Saturday, June 30, 2012

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

Seen: At the Kendall Square Landmark Cinema in Cambridge.

When Seattle journalist Jeff (Jake M Johnson) spots a strange personal ad in the paper, he drags two interns with him on a trip outside the city to track the writer (Mark Duplass) down. He believes he can time travel and is looking for a partner to go back to 2001 with him, so intern Darius (Aubrey Plaza) poses as an interested party to get close to him. They "train" for combat and he gradually reveals his plan, while she begins to actually believe him. Meanwhile Jeff tries to reconnect with an old flame and Arnau (Karan Soni), the other intern, tries to not be corrupted.

Inspired by a real ad, Safety Not Guaranteed is one of those "quirky" indie comedies that's ultimately really enjoyable and heartfelt, instead of just bullshitty. I love love love Aubrey Plaza and it was great to see her in a starring role. She's skilled at taking the unemotional, sarcastic twentysomething stereotype and imbuing it with sincerity and relatability. As Darius she's quick-witted and kind, and her relationship with purported time traveler Kenneth is well-developed. I haven't seen Duplass in much (although I just found out he was the lead singer of Volcano, I'm Still Excited!!, a band I dug in high school) and have always been put off by his doofy face, but he was pretty ok here. He fits the role of dweeby, possibly crazy guy who is also sympathetic and likable somehow. Their scenes together are fun and entertaining, and the audience is seriously questioning (along with Darius) if he actually does know what he's doing because the possibility of time travel is too tempting to wholly dismiss.

Unfortunately I found the subplot concerning Jeff and Arnau much less interesting. Jeff is just a sexist asshole in the throes of a midlife crisis, and I didn't give a shit about his stupid problems. I know the whole thing with him hooking up with his high school girlfriend and remembering his glory days was meant to parallel the time travel notions in Darius and Kenneth's story, but I don't think it worked as well as the filmmakers thought. I liked Karan Soni as the nerdy, unsure student Arnau, but his character is never given the focus or development he deserved. Mostly, I just hated Jeff. What a dick. (And don't try to convince me that by realizing he could date a lady even though she wasn't as hot as she was when she was a teenager makes him redeemable. Nope.)

Safety Not Guaranteed is half a really fun movie, and I enjoyed it a lot as I watched it. But the more I think about how the subplots were handled, and how they left less time to address some weird questions raised by the main narrative, the more frustrated I am. It's definitely worth seeing though, for Aubrey Plaza being the best and for a lot of good jokes, and for some nice, ambiguous science-fiction undertones.


Pair This Movie With: Just to be silly I'm going with Trancers, a hilariously bad 80's time travel thriller.


Friday, June 29, 2012

Alex Makes Art #85

Aww you guys, I'm bummed because I can't actually show you the piece I'm working on since I don't have access to my scanner for a few days. This means I can't finish it either since I'm planning on coloring it in photoshop. Oh well, you'll see it next week. For now I'm announcing the opening of my t-shirt shop on redbubble. I know I tried the t-shirt thing before and it didn't work out, but a few people have asked me about making shirts out of my designs lately so I figured I'd give it another shot. At the moment I'm converting some of my favorite poster designs into shirts, but I imagine later I'll have some new ones, especially for movie bands since that's one of my favorite things. For now please check it out and order one for yourself if you so desire! There's a wide range of colors and styles, for both ladies and dudes. Below are the designs currently available. Let me know if you have any requests!

And obviously you may recall that I have a wide range of prints, posters, postcards, and original works available in my etsy shop.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Le Trou (The Hole) (1960)

Seen: On dvd on my friend Sam's projector set-up.

After our Cage weekend featuring The Rock, a friend recommended another prison-related movie that I hadn't heard of. Le Trou is a deceptively simple film that focuses on a group of affable male prisoners who plot to escape their cell by digging a tunnel in the sewers underneath the prison. They spend weeks setting up their plan, monitoring the guards' movements and routines, and then take turns digging for days straight under the cover of a nearby construction project. Mostly they hang out and are best friends and it's adorable.

Describing this movie makes it sound kind of boring, which is too bad. It really is just a bunch of super friendly French dudes hanging out in a cell, being super nice to each other, and having a super good time together. It's paced slowly but never dull, as we see new cellmate Geo (Michael Constantin) get to know the other men in the group, and share his own story. He accidentally shot his wife through the shoulder during an argument, and she accused him of attempted murder so he's not getting out any time soon. They trust him enough to bring him into their plans, and the story moves along gradually from there as the various pieces come together.

There isn't a lot of tension, which is interesting for a prison break film. Most of the people who work at the prison are shown to be polite and forgiving, and this is definitely not a high security set-up. (Honestly it looks like a pretty nice time, everyone is friends and they get free soup every day! Why would they want to escape?) As their work moves along it seems likely they'll escape, and they work so hard for it you hope they do. It's filmed in a tight, intimate way that makes the viewer a part of the group, a fellow inmate and friend, and the stakes are raised through the connection forged between character and audience. I know it doesn't sound it, but this film is compelling and just all-around good.


Pair This Movie With: Mmmm probably another prison movie? I haven't seen The Great Escape but that's an option. Or Cool Hand Luke is always fun.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Copie Conforme (Certified Copy) (2010) at 366 Weird Movies

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

Oh wow it's been a while but I have a new review up over at 366 Weird Movies! That site's pretty great, you guys, and I'm always happy to contribute to it. I'd been curious about Certified Copy since it was released in the US, but missed it in theaters. Various reviews I'd read had lauded its mysterious depiction of a bickering couple, and I must say it is intriguing. In many ways it is a stereotypical "European arthouse" film, but it has one weird element to it that makes it more interesting than just two well-educated people having a long conversation. Please check out my full review of the film. I worked really hard on it.


Monday, June 25, 2012

Hysteria (2012)

Seen: At the Kendall Square Landmark Cinema in Cambridge.

I don't know about you guys but we just had a pretty crazy heat wave in the Northeast and I don't have air conditioning, so get ready for several upcoming new release reviews, for once, since I did my best to be inside of cool buildings. Hysteria was first on my list of things to see after hearing its praises sung by Joanna on the Matineecast. Based on the real events surrounding the invention of the vibrator in the 1880s, the film follows young Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy), a struggling doctor who finds himself without a job time and time again as he attempts to combat his superiors' antiquated ways of thinking about health practices and, especially, germs (which totally exist!). He gets a position with Dr Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), who primarily treats wealthy women in various stages of "hysteria" (also totally a real thing, hello!) with what he believes is re-aligning the uterus into its proper place, but actually amounts to vaginal massage. Granville takes over his duties and, after his hand consistently cramps up, he looks for a new way to perform the procedure. Dalrymple's free-spirited daughter Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal), meanwhile, interrupts his quiet life with frequent proclamations of feminism and helping the poor and other wacky notions.

Structured as a period romantic comedy, Hysteria manages to delightfully entertain while it subtly works in somewhat subversive elements about female sexuality. It's laced with the rom-com stereotypes: Oh no the dude somehow runs into the lady and falls on top of her, how awkward ha ha! You think he's in love with the lady he gets along with but actually he loves the one who bickers with him! Wow! Its tone remains lighthearted for most of its runtime, converting ideas that are in many ways still controversial and taboo into a digestible format. First we laugh at how stupid these old-timey male doctors are for not believing in germs and for thinking "hysteria" is a real thing, then we realize that they don't even know about female orgasms. The amount of stupidity in the main male characters is hilarious, and it's nice to see that the jokes are on the men for once. While dissatisfied women in the film slyly take advantage of Dr Dalrymple's cracked theories so that they can have weekly sexual fulfillment, women in the audience nod in understanding and shake our heads at the doctor's cluelessness.

I hadn't seen Hugh Dancy in too much but I found myself enjoying him a lot here, mostly because with the sideburns he looked like Hugh Jackman (is it a "Hugh" thing?). Most of the film is from his point of view, which is always interesting for a romantic comedy. As Dr Granville he's this mixture of dopey and passionate that makes him likable despite being an idiot and sexist. Jonathan Pryce is excellent as always, his character flawed for many of the same reasons as Granville but more hard-headed and dickish. Maggie Gyllenhaal is fiery and fun-loving, out of place in the time period but so awesome it doesn't matter. They are surrounded by a host of excellent supporting castmembers, from Felicity Jones as Charlotte's prim and proper (and phrenologist lol) sister to Ashley Jensen as her lower-class friend. Rupert Everett shows up for several enjoyable scenes as a wealthy "bachelor" (read: homosexual) obsessed with electrical inventions, who actually constructs the vibrator device.

Hysteria is primarily a silly romantic comedy with gorgeous period costumes, but the filmmakers smartly work in commentary about female bodies and historical sexism that still resonates today. It is rather formulaic in its storytelling and I got sick of the amount of orgasms played for laughs (the opera thing was overkill, really), but overall I liked it a lot. It's not extremely progressive but it's nice to see this kind of story given a female perspective. Also it's cool that I got to talk about vaginal stimulation in a film review (FINALLY).


Pair This Movie With: I thought about A Dangerous Method since that features more awesome costumes and weird ideas about lady problems. At times it also reminded me of The Road to Wellville.


Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Rock (1996)

Seen: On blu-ray on our projector set-up, rented from Hollywood Express.

Ok last week the Brattle Theatre did a screening series celebrating Nicolas Cage ("Greatest American Actor"). The double screening of Con Air and The Rock was my most anticipated, but then they canceled The Rock, and I. Was. Devastated. Luckily we were able to rent the blu-ray and have a personal showing at our house, with pizza! The "story", as it were, concerns a group of pissed off Marines led by General Hummel (Ed Harris) who take over Alcatraz (and 80 tourist hostages) with a plan to unleash a deadly virus on San Francisco unless they get money from the US government to pay damages to wronged military families. FBI biological weapons expert Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage) and former British intelligence agent John Mason (Sean Connery), the only person to ever break out of Alcatraz, are sent in with a special team to navigate the prison's underground labyrinth and dismantle the weapons. There happens to be a lot of heavy-duty action setpieces along the way.

With a ridiculous premise and an even more ridiculous execution, The Rock is really a damned enjoyable action flick, reminding me that maybe Michael Bay can get his shit together once in a while and not suck so hard. Injecting the weird story with several exciting chase scenes and a number of nail-biting moments, he's produced a memorable movie that succeeds because of how over the top it is, not despite. I loved Connery's wacky long-haired hi-jinks and Cage's super nerdiness- they make an unexpectedly good team. Connery is obviously having a lot of fun essentially reprising James Bond, being sly all the time and thwacking Cage upside the head. Cage is adorable as a dude who doesn't cuss for some reason and it totally unprepared for this situation. And Ed Harris is a sort of sad villain, sympathetic because his cause is reasonable even if his means aren't. The cast is rounded out with David Morse, John C McGinley, John Spencer, and most excitingly, Michael Biehn! He shows up for two scenes playing a no-nonsense military guy (aka his favorite role!) and he's lookin' good. Then he dies OH WELL. There aren't any women except for Claire Forlani for two minutes and Vanessa Marcil as Cage's sexy girlfriend who won't fucking listen when he says, "DON'T COME TO SAN FRANCISCO". There isn't really room for ladies in this joint, you know?

The thing about The Rock is that it's crazy and awesome, but it's also wicked long and it drags at parts. It's fun and entertaining but doesn't quite hold up for its 136 minutes. And if I may be frank, not enough stuff explodes. I come in with certain expectations, Bay, and you should live up to them. But otherwise I am a fan of this movie.


Pair This Movie With: Well like I said, we paired this with Con Air and it was pretty great. But also maybe a James Bond movie with Sean Connery?


Friday, June 22, 2012

Alex Makes Art #84

Hello friends, it's hot out there isn't it? YES. YES IT FUCKING IS. I don't have air conditioning so I've been going out to see movies and do things indoors at places with climate control, so not as much art-making as I would have liked. But I did finish a fun commission for one of the many awesome Toronto people I have met this past year. She is a big fan of the movie Home Alone and wanted a piece illustrating a specific scene, where Fuller (a little Kieran Culkin) smiles at the screen while clutching his Pepsi. It's a pretty silly moment and I had fun with the piece. My goal was to make it look like a vintage soda ad, a little Norman Rockwell-y. I think it came out well! I'm finally getting it printed tomorrow so she can have it, I'm not sure if I'll put it up for sale it's also for sale in my shop. Is this something you think anybody would like? I have no concept of how popular this movie is or if people like art made for it or if people like this. But anyway. Here it is!

Hoping to work on some t-shirt designs soon, converting some of my poster designs. Also some new things! So many ideas, so little time!


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Summer Stock (1950)

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

It's been a while since I watched a good old-fashioned Hollywood musical, and while I've seen quite a few there are always more to discover! One day I'll be caught up on my Gene Kelly, and Summer Stock had always been high on my list after seeing a clip of him making dance-music in a barn (what a guy!). Judy Garland stars as Jane, a hands-on farmer who has been running her dead parents' farm alone while her sister Abigail (Gloria DeHaven) tries to make it as a stage actress in New York. When Abigail brings home a whole theater troupe to use their barn as a show space Jane is furious, but eventually accepts the group despite her stodgy fiance Orville's (Eddie Bracken) reservations. The fact that her sister's boyfriend, director Joe Ross (Gene Kelly) is, well, Gene Kelly, isn't so bad, either.

Oddly enough I actually haven't seen too many Judy Garland movies, so it's always nice to be reminded of her crazy impossible talent. She was going through a rough time (like always, I suppose) during filming but aside from some disorienting weight fluctuation she is marvelous as the no-nonsense Jane, a farmer who of course has secret singing and dancing abilities. Plus she's feisty! I was there for Gene though, and he does not disappoint with his smarmy-charming characterization and smooth moves. I didn't love Phil Silvers as the comedic relief sidekick though, I guess his over-the-top shenanigans just weren't that funny to me, they felt forced and dated. Also he fucks up an expensive tractor for no goddamn reason, it's not funny, it's destructive! What an IDIOT. But I really enjoyed the too-small appearance from Hans Conried as an arrogant actor starring in the show.

The musical numbers are mostly pretty cool, with Gene's aforementioned barn solo and Judy's climactic (and weirdly biblical/apocalyptic) "Get Happy". I liked her ebullient "Happy Harvest" song as well. But then scenes like Silvers and Kelly's unfunny hillbilly comedy routine just don't hold up, and other songs are mostly forgettable. I love musicals, as you all know, but if the story is bland and the musical numbers are less than impressive, there really needs to be a strong script to keep it all together. Summer Stock's screenplay is missing the witty remarks and playful banter that keeps me coming back to other classic musicals, so in the end I found it middling. It's worth it for fantastic performances from Judy and Gene, but those can be found in other films. And it does present a very realistic portrayal of fucking self-centered theater people, who are just the worst, goddamn. (I was a stage manager for a few years, can you tell?)


Pair This Movie With: Mmm well I know Garland did a few other musicals with Kelly, so maybe one of those. The only one I've seen is For Me and My Gal, which I liked ok.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Seen: At the Kendall Square Landmark Theatre in Cambridge.

Oh yeah, so Wes Anderson has a new movie, isn't that always nice? Moonrise Kingdom places him in familiar territory, managing a host of white people with family issues in quaint settings while awesome music plays in the background. This time around the story details the events surrounding the escape of young Sam (Jared Gillman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) from their oppressive living situations and the subsequent search for them by various adults and kids in the area of their small New England island. Sam, an orphan who is bullied by his peers and unwelcome with his foster family, quits the wilderness scout program after recognizing that he doesn't fit in. Suzy is volatile and feels misunderstood by her family, and hopes to find acceptance alone with pen-pal Sam. Her emotionally-distant parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) team up with local cop Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) and Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) to find the missing tweens. Oh and also it's 1965, and there's a big storm coming to the island.

Yes, Wes Anderson has made another Wes Anderson movie, and no it's not as good as The Royal Tenenbaums, but Moonrise Kingdom is a lot of fun and impeccably put together. The varied soundtrack includes an instrumental score by Alexandre Desplat, ramblin' tunes from Hank Williams, chic ballads from chanteuse Françoise Hardy, and of course a little Mark Mothersbaugh. There is an intricate level of detail in the sets, costumes, props, and framing, making for a visually complex experience that will certainly deepen on subsequent viewings. Anderson perfectly captures the rustic New England aesthetic, with dark woods and quiet beaches set against cloudy skies. And unsurprisingly, his style is absolutely suited to the 1960's, it's a wonder he hasn't set a film during that decade before. His penchant for outdated electronics, weathered books, and colorful costumes is finally applicable!

Here's the thing about Moonrise Kingdom: I love all the adults in it and their storylines, but I don't especially care for the kids. And this movie is largely about these kids. Now it's no secret that I'm not a fan of children in general, and in fact I tend to be uncomfortable around anyone younger than 20 unless they're related to me, so this may be a personal thing. But Sam is kind of annoying, and looks almost exactly like a creepy dude who lived down the hall from me freshman year of college. Suzy is ok, but a lot of her character felt like a retread of Margot Tenenbaum, only tinier. I liked her enough in the beginning, mostly because she reads the same type of books I did at her age, but she sort of fades into the background in the later scenes when it becomes more about Sam. Also I know some people are weirded out by the 12-year-olds-in-underwear thing but they don't do anything actually inappropriate, and let's not pretend like sexual awakening/exploration doesn't start around that age anyway.

For the most part this is a really enjoyable, and funny film. Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Bruce Willis, and Frances McDormand are excellent additions to the Anderson roster, and I especially enjoyed Norton as the down-and-out Scout Master, who blames himself for Sam's disappearance and just wants to set things right. Bob Balaban was pretty adorable too. I liked it a lot, but it didn't resonate me in the same way that The Royal Tenenbaums does, and I can't help but compare the two. This feels lighter and a little more formulaic, but I think a rewatch is needed before I form a final opinion. I'm sure there are a lot of little details and references I missed.


Pair This Movie With: Perhaps Where the Wild Things Are for another, more fanciful tale of a child escaping his home life. Or honestly after this I just wanted to watch more Edward Norton movies, maybe Death to Smoochy.


Monday, June 18, 2012

xXx: State of the Union (2005)

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

Well you knew it had to happen sooner or later. After the surprising goodness of xXx it was no challenge to get us to check out its sequel, xXx: State of the Union, starring Ice Cube because Vin Diesel didn't want to be in it or whatever! And this time it's all about America! None of that ambiguous Eastern European stuff. Ice Cube is Darius Stone, a badass former Navy SEAL who's been incarcerated for disobeying orders. Secret government agent dude Augustus Gibbons (Samuel Jackson) helps him bust out so he can become the new XXX agent. There's a plot afoot within the president's cabinet, and no one can be trusted so Darius is mostly on his own, enlisting the aid of gearhead buddies Zeke (Xzibit) and Lola (Nona Gaye) to save the day. Willem Dafoe is there. He's the bad guy. Ok. You're welcome for that shitty, inscrutable plot summary.

With a dumb, ridiculously convoluted plot, outdated special effects, a blaring, uneven soundtrack, and no Vin Diesel, State of the Union was set to fail but manages to overcome the odds and pump out a decent, if flawed, action flick. Ice Cube is pretty badass as Darius Stone, even if the undercover spy stuff doesn't really suit him. He's at his best when he's just running around with big cars and bigger guns, surrounded by a convenient group of fighters who can hotwire anything. There are a few fun action sequences as well as some that are marred by poorly rendered CGI (most notably the high-speed train in the climax) and lackluster camera work. There are way too many characters, way too many plotlines, and way too little Sam Jackson. But hey, it's a fun enough action movie with several prominent black characters, so that's positive. And it's anti-military douchebags. And Xzibit is there! And he's ADORABLE. He doesn't put any stuff in any other stuff, but he does hang around cars and he does lead a crazy tank attack, so we're doing alright.

The most important thing about this movie is that it gets us thinking about the upcoming third installment, which is (hopefully) happening. In the second film the writers stupidly said Xandar Cage was killed in Bora Bora. BUT OH SHIT is he actually alive?!?!?! Only xXx: The Return of Xander Cage will tell. Who's excited? I'm excited.


Pair This Movie With: Um the first xXx makes the most sense, I guess.


Friday, June 15, 2012

Alex Makes Art #83

It's been another kind of slow week for art as I had a lot of shifts at work and was recuperating from vacation time. I've got some free time this week (when I'm not studying for the stupid comp test coming up in stupid September) and I hope to use it wisely! Got another commission to work on plus some personal ideas I want to try out. For now, here are some art things!

Last week I had a pen sketch of Black Widow from The Avengers, and after fiddling around with it in Photoshop I made a fancy digital painting that I enjoy. It's for sale as a small print.

As many people noticed yesterday, I'm not a huge fan of Blade Runner, but I do think Rachael is an interesting character and so I did a quick pencil sketch of her last night. I might turn it into something pretty later, but there's already so much great fan art for the film and this character specifically that it seems silly to add my meager offerings to the pile. We'll see.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Blade Runner (1982)

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

I know Blade Runner is like a main science-fiction movie of all time, but when I saw it in high school I was underwhelmed, to the extent that I didn't watch it again for years during which time very little of it stuck in my mind. This was a period when I was really getting into dystopian film, and so I had very high expectations that it totally didn't meet. Now doubting my own opinion of it, I knew I needed to give it another try in my better-informed adulthood. Based on a Philip K Dick book, Blade Runner is set in a futuristic universe in which super-advanced humanistic robots known as "replicants" are used for outsourced labor but aren't allowed on Earth. When four of these androids escape to a giant Earth metropolis it's up to Rick Deckard, a so-called "blade runner", to track them down and terminate them.

Working with multiple storylines and ambitious in both its moralistic and visual scope, Blade Runner aims to be the definitive sci-fi noir. The dark urban imagery is punctuated with neon lights and flickering video advertisements, while cops fly around in hovercraft and people of East Asian descent traipse along the debris-laden streets. The buildings are decrepit but beautiful, and there never seems to be much sunlight. It's a future where apparently only technology has advanced, where people continue living their own shitty lives but with new ethical quandaries to ponder. The possibility of artificial intelligence breeding a new lifeform, of the validity of an android's claims to personhood, of the responsibilities humans have as we advance beyond our own means, are all interesting and loaded areas of exploration here.

Unfortunately none of them are really explored in depth. The weak story and god-awful pacing make Blade Runner somewhat difficult to slog through at times, and good ideas are presented but never followed through. I think the most interesting character is actually Rachael (Sean Young), a replicant who thinks she's human. But she is relegated to a weird romantic subplot and all but forgotten while Harrison Ford runs around trying to stop robot crimes or whatever. Yes, the imagery is gorgeous and influential, and yes, Daryl Hannah and Rutger Hauer are memorable as the main escaped replicants, and YES, Harrison Ford is a babe, but honestly, I'm just not in love with this movie. I watched the newest version, which I believe is the closest to what Scott had originally intended before the studio added the voiceover and happy ending and all that, so I feel like I've seen it at its best. And still thought it was just ok.

It's inexplicably slow-moving, and doesn't use much of its extra time to develop the characters or subplots. It is layered in narrative hints and questions, and I know upon future viewings I would find new revelations, but I don't have all that much interest in watching it a third time, at least not in the near future. Because it's so goddamn slow. Seriously. I like the premise though so I hope to read the source novel sometime before I'm 30...


Pair This Movie With: The visuals and atmosphere remind me of my favorite dystopian film, Brazil, while the lack of sunlight and noir-ish attributes are reminiscent of Dark City.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Space Truckers (1996)

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

The title says it all, really. Trucking. In space. Also: Dennis Hopper. Set in a nondescript, Cowboy Bebop-esque space future, Space Truckers is a very silly, but also sort of thrilling adventure that stars Hopper as an experienced independent transporter who takes on a young upstart trucker (Stephen Dorff) and a savvy waitress he's sort of engaged to (Debi Mazar), along with a load of mysterious sex dolls, so they can all head to Earth. Their space truck is waylaid by space pirates, and eventually it becomes a fight to the death with giant laser robots. I swear all of this happens. Plus Norm from Cheers has his insides sucked out through his butt when a window breaks in a space diner. OBVIOUSLY THIS MOVIE RULES.

I am slowly but surely learning that maybe Stuart Gordon just knows what to do to make a movie I will enjoy. I will soon be investigating this theory in more depth, don't you worry. With Space Truckers, he's created a weird futuristic world that doesn't make any sense and is all the better for it. This is science fiction with very little of the "science" part, employing the laws of gravity only when it's convenient and mixing genres like a boss. Dennis Hopper is surly and kind of confused, while Debi Mazar and an incredibly young (and cute!) Stephen Dorff just wanna make out all the time. Charles Dance (aka Lord Tywin Lannister, you nerds) is having the most fun as the bad guy with awesome glasses and hell of robot parts. The story is all over the place, everyone is basically an idiot, and there isn't actually all that much trucking.

WHICH IS WHY I can't believe how good this movie actually is! It has no right to be such a fun movie but seriously, it is, jeez! The effects are pretty awesome, the jokes are funny and strange (square pigs! how prescient!), and it's just so ridiculous it's hard not to have a good time. I loved the crazy ninja laser robots, and the bizarre almost-sex scene, and how both Dorff and Mazar spend half the movie in their underwear, and the wacky 2001-ish space diner, and Dennis Hopper's old-man yelling, and how the space trucks actually look like trucks, just longer. It's a pretty crazy movie, and I'm not sure just how intentional the humor is since the third act is sort of dark, but it doesn't really matter. Turns out Stuart Gordon is just a man who knows what I want. Even when Jeffrey Combs isn't involved! Most importantly, I now want to put the word "space" in front of everything.


Pair This Movie With: Aw man well the similarities to Cowboy Bebop really are pretty strong. Check out the episode "Heavy Metal Queen" for more space trucking!


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

Seen: On dvd on my Seattle friends' projector set-up, from their collection.

I'll always remember The Life Aquatic as the first independent movie I actively sought out in a theater. I went with my friend AJ, and we were the youngest people there by a few decades, and we guffawed like crazy while those around us didn't laugh much, and we felt like we were both in on some secret, awesome joke, and it was all so grown-up. Then this movie's soundtrack got me into David Bowie, so all in all a pretty important film for my formative teen years. The plot concerns the trials and tribulations of Steve Zissou (Bill Murray), a once-respected marine scientist, explorer, and filmmaker who embarks on a quest to kill the mysterious tiger shark that killed his best friend. He assembles a motley crew for the voyage, including his newfound possible son, Ned (Owen Wilson), his possessive first mate Klaus (Willem Dafoe), a pregnant reporter (Cate Blanchett), a company stooge (Bud Cort) to keep an eye on spending, and a hoard of unpaid interns. Various mishaps and tragedies befall them, but Steve is committed to avenging his friend.

This is of course another example of Wes Anderson making a Wesandersony movie, which I don't think is a bad thing since I like his movies. There is an insane attention to detail, a wealth of personality affectations, delightful miniatures, lovely imagery, and a groovy soundtrack (embellished with Portuguese Bowie covers by Seu Jorge). He adds a dash of surrealism with fantastic stop-motion sea creatures from Henry Selick, and some unexpected action sequences involving pirates. Like pretty much all of his films, the narrative is scattered and somewhat episodic, relying more on character and atmosphere to propel itself forward. The script is funny and a little weird, and the cast is of course phenomenal.

You really can't go wrong with a sad Bill Murray, who fully embodies the title character. He's the right amount of self-deprecating humor and asshole narcissism, tinged with traces of former glory and a life riddled with regrets. Steve Zissou is a dick, no question, and often hard to sympathize with, but he maintains a charismatic hold on those around him and the audience can't help but go along with it, especially when flashes of an underlying heroism reveal themselves. It's too bad he continually makes homophobic and misogynist comments, though. It'd be nice if that didn't have to happen.

I've long held The Life Aquatic as one of my favorite Wes Anderson movies, but it had been many years since I'd seen it. I still think it's great, but not as great as I remembered. I feel like I can better see through Anderson's veneer of hipness, and while his deftness with character and emotional depth remains strong, there are narrative and pacing flaws that seem more apparent. Of course, it's still a hilarious, sad, exciting, and beautiful film. I would expect no less.


Pair This Movie With: My boyfriend suggests The Limits of Control because "It's got a quest, and Bill Murray!" which I think is reason enough!


Monday, June 11, 2012

V/H/S (2012)

Seen: At the Egyptian Theater in Seattle, part of the Seattle International Film Festival.

A thing about me is I have a lot of trouble not finishing a movie (or book, for that matter). I have very rarely walked out of a film, and the one or two times I have it's been because I was feeling nauseous. When most of my companions to V/H/S, a much-talked-about horror anthology playing as a midnight movie at SIFF, decided to leave after the first grisly, disconcerting short, I decided to stay primarily because I wanted to see Ti West's effort. (Remember how much I loved The Innkeepers? That movie rules, you guys.) With a frame story of a group of assholes breaking into an old guy's house to steal a mysterious VHS tape, the film features an array of low-res, found-footage shorts as they go through his weird video collection. Each segment is directed by a different up-and-coming male horror filmmaker.

Leaning on the hand-held camera enough to cause motion sickness in some audience members, V/H/S is a love letter to the low-budget, fuzzy horror tapes of its name, relying more on technique, jump scares, and gore than on special effects or character development. The segments vary in quality and scariness, but pretty much all of them feature white assholes and unnecessary nudity (well, that's what "horror" means right?). The frame story by Adam Wingard is kind of boring and hard to watch because it's all shot at night with handheld cameras. The first short from David Bruckner is the hardest to watch with its depiction of date rape, but the film as a whole gradually picks up to feature a few shorts I dug. I expect anthologies to be hit and miss, so it's no surprise, but for me this was more miss. Ti West's look at a couple on vacation is surprisingly forgettable (though at least it has a decent lady character), while Glenn McQuaid's slasher-in-the-woods story has an interesting premise (final girl coming back for revenge) but isn't actually good.

On the positive side are two shorts I thought were very impressive. Joe Swanberg's was probably my favorite, featuring a series of video chat conversations between a long-distance couple. The young woman (played by the adorable Helen Rogers) believes her new apartment is haunted, and wakes her boyfriend up to calm her fears and show him the ghost of a little boy who keeps knocking on her door. This one's easier to watch since it's not shaky, and I actually liked the main character. It's funny but also legitimately scary, and has a great, weird twist that totally caught me off guard. The final short, from newcomer film collective Radio Silence, is considered by many viewers to be the best, and it's certainly the creepiest. A group of idiot dude-bros find themselves stuck in a haunted house with a bunch of devil worshipers, and it's tense and eerie as hell.

So I liked two out of the six shorts here, not a great showing in total. Admittedly horror isn't my favorite genre, and the ones I do like are usually more thriller-y/character-based, and the stories on display here are more gory and jump-scare-based. And while I'm fine with VHS-quality for some things, combined with shaky-cam and a big screen it's sort of hard to deal with over a long period of time. I will say I'm proud of myself for handling this movie pretty well, though. I rarely looked away and I wasn't grossed out by the gore like I usually am. After hearing about people fainting and getting sick and stuff from other screenings of V/H/S, I kind of feel like a badass.


Pair This Movie With: Well since I was an little shaken by the end I wanted a palette cleanser, something light-hearted and funny and not scary at all! In the past I've gone with The Importance of Being Earnest. Alternatively, I would say to skip this movie and watch The Innkeepers.


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Men in Black 3 (2012)

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

Ok so, like basically everyone in my age group I loved the first Men in Black when I was a youngin' and thought the second one was dumb but got pretty excited for the franchise's return due primarily to the prospect of Josh Brolin as a young Agent K. Men in Black 3 re-unites Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith as K and J, respectively, agents in a top-secret organization that handles alien activity on Earth. When a powerful alien criminal named Boris (Jemaine Clement) breaks out of moon-jail and embarks on a mission to go back in time and kill K (the man who sent him to prison), J travels back to 1969 so he can retroactively save his partner. There are some jokes about the 60's. And some weird alien hijinks.

The thing about this movie is that it can't quite decide who its audience is, or even what type of film it is in itself. Is it a time travel mystery-thriller? A sci-fi action flick? A family-friendly comedy? It settles on being an unsuccessful blend of all three, but not without flashes of awesomeness. Half the humor is low-brow, unimaginative slapstick infused with CGI alien monsters, with Will Smith taking many unfunny hits for the team. But the other half is more wink-wink, nudge-nudge digs at 60's culture, including shitty racist cops (always topical!) and the ridiculous New York art scene (don't think I didn't love the Andy Warhol thing, though I hated the "all models are aliens" crack). The funniest part about the whole thing is of course Jemaine Clement, who is nigh-unrecognizable as Boris the Animal but just as silly as his Flight of the Conchords persona, especially when there's two of him. He's also kind of gross though, with, like, insect parts and extra orifices. Yeesh.

Changing its tone from scene to scene and juggling way too many ideas, Men in Black 3 shows promise with its time-travel premise but really needed a more streamlined script and less dopey action comedy. It feels like the filmmakers wanted to make something more character-based, with a little mystery and sci-fi/historical satire, but felt forced to add in the dumb action stuff and stupid jokes to appeal to kids and sensationalists. The result is an ultimately uneven affair, with parts I really liked and parts I readily dismissed, with its strengths residing primarily in some fantastic performances. I loved Josh Brolin as young K, mostly because his transformation is so magical I swear to god they digitally manipulated his face and voice. Has he always looked and sounded EXACTLY like Tommy Lee Jones? And the always incredible Michael Stuhlbarg is adorable as a refugee alien who can see all possible futures, thus experiencing crazy mixed-up series of parallel universes at any given time. Poor little guy. Emma Thompson is under-used (duh) and her character is short-changed in the 60's portion as an eyelash-fluttering ditz with big hair, so that was frustrating, especially since she's the only woman in the film besides the sexy lady in the opening. And obviously Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones do a good job, but they're both getting a little old for this shit, you know?


Pair This Movie With: I felt like revisiting the first Men in Black, just because I haven't seen it in so long.


Friday, June 8, 2012

Alex Makes Art #82

Oh hey guys. I have been a little light on art-making since I was visiting Seattle for about a few days. Good times! The other main thing I was working on is a secret project that I'll reveal later on, isn't that exciting? For now here are a few things I've done lately. And remember I've got over 50 (almost 60!) cool movie-themed items in my shop, which are super-affordable, and am open for commissions if you have something in mind!

I was pretty enamored of Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow, if you'll remember, so I did a sketch of her while I was in Seattle. The scan kind of fuzzes up her face but I think it looks good in real life. I will probably do some photoshoppy things to it later, we'll see. I will tell you that I spent a really long time on her butt. Which meant I looked at a lot of pictures of her butt. So that was a nice afternoon.

Also here's an unfinished portrait of Ingrid Michaelson, part of that series of commissions I've been doing. The customer wants to include lyrics within the piece but I haven't heard back yet about which ones. I don't listen to Michaelson but she was fun to draw, primarily because it's rare I get to draw glasses! Funnnnnn.


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Fletch (1985)

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

I thought I had seen this movie before but I guess I only ever saw snippets of it on tv. Now I've seen the whole thing! Chevy Chase stars as the titular Irwin Fletcher, an undercover reporter who stumbles upon a murder plot mixed with fraud while investigating drug dealing on the beach. He dons a number of goofy disguises to get to the bottom of the case, which involves wealthy businessman Alan Stanwyck (Tim Matheson) and his supposed plans to kill himself. While on the job Fletch also romances Stanwyck's wronged wife, Gail (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson).

This is completely the Chevy Chase show, an actor I've never really latched on to. Here he is probably at his best, rattling off silly pseudonyms and under-his-breath insults while navigating a convoluted but actually fairly compelling mystery. The story is ok and Chase is strong enough in the lead, but neither really holds for the entire length of the film, which isn't especially long to begin with at 98 minutes. There are a lot of plot elements here that give Chase an excuse to do something funny, but not all of them are worth it. The dream sequence of Fletch as a player for the Lakers felt too much like blackface, for example, though I know it technically isn't. But others lead to exciting moments, like the unexpected car chase with a teen's stolen car or the character's snarky digs at privileged white jerks in the country club. I didn't see the point of the side-trip down Asshole-Cop Lane but it had Joe Don Baker so like any true MST3K fan I was equally excited and disgusted.

Some of the references are dated but most of Fletch holds up, thanks to what amounts to a decent noir-ish mystery plot and a script that never slows down. I was tickled by Geena Davis's Jimmy Olsen-like character Larry, who is too fucking adorable to be in only 3 short scenes. I want a sequel that stars her as a plucky recently-promoted reporter who has do go undercover to rescue Fletch from the clutches of criminals he was investigating. Let's do this, Hollywood.


Pair This Movie With: How about another 80's comedy-mystery with an SNL castmember? You know I'm talking about Beverly Hills Cop!


Monday, June 4, 2012

Vanishing Point (1971)

Seen: On dvd on my friend Sam's projector set-up.

The main thing I took away from Death Proof besides the kickin' soundtrack was a nice dosage of recommendations. Zoe and Kim talk about awesome car movies they watched as kids and I wanted to be cool like them. The car they drive is from Vanishing Point, a minimalist chase movie that pits quiet driver Kowalski (Barry Newman) against a lot of cops trying to stop his one-man road race from Colorado to San Francisco. An enthusiastic blind radio dj (Cleavon Little) tries to aid the driver's quest with helpful hints over the air. There's not much more to it than that.

With sparse but strong characterization and a lot of awesome stunt driving, Vanishing Point is a pretty solid road movie. I think Kowalski is a little bit too "cool" to be a compelling lead, but Cleavon Little as Super Soul manages to steal the show in a supporting role. His ebullience and chatty character fills in the blanks for Kowalski's stone-faced silence, and it's a good contrast. Besides his performance, my favorite element of the film is the driving, man! There are some very cool, crazy moments with this white Dodge Challenger as well as some nail-biting ones. Well-shot, too. But nobody rides on its roof like in Death Proof. And there aren't any cool ladies to speak of. Oh well. I guess Tarantino can improve on some things.

Like many films of its ilk, the narrative is pretty light and everything settles into a sort of masculine quietude as shots of Western America are punctuated with the roar of an engine. This is all well and good, but not especially my thing as I've said in the past. There are attempts to flesh out Kowalski's backstory but his motivations remain unclear, and eventually he's just driving out of stubbornness while those following at home lift him up on a pedestal of admirable manly rebellion. Eh. I could see how his act could resonate strongly with certain people, especially when the film was made, but it didn't have a particularly strong effect on me. I liked to watch him drive around, but could have done with more of an actual narrative. The ending is fantastic, though.


Pair This Movie With: Aw man well obviously a dude in a car being chased by cops makes me think of Smokey and the Bandit!


Saturday, June 2, 2012

Yayoi Kusama: I Love Me (2008)

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

One of my favorite things is wacky performance and installation art, especially by lady artists. I've always admired the polka dot-infused works of Yayoi Kusama, who made a splash in New York in the 60's with her tremendous output of sculpture, installation, paintings, and performance pieces that brought a colorful playfulness while also commenting on Western perception of "exotic" Japanese female bodies. I was pretty excited to find Yayoi Kusama: I Love Me, a documentary focusing on the artist, now in her 70's, whose output is still considerable and whose clinical obsession with polka dots has remained strong. The film focuses primarily on her production of 50 large-scale black and white abstract drawings in 2006 and 2007, with side-trips for various awards and honors as well as a few interviews with peers. The artist feels her body aging but her mind remains sharp, and her self-confidence and incredible passion for her work is obvious.

With in-depth access to Kusama and her studio, I Love Me is a wonderful look at the artist's working methods and general outlook on the art world at large. At times she reminisces about her past career, but primarily remains locked in the present, concerned with her own market value and how her art can move forward. She's a bit surly at times, while drifting into poetry at others. She is intensely focused on art-making, with little mention of family or non-work friends, though of course that could just be the film's framing. I loved watching her work, being privy to her intense, detail-oriented process, and it is made clear she would never want to do anything else, and indeed may be unable to. Her work- specifically the repetitive nature of polka dots- helps keep her balanced, therapeutically combating her own depression and obsessive-compulsive tendencies.

I think coming into this film with some knowledge of the artist had both negative and positive effects. I had certain expectations that weren't met, so I was somewhat frustrated by the end. I really enjoyed the film overall, primarily because I love Kusama's work so much and am always excited to see artists during their process. It's also got some great time-lapse photography and lovely music. But I was really hoping for a more biographical approach, with more time devoted to her entrance into the New York art scene in the 60's, as well as more examination of her history with mental illness and its connection to her artistic output. There are scant mentions of her hospitalizations (though it's never said why) and interviews with two artists she lived with in the 60's but it's a minor section of the film. There's an interesting recap of her childhood towards the end that is somewhat illuminating but I wanted more. There's nothing wrong with focusing almost exclusively on an established artist's current projects, but it wasn't what I was expecting. Luckily I've learned that there is another documentary about Kusama in the works that looks like it will cover more of her early stuff, so this one would be a nice follow-up.


Pair This Movie With: Well whenever that other doc comes out that will probably be good. Otherwiseeeeee um is there a movie about Yoko Ono? They were contemporaries.