coincidentally the artist I've been doing a paper on is actually obsessed with Keaton and has written about him and made a film about him. So that's nice! Steamboat Bill, Jr places our star in the title role, a refined college student who visits his rough steamboat captain father (Ernest Torrence) after many years apart. Dad is disappointed in his small, somewhat effeminate son and tries to teach him the manly ways of steamboating, while trying to save his business from his mean competitor (Tom McGuire)- who happens to be the father of Junior's love interest (Marion Byron). Jokes happen, and then there's a huge ass storm.

I'll admit I didn't get into this one at first, for whatever reason it just took a while to reel me in. I wasn't into the story or jokes at the beginning, they seemed sort of dragged-out- like the carnation scene went on too long, as did the hat changing scene. BUT THEN there's this part where Keaton tries to sneak off and see his girlfriend and he has to keep pretending to sleep when his dad walks in, and he falls flat "asleep" on a plank in the middle of crossing over to the bad guy's boat and it's just hilarious, and I was hooked. His character is just really silly and has some adorable affectations, and as the film goes to the jailbreak scene and the fantastic final sequence with the big storm, it gets better and better. The effects and gags at the climax are amazing, both technically and comedically.

I guess that's all I have to say. This movie starts off slow but gets better and better as it goes on. Aaaaand I liked it. Yeah. Remarkable analytical critique, I know.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Aw gee I guess more of Keaton's films! I've only seen this and Sherlock Jr so far. Will do The General once I get my hands on the blu-ray. And College since I like the dvd cover.

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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

Seen: At the Capitol Theatre in Arlington.

Oh heyyy so that Joss Whedon guy everyone's always talking about has a new movie or whatever. No not that superhero thing, that OTHER thing he made with Drew Goddard! Yeah. The Cabin in the Woods, re-inventing the horror genre/exposing its inner workings, no big deal. As you've probably heard from every other person talking about this movie, it's pretty hard to discuss without giving spoilers, so for those who haven't seen it I'll just say that it's a pretty awesome movie and you should see it! It's not too scary, don't worry, it's mostly smart and funny with a few scary parts. So uh, ALL THE SPOILERS AHEAD, etc.

Five college friends head out to an isolated cabin for some swimming, sunning, and sexytimes. They all fit some stereotype, sort of. There's the hot blonde (Anna Hutchison) (recently dyed from brunette) and her beefy boyfriend (Chris Hemsworth), a nice dude studying sociology. There's the shy "virgin" (Kristen Connolly) who'd rather study than be set up with Holden (Jesse Williams), a polite "scholar". Along for the trip is Marty (Fran Kranz), a paranoid pothead who also happens to be right about most things. In a bizarre twist the whole plot turns out to be administrated by a mysterious group of office drones who manipulate the kids into acting out a horror movie and getting viciously killed. Their blood is sacrificed to old gods who would rise up in destruction of the whole world if not placated with sacrifices every year. So. It's a little more complicated that you think, really.

This is indeed a really fun dig at horror movie tropes, in a way that's so blatant as to be quite smart. It's laced with Whedonesque dialogue and silly characters, combined with punchy editing and understated gore. The effects aren't great, as I assume there wasn't a huge budget here, but the CG stuff is mostly shot in the dark and by the time there's cause for lots of effects there's too much going on to really bother about the quality. Though there's great attention to character, the filmmakers aren't married to anyone and like a truly good horror movie all lives are definitely expendable. The ending is awesomely insane in a hilarious bloodbath kind of way.

It's not perfect- sometimes the "puppeteering" stuff is a bit heavy-handed, and there's not enough Amy Acker- but for the most part I loved it. Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins are having a grand olde time as the dudes in charge of the whole horror movie operation, and it's fun to watch these not-so-stupid kids try to figure out a way around this horrific ritual. Plus I like apocalyptic endings. And it totally makes fun of sexism and the male gaze! Yay!

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: My first thought is Tucker & Dale vs Evil since that movie rules and it also plays with the conventions of "college kids in the woods" slasher movies. Or Evil Dead/Evil Dead II since this movie references those a few times. OR the Fright Night remake, which I quite enjoyed, and has a Joss Whedon connection through screenwriter Marti Noxon!

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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Couch Trip (1988)

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

This semester is finishing up, thank goodness, and I've been trying to get back on track, movie-wise. Of course this doesn't always lead to good decisions, as I watch movies, any movie, out of desperation. We went into The Couch Trip not knowing much about it besides its cast and running time, and it turns out that's not always the mark of a good film. Dan Aykroyd stars as John W Burns, Jr, a charming (I guess?) swindler who cons his way out of prison and into a Chicago mental institution. He intercepts a call meant for his jerky psychiatrist and manages to secure a well-paid position as a talk show therapist in LA, replacing the famous George Maitlin (Charles Grodin), who's busy having a nervous breakdown. Burns does his best to hide his real identity while shaking things up with Maitlin's patients, and really helping some of them through his radical methods. Walter Matthau co-stars as a con artist who blackmails Burns into sharing the wealth.

So Charles Grodin and Walter Matthau should be enough, right? Dan Aykroyd is hit and miss for me but even he should bring some fun to an 80s comedy right? And Chevy Chase pops up for a cameo! BUT NOTHING IS ENOUGH because this movie isn't very good. It's boring, really. And not funny. The premise is ok but I didn't care about anything that happened, everything was just sort of pointless. Aykroyd isn't believable as this super charming guy who for no particular reason gets everyone to like him even though he's kind of annoying. The script probably thinks its edgy but it lacks originality. And poor Walter Matthau, how far you've fallen.

I will say that Charles Grodin is just the best, and is pretty hilarious here in the smaller role of Dr Maitlin. He is super depressed but in denial about it, and then goes CRAZY when he finds out his wife cheated on him with his best friend/lawyer. It looked like Grodin was having fun playing a cocky guy who gradually unravels into homicidal mania, and he was the one person I enjoyed watching. So thanks, Mr Grodin, for doing your best to salvage this otherwise tiresome film.

2/5

Watch Instead: Um something with Charles Grodin that's good? DUH Midnight Run!

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