Friday, September 28, 2012

Alex Makes Art #95

Oh heyyyy I'm totally at the Yayoi Kusama exhibition today and super super psyched to be there (presumably, since this is being written a few days before posting). Anyway, while I look at really amazing installations from one of my favorite artists, you can take a gander at my poor movie-themed doodlings. So remember how I saw Enter the Dragon for the first time last month and came out thinking it was the coolest movie ever? Yeah well it turns out it was so cool it inspired me to design a movie poster for it, focusing on the climactic mirror room fight scene. Good times. I'm really happy with how this came out, it's pretty close to how I saw it in my head. So that's nice! It's for sale, too.


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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Bachelorette (2012)

Seen: At the AMC/Loews at Boston Common.

A few days after taking in my most-anticipated raunchy ladycentric new release, I knocked off the more widely-publicized Bachelorette. I'd heard various Bridesmaids comparisons, which is fine, but mostly I was excited to see Isla Fisher and Lizzy Caplan getting drunk and making jokes together. Those ladies are FUNNY, you guys. Anyway. So most of the movie takes place the day before Becky's (Rebel Wilson) wedding. She invites her three high school best friends- Regan (Kirsten Dunst), Gena (Lizzy Caplan), and Katie (Isla Fisher)- to be her bridesmaids, and while the three of them are happy for her, they're also jealous and plagued with feelings of inadequacy that their own lives aren't on track while their seemingly least-marriageable (read: not pretty) friend is so settled. After accidentally (and quite drunkenly) ruining Becky's wedding dress, the three women find themselves running around New York City in the middle of the night trying to find a tailor, falling into various personal and romantic mishaps along the way.

With a great cast that includes supporting appearances from James Marsden, Adam Scott, and Andrew Rannells, Bachelorette delivers all the bawdy, sexual humor that was promised, while trying to maintain something of an emotional center. The general premise is simple but effective, and I liked how the various relationships progressed (or regressed) as the night wore on. Caplan and Scott are the standout pair, unsurprisingly, with a fucked up backstory but unquestionable chemistry. Fisher is the most endearing, also unsurprisingly, and her ditzy, oscillatingly self-aware party girl is the perfect mix of comedic exaggeration and sympathetic realism. Dunst doesn't stand out as much, primarily because her character is more reserved and she's often the straight one to her two ridiculous comrades, but she does get a few great moments.

The thing about this movie is, while it definitely made me laugh and I had a fun enough time while I was watching it, it's really mean-spirited and rather haphazard. Everyone onscreen is basically an awful person (except maybe Rebel Wilson, but she only gets a few scenes), and it's kind of exhausting to watch them all destroy each other and themselves for most of the film's running time. The story goes to some dark places, touching upon abortion, eating disorders, drug addiction, and suicide, among other topics, but I wouldn't call it a dark comedy. The script sort of throws in these sudden dramatic issues to help flesh out the characters and offer some motivation for their actions, and while at times it works, at others it's just out of place.

I don't know. I liked the movie overall but I don't feel the need to see it again, you know? Except maybe just the Lizzy Caplan parts...

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Yes ok as much as I'm tired of the comparison, it would make a good double feature with Bridesmaids. But also I think a movie about high school girls would work well, since Bachelorette has got reminiscing and such. Mean Girls comes to mind, especially for the Lizzy Caplan connection.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

For a Good Time, Call... (2012)

Seen: At the AMC/Loews at Boston Common.

It's a familiar story, really. Attractive twentysomething meets another attractive twentysomething in New York City. They are unwittingly thrust together into a situation, and though at first their clashing personalities lead to bickering and sabotage, they eventually learn to work together. Blossoming friendship leads to love, then suddenly: conflict! They are torn apart and hate each other for a little while. But the audience knows they'll be back together again by the end, because they're meant to be! It's a simple enough tale, but cleverly twisted around in For a Good Time, Call..., which takes the aforementioned formula and applies it to two young women (Lauren Anne Miller and Ari Graynor) who start a phone sex service to earn money in the big city.

Applying tired romantic comedy tropes to a female friendship is a weirdly brilliant idea to me, and for all its recognizable stereotypes the film still feels fresh and original. The leading ladies are incredibly fun in their roles, with Miller's goody-two-shoes gradually sliding into gleeful depravity and Graynor's over the top party girl revealing a layered personality. Their chemistry is fantastic, and I loved just watching them hang out and sometimes have phone sex with people, which is what most of the movie is. There is a bit of a romantic subplot (with Mark Webber, yay!) as well as an undercurrent of "I'm in my mid-twenties and need to start a career, somehow", but the thrust of the film is the friendship that develops between the main characters. It's in essence a very simple movie, and I liked that about it. No one is trying too hard, no one is complicating things, no one is not having a fun time. A number of goofy montages and a slew of comedic cameos (most excitingly, Ken Marino!) fill out the rom-com parody, but the filmmakers keep it trim and perfectly paced. There is only as much as is needed, and I felt wholly satisfied after its 85 minute runtime. There's a fun soundtrack too!

Yes, For a Good Time, Call... is utterly silly and mostly fluffy, but as far as I can tell that was the intention. It portrays a positive and fairly realistic female friendship, which is one of my favorite things in movies, and by the end I was just really smiley. The only thing I was iffy on was Justin Long's gay friend stereotype, but when I realized this whole movie was a romantic comedy parody, his character felt more appropriate since yeah... that's a thing! They switched it up a bit by making him NOT willing to help his gal pals all the time, he basically throws them together and then leaves because he's got his own life to deal with.

Anyway this movie is super fun and I just super dug it, ok?

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Obviously any other fun best friends movie! The tone and humor are in line with Romy & Michele's High School Reunion (though definitely more lewd). I was also in the mood for Whip It, maybe it's the Ari Graynor connection! Or if you wanted a dude counterpart, maybe something like Clerks?

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Monday, September 24, 2012

Red Scorpion (1988)

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

Cool, calculating, and ruthless, Nikolai Rachenko (Dolph Lundgren) is the perfect stereotypical Soviet soldier. He is sent into an unnamed African country where Soviet and Cuban forces are gaining control of the country, with the mission to assassinate a well-respected rebel leader. After spending time with the revolutionary forces he sees the awful tactics employed by the Soviets on the area's native peoples, and eventually his walkabout-eque experience with a Bushmen tribe encourages him to turn against his own government. WITH A SHIT TON OF GUNS.

Ok so my love affair with Jean-Claude Van Damme is being chased by a follow-up crush on Dolph Lundgren, who I've seen in fewer films. Red Scorpion sounded awesome because it was described to me as Super Soviet Dolph going into Africa and leading them in a violent revolt against his asshole superiors. That's basically what happens, but not at all in the way I imagined. For what seemed like an insensitive, explody action movie, there's a lot of chill hanging out to fill out the story, with Dolph's terse Nikolai quietly observing those around him, supposedly coldly plotting his next move. Most of the time I was uncertain of his intentions (as were most of the characters around him), which gives the film an overall suspense as the audience wonders when and how Dolph will shed his brainwashing. Admittedly, the story is highly manipulative since this was made during the Cold War, but I can't pretend I didn't expect that. There is a degree of nuance applied to many of the characters and situations, which made it an interesting drama at several points. I believe most of the non-white actors were local (this was filmed, controversially, in Namibia- then part of South Africa), and their characters don't sink fully into the racial stereotypes common in the 80s (and now).

I've gotta say, this movie has a LOT to offer. I mean, Dolph spends a bulk of the running time shirtless and sweaty, with his adorable little front-mohawk hairdo and eventually, SUPER SHORT CUTOFFS. Fantastic. And at one point he, like, lifts up a jeep with his bare hands. Because he's Dolph Fucking Lundgren, a HOUSE of a man. There is also an array of lovely desert landscapes, a friendly Bushmen tribe playing themselves (at least, according to imdb trivia), and a number of exciting action scenes. I dug the car chase when they're busting out of Soviet Jail and of course the final ambush at the end. Exciting stuff.

Red Scorpion is totally not what I expected, but that's not a bad thing. It's quieter and slower than advertised. Though at first I kept thinking, "Why isn't Dolph punching everyone at any given moment?", I ended up appreciating the more dramatic aspects and more serious treatment of the material. I'm not saying it's especially realistic or grounded, but it does manage to be surprisingly thoughtful and understated at several points. I guess I just liked it, in general.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: The more dramatic, introspective aspects made me think of First Blood.

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Friday, September 21, 2012

Kaze no tani no Naushika (Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind) (1984)

Seen: On film at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge. Subtitled.

For quite some time now, Nausicaä was the main Miyazaki work I hadn't seen. Everyone who knew about anime yelled at me about it, since its combination of strong lady protagonist and dystopian science-fiction is totally what I'm about. Based on Miyazaki's own manga, the film is set in a bleak future where a majority of the polluted earth has become toxic to humans, and the surviving population is divided into warring kingdoms fighting for survival. The titular Nausicaä is a courageous and kind teenage princess dedicated to keeping her small farming kingdom at peace with the giant insect monsters living in the nearby poisonous forest. When a giant war ship crashes into her village, she finds herself caught in the middle of an uncertain battle with potentially world-shattering ramifications.

Part of Miyazaki's strength is his narrative consistency with certain themes- coming-of-age, environmentalism and anti-war messages, imaginative technology, historical and fantasy elements, and, typically, awesome female lead characters. Nausicaä has all of these things, PLUS a fascinating futuristic setting. The imagery is a lot darker and weirder than I'd expected, which I loved. It looked kind of Fantastic Planet-inspired only I actually enjoyed this film. I loved the huge bug monsters, fanciful foliage, soft coloring technique, and the numerous beautifully-animated flying sequences. The spattering of 80s synth music is a little goofy, but you all know I am NEVER one to say no to 80s synth music.

While this tale of Man vs Badass Cyborg Lady vs Killer Insects vs Terrifying Ancient Giant Creature vs Super Capable Teen Princess is far from heartwarming, it still retains that adorable Studio Ghibli charm with the help of sweet characters and a super cute animal friend that looks like an Eevee. I really liked Nausicaä herself, she's just a level-headed, compassionate, fearless young woman who Gets. Shit. Done. She's definitely one of my new favorite ladies in science-fiction. I also liked her glider. Everybody else is cool too, including the comic relief old dudes from her village and the spunky guy who helps her out but totally isn't a love interest.

It's a little dated and a little on the nose in its environmental commentary, but generally this movie is just great: a compelling adventure with creative dystopian elements, strong characters, and fabulous animation. And now I've seen all of Miyazaki's features! Wowee!

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Mmm there are definitely parallels to future Miyazaki films, especially Princess Mononoke, so I'd go with that. Alternatively, some of the visuals and themes made me think of Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest.

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Chikyû kogeki meirei: Gojira tai Gaigan (Godzilla vs Gigan) (1972)

Seen: On our projector set-up, streamed from Miles's computer. Dubbed version.

Sooooo turns out my boyfriend was like, way into Godzilla as a kid. It's kind of an adorable thing about him, between you and me. I have seen very few in the wide-ranging series, though I did finally watch the original last year. He suggested the much sillier Godzilla vs Gigan for further Kaiju education. Set in the candy-colored world of 1970s Japan, the story centers on doofy-haired artist Gengo Kotaka (Hiroshi Ishikawa) as he accidentally unearths a mysterious plot surrounding a new monster-themed amusement park. With his martial artist girlfriend and a couple of undercover hippies, he investigates the park's weird leadership. Meanwhile, Godzilla and his buddy King Ghidorah are swimming their way to the city, called by an unearthly ring.

This movie is pretty goofy, and it's generally a fun time. The story is completely out there, in such a way that Godzilla seems like an afterthought. Most of the plot concerns the weird theme park dudes hanging out in their super advanced computer headquarters, while our heroes dumbly try to figure out what their secret plan is. And then sometimes we pass over Godzilla and King Ghidorah swimming around. Finally at the end there's a big monster battle, as Gigan is summoned in all his scythe-handed glory and shit gets blown up and stuff. Good times. I don't have much to say, really, except that it's a silly and enjoyable movie and I dug the super 70s aesthetic.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Miles recommends Godzilla vs The Smog Monster.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Alex Makes Art #94

Oh my gosh I haven't posted new art for two whole weeks! This is lamentable, but my second semester of grad school started, I'm taking an extra class, and I pretty much am at work every day I don't have class. So, very little time for anything else really, and you can all expect a significant downturn in movie reviews and artmaking, sadly. I'll do my best, though, since I want to have some kickass items for holiday buying times. I have TWO new pieces to show you today so I figure that makes up for the lack of art earlier in the month, plus here I am posting a Friday feature on a Tuesday, I'm all kinds of fun.

Remember how I really, truly love Grease? Well after a cursory etsy search I discovered there isn't much art for it out there, so I hunkered down to design my own poster. It's hard not to turn to the iconic "You're the One That I Want" scene, especially it gets caught in my head every time I think about it, so that's clearly where the inspiration comes from. That ferris wheel took goddamn forever to draw, I hate it, I hate ferris wheels. Ok. Buy the poster on etsy, if you please.

Last week I just wanted relaxing art project that didn't require too much thinking, so I transformed my Buster Keaton ink portrait from last winter into a digital painting. I think it came out nicely. I like the green. Also for sale.


I have SO MANY art ideas, it's almost overwhelming. But instead of creating I have to force myself to read semi-interesting texts about medieval Christian art and museum studies theory. Ehhhhhhhhhh whiiiiiine.

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Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Barefoot Executive (1971)

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

Remember how Kurt Russell made several family-friendly live action Disney movies when he was a young thing? And how I watched The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes and was pulled in by its utter ridiculousness and catchy theme song? Well obviously I had to continue this exploration of Kurt's early career, pressing on with The Barefoot Executive. After another super rad theme song (scroll down, for some dumb reason it's not on youtube), we meet Steven Post (Russell), a young mailroom worker for the fictional television station (but likely NBC stand-in) UBC. He wants to be a TV executive, and finds an unconventional way up the corporate ladder when his girlfriend (Heather North) adopts Raffles, a tv-loving chimp who has an uncanny knack for choosing each night's highest-rated programs (meaning he has incredibly average, mainstream taste, so not actually impressive). Steven conspires to secretly use Raffles' skills to pick new pilots for the network, securing a vice president position and shit tons of money in the process. Of course, some UBC executives are envious and suspicious of him, with an inept former boss Francis Wilbanks (Joe Flynn) and his snobby nephew Roger (John Ritter!) spying on him obsessively.

While baby Kurt Russell hanging out with a primate is easily enough to entertain me for the full running time, what really impressed me about this film is that it's a pretty solid satire of television networks, while remaining an accessible, family-friendly comedy. Sure, at many points it's utterly ludicrous- there's wacky chimpanzee action, death-defying sneaking around on windowsills, and a lot of over the top acting, but it's also weirdly smart. Most of the time I was laughing with the film, not at it, because its commentary on the idiocy that rules the tv industry is spot-on, and totally still applicable today.

Of course Kurt Russell is great as the doofy, slightly assholey lead, but several of his costars manage to steal the show away from him. I absolutely loved John Ritter's all-too-small appearance as the opportunistic Roger. He's got these adorable thick-framed glasses and a weasely smile, it's fantastic. Joe Flynn and his sidekick chauffeur Wally Cox make a hilariously inept team, and their sneaky sojourn to Steven's apartment is a highlight of the movie. And then there's Harry Morgan as the head of the company, with his side-lip snarl and loud exasperation he's probably the standout. But also everything is pretty good! The story drags a bit since there's really not much to it, but overall it's a fun and genuinely funny movie. Great job, everyone! Damn the man! Fuck television networks!

4/5

Pair This Movie With: The whole family-friendly workplace satire aspect reminded me of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying- especially John Ritter's character. But the premise of an animal secretly and improbably helping a hapless dude to further his career obviously put me in the mind of Ratatouille.

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Grease (1978)

Seen: On a very worn vhs tape on my tv, from my personal collection.

Welcome to another episode of "Movies Alex Was Obsessed With as a Child"! Today's program will feature Grease, a movie that's morally reprehensible in most ways and generally super flawed but still manages to be pretty goddamned perfect. When bad boy Danny (John Travolta) falls in love with Australian goodie-two-shoes Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) over the summer, he's in for a big surprise when she pops up at his high school after an unexplained "change of plans" in her family's living situation. They OBVIOUSLY belong together because of true love and hormones, but his cool image among his nonviolent gang The Thunderbirds and their awesome female counterparts The Pink Ladies is threatened by her super boring squareness. They try to date but there are hindrances to their love and also lots of singing. Eventually they both realize they have to totally alter their personalities in order to conform to the other's perception of the Optimal Significant Other. Oh and also a teenager is maybe pregnant in the 1950s, but that's like a sub-subplot, no big deal.

I watched this movie all the fucking time in like third and fourth grade with my best friend from down the street, and we would always want to act out the musical numbers. Trouble was, we both always wanted to be Danny because Sandy is SO uncool, so there were some pretty serious fights, that usually involved me being a wimp and accepting dullsville Sandy's part. Sigh. Old grievances die hard, you know? While watching Grease alone in my apartment after an extremely stressful day/week/month, I was content to sing and dance along to EVERYBODY'S parts the entire time, it was great. The music in this film is sooooo good, you guys, but I'm sure you already knew that. Just thinking about it I've instantly got "Summer Lovin'" caught in my head and I am all the better for it. Yes, they cut a lot of songs from the play (though several are heard in pieces at the dance, or on the diner jukebox) and they added two- the way boring "Hopelessly Devoted" to give Newton-John a spotlight solo, and one of the best songs of the movie, "You're the One That I Want", which makes all of their changes ok. As a kid the tight-panted gyrations of "Greased Lightnin'" stirred certain feelings, and now I love the song for how incredibly sexual it is. Every song except "Hopelessly Devoted" is great, basically, and I couldn't care less how ridiculous the story is or how weirdly old all the actors are, because I'm having such a good time.

The script is goofy, relishing its 1950s references and sexual innuendo. The camaraderie among the cast is palpable, so it's honestly entertaining to just watch them hanging out. I love the more intimate, silly scenes like the girls' sleepover, and Danny and Sandy's date at the drive-in. A lot of actually serious topics are dealt with, from teen pregnancy to dropping out of high school to societal divisions, but nothing is treated with gravitas. The only serious moment in the whole movie is Stockard Channing's beautiful rendition of "There Are Worse Things I Could Do", a defense of her perceived-as-"slutty" behavior when hit with antiquated moral judgments. The overall message of the film is that completely changing your personality and appearance to please the guy you wanna date will make your life better, but you have to WANT IT, you know? Also: Love makes cars fly, which is terrifying.

It isn't actually perfect, but it could fool me because I love this movie so much. It's just fun, and generally its flaws make me love it more. To me it's adorable that Dinah Manoff (Marty) couldn't dance so she stumbles awkwardly through "Beauty School Dropout". Or that Olivia Newton-John is really obviously in her 30's as she bops around like a 16-year-old. Or that the car chase isn't very well filmed so it's kind of anticlimactic. Of course much of Grease is legitimately awesome. It's great that classic actors like Joan Blondell, Frankie Avalon, and Eve Arden have comedic supporting roles, lending an extra dose of nostalgia to the proceedings. And the SONGS, OH THE SONGS.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Well we all know I adore the sequel. I also assume Travolta's other big musical hit from the previous year, Saturday Night Fever, would go well, but I haven't seen it.

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

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Monday, September 10, 2012

Studio Ghibli Double Feature: Majo no Takkyûbin (Kiki's Delivery Service) (1989) and Omohide Poro Poro (Only Yesterday) (1991)

Seen: On film at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge (Kiki dubbed, Only Yesterday subbed).

I am very excited that the Brattle in Harvard Square has been doing a Studio Ghibli retrospective, since this time I can actually go to more than one! (When they came to the MFA last spring I could only catch Princess Mononoke.) Last weekend I caught Kiki's Delivery Service, which I hadn't seen since I was a kid, and Only Yesterday, one I hadn't seen before and didn't even know much about. It was nice to revisit the former, but I got more out of the latter. It was so nice to take in more anime in a theater, since I rarely have the opportunity, and I look forward to hopefully catching Nausicaä on Thursday, one of the few Miyazaki films I haven't seen!

Set in an alternate 1950s/60s slightly askew from our own, Kiki's Delivery Service follows the adventures of Kiki, a 13-year-old witch-in-training who must spend a year in a big city by herself in order to attain full, er, witchhood. With her broom and talking cat in tow, she lands in a beautiful seaside town where people are unaccustomed to magical folk flying about. She starts a delivery service after befriending a kind baker who lets her stay in her extra room in exchange for help around the bakery. Kiki befriends various townspeople but feels like an outcast among kids her age, as she tries to navigate both teenagery coming-of-age stuff along with witch-related problems.

Like My Neighbor Totoro, this is definitely a Miyazaki for the younger set, with a simplistic plot, very little conflict, and at times very corny dialogue (though part of that could be the dub translation). Kiki is a spunky, determined character who's easy to root for, and it's fun to see her learn more about the world and its inhabitants. She meets an independent artist (voiced by Janeane Garofalo! Hello!), a kindly old lady who makes the most horrendous-sounding pie ever in existence (pumpkin with HERRING what the fuuuuuuck), and a SuperNerd who wants to romance her because he fetishizes witches as a group.

It's cute, and at times very funny (primarily for Phil Hartman's deadpan jokes as the sarcastic cat Jiji), and of course the animation is superb. I loved the watercolor-like backgrounds and the sort of hodgepodge Europeanism of the city's design (though I know the bulk of it was inspired by Stockholm). But I feel the script and story leave something to be desired, and I would ultimately put this near the bottom of my Miyazaki list (which still means it's a good film, obviously). I found I had too many questions about this world and the whole witch/magic premise, as there were a lot of ideas put forth but not explained or expanded. How can a "witch-in-training" be trained if she's just hanging out by herself and not actually being trained? And why are some people anti-witch? Could Kiki actually do any other magic or was flying all she would ever do? I imagine the book it's based on might have more answers, so I hope to eventually read it for a more well-rounded view of the world, as well as hopefully a stronger narrative since the film is sort of loose and episodic.

Oh and side note: the cheesy country-esque pop songs over the opening and end credits are suuuuuuuper shitty, and I don't think they're in the Japanese version, so be aware.

3.5/5

Brought to us by the man who made the most depressing film of all time, Grave of the Fireflies, Only Yesterday showed promise as another introspective drama but with a lady. 27-year-old Taeko lives and works in Tokyo but has long yearned for a taste of country life. She gains extended family on a faraway farm through her sister's husband, and spends her vacation with them for the second year in a row, helping pick crops used in a dying process. During her trip she finds herself lost in memories of her childhood, specifically her ten-year-old self, and the film moves back and forth between Taeko's past and present as she questions some of her adult choices.

With a gorgeous visual style and a quiet, straightforward script, Takahata weaves a deceptively simple tale of love and regret that never sinks into melodrama. It's a little slow-moving, but generally interesting enough in its characters and aesthetic to remain compelling. I'm completely in love with the faded wash effect used for the flashback scenes, juxtaposed with the intense floral colors of Taeko's present. The characters are fun and energetic, and I was especially taken with the realistic and often quite funny portrayal of 10-year-olds. The small period touches (like the family's confusion over an exotic pineapple) are charming, and the subtle love story that develops is sweet and not overdone, though I did find her beau's speeches about organic farming a little grating.

While the film overall is a little too subdued for me to all-out love it, I absolutely adored the very end, it might be one of my favorite endings ever. It's just this beautifully sweet, visually perfect scene that made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. Lovely.

4/5


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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Yi Ngoi (Accident) (2009)

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

"The Brain" is in the business of murdering for money, but not in the manner you might expect. For a hefty fee, he and his cohorts create intricate "accidents" that end in the target's death, often in a public environment. When an out-of-control city bus interrupts one of their jobs, Brain believes he was the intended victim, immediately suspecting his associates as well as men connected to his most recent assassination. He becomes obsessively paranoid, spiraling downward into a kill-or-be-killed mindset that leads him to maliciously stalk a potentially corrupt insurance agent.

With a tight, no-nonsense script and neatly-trimmed pacing, Accident is a near-perfect thriller. The premise is intriguing and director Pou-Soi Cheang decides to show more than tell in his approach, aided by fantastic cinematography. Every shot is beautiful, you could watch this movie on mute and be sufficiently compelled. The intimate shooting style heightens the feeling of paranoia experienced by Brain, swirling around unfamiliar domestic spaces as he obsessively spies on the insurance agent's apartment. We see the situation completely from his point of view, unsure how reasonable his fear is, or how far he will go to prevent his own supposedly imminent murder. There are some awesome high-concept death scenes, though one is so complicated and unlikely as to be distracting. However, between the interesting characters and captivating visual aesthetic, I could easily look past the few minor missteps.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: There are definitely parallels to The Conversation, and I think that'd make for a great double feature. OR if you want to go for something less "Film with a capital F", the concept of a bunch of murders that are staged as accidents OBVIOUSLY reminded me instantly of Final Destination, which I now feel like revisiting. Because I remember that movie being awesome?

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Enter the Dragon (1973)

Seen: At the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge.

So the Brattle was doing this series in August of kung-fu movies, and I resolved that if I saw any, it would be Enter the Dragon. I was reeled in by the promise of Robert Clouse directing Jim Kelly's first film role, and then there was the minor matter of how I'd never seen a Bruce Lee movie... I know, I know! I'm not very up on East Asian martial Arts movies in general, I'm sorry! Anyway turns out Enter the Dragon was a damn good choice, because it fucking ruuuuuules. Lee stars as, well, "Lee", a kickass Shaolin fighter who is sent as a spy into a pleasure island/martial arts community led by villainous Han (Shih Kien). He's invited several international fighters- including Lee, suave gambler Roper (John Saxon), and the ever-cool Williams (Jim Kelly)- to compete on his island in a martial arts tournament, but Lee knows something is afoot behind the scenes, and seeks to uncover Han's covert drug operation. To do that, he has to punch and kick a shit ton of people.

At first I thought this movie might be a little silly, what with the completely dubbed sound and huge-scale fight scenes, but once it gets going it's a legitimately awesome action movie with some good-natured wackiness thrown in. I basically loved every minute of it! The fights are fantastic, with some one-on-one battles mixed with large group free-for-alls and a nice blend of styles and weapons. There's even a cool one with a lady, though it ends tragically. I loved Bruce Lee, who is crazy muscular but also somehow kind of adorable? I especially loved his obvious disdain for the snooty British people who hire him. He hates how ineffective they are! Jim Kelly is beyond compelling, obviously, being the best dresser and the coolest fighter- he even takes a moment to beat up some racist cops! I noticed that the music would suddenly get better whenever he was onscreen, too, which I can appreciate. Sadly he's not in the whole movie but he gets some good scenes, and I dug the film enough as a whole that I didn't need Kelly onscreen to keep watching.

What else can I say except Enter the Dragon is completely excellent and utterly satisfying? It's fun but not cheesy, with likable characters and a range of killer fight scenes and interesting settings. I absolutely loved the climactic battle between Lee and Han, which ends in a confusing hall of mirrors and is very well shot. Great job, everyone, I want to watch this movie a billion more times.

4.5/5

PS Ok I caught the Jackie Chan appearance during the big brawl at the end, but I'm convinced he was also one of the thugs chasing Lee's sister in that flashback. Am I wrong? He's not credited on imdb as such and it was so quick I might have confused someone else for him.

Pair This Movie With: For more Jim Kelly, I emphatically recommend Black Belt Jones (also directed by Robert Clouse). And I now want to watch all of Bruce Lee's main movies, obviously! Also the fight scene with Lee's sister reminded me of that great Aesop Rock video with Patti Li.

Also my original movie poster design for this film is for sale.

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Monday, September 3, 2012

Robot & Frank (2012)

Seen: At the Kendall Square Landmark Cinema in Cambridge.

Well my boyfriend is really into robots so Robot & Frank sounded like necessary viewing. Set in a not-so-distant future where advanced robots are incorporated into everyday life, the film centers on Frank (Frank Langella), a cantankerous senior citizen who receives an assisted-living robot (voiced awesomely by Peter Sarsgaard) as a gift from his overworked son Hunter (James Marsden). A former cat burglar, Frank has been experiencing memory loss and disorientation, and Hunter hopes a robot programmed to keep him healthy and on a set routine is a good alternative to placing his father in a nursing home. Though at first he resents the robot's presence, eventually Frank sees him as the perfect accomplice for performing a few neighborhood robberies.

Updating the tried-and-true formula of crotchety old dude who gains an unlikely best friend, only this time it's a robot, Robot & Frank is cute and often quite funny. It's set in a sort-of-familiar world where technology has advanced but not much else is different, and asshole hipsters are old enough to run things and obsess over whatever's now considered vintage (this movie is seriously anti-hipster, it's great). Frank is uncomfortable with a lot of the technological developments around him, but comes to see the robot as a personality, and as a friend. They have some truly adorable interactions, and I'm pretty sure the movie could have ended with the two of them going on the road as a comedy act, but alas, it was not to be. Instead they go on a mini crime spree, roping in Frank's grown children as accidental accomplices. I loved James Marsden as the frustrated son Hunter- he's trying to do the right thing but he can't get over his father's criminal past and multiple long-term prison sentences. Liv Tyler is mostly annoying as Frank's patronizing activist daughter but I was curious about whatever anti-robot movement she seemed to be part of. No one elaborated.

While I enjoyed the dialogue and most of the characters, the actual plot of Robot & Frank is lacking. It's more episodic, and certain elements don't pull together well through the various tonal shifts. The ending aims for heart-breaking, but just felt out of place and led to more questions, and the most important issues weren't actually resolved. But at least Susan Sarandon was in some scenes, being perfect, as she does.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: I would go with Moon for another fun robot-man relationship, only this time IN SPACE.

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Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Expendables 2 (2012)

Seen: At the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square. Accompanied by a super annoying, SUPER HUGE group of loud thirtysomethings, possibly a birthday party?

I know, I know, I know. I thought the first Expendables movie was a general disappointment, why would I want to give money to the sequel? Well, the trailers promised Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, and JEAN-CLAUDE VAN DAMME so I was drawn in again, however stupidly. The plot is about as nonessential as the first one, something about a bunch of old soldier dudes led by Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) who have to go into a foreign country (this time, Albania and Bulgaria) and do a thing. A badass Belgian (Jean-Claude Van Damme, OBVIOUSLY) is digging up huge stores of plutonium in an old Soviet mine and generally terrorizing the surrounding villages. So everybody has to shoot each other or something to save the world. Who cares.

So here we are again, disappointed that Stallone can't put together a better action throwback even though a lot of people I like are hanging out with him. At least it's better than the first one (she says, unenthusiastically). To be fair, this movie does have a lot going for it. There are some solid action scenes- especially the opening rescue mission and the Bulgarian village brawl. I liked the addition of Nan Yu as Maggie, a computery person who works for Bruce Willis's secret organization, since she is a capable fighter despite not having a Y chromosome (WHAAAAT?). Schwarzenegger and Willis get some cute time together but it's short-lived, and they're way too hammy (and you know if I'M saying that, it's definitely too much). Dolph Lundgren is excellent, as expected, but the best part is he's basically playing himself! There are multiple references to how he's a scientific genius, studied chemical engineering, and got a Fulbright scholarship to MIT- ALL TRUE. I'm not sure how many audience members knew this about him, but it makes the joke so much better. The number one best thing about this movie is, obviously, Jean-Claude Van Damme, who is just the best guy. He is having so much fun playing a bad dude whose name is literally Vilain, he gets to wear hip shades AND throw some amazing high kicks. He's funny and badass and the final fight is so fun to watch, despite having the most unbelievable result (there is NO WAY in HELL that Van Damme would be defeated by Stallone, in ANY time or context).

So Lundgren and Van Damme totally got this movie, they knew how to act and what to do, and they were tons of fun because of it. The rest of the main cast... didn't really get it. The dialogue is stupid and everyone is trying way too hard, making some scenes funny that weren't meant to be. Or if they were meant to be funny, it wasn't clear enough and comes off as just bad. I just wanted Stallone to shut up every time he talked, to be honest, and I didn't care much about the rest of them. Chuck Norris's appearance was stupid and unnecessary, but then I'm not a Chuck Norris fan so that's a personal thing. The whole subplot about Liam Hemsworth dying (whatever, I don't care about spoilers for this movie) was soooooo dumb and cheesy. Here's a new character that we barely know and they're going to spend the whole movie talking about him like he was important? Nope. Don't care, get to the action. Another big issue is that this movie looks like shit, everything looks fake and thus most of the big action setpieces are unimpressive. The bridge explosion at the beginning looks good, and far as I can tell that was the main thing that was real. If you're going to make an 80s throwback action movie, then why not make it look like one too, with real effects?

In the end The Expendables 2 scrapes by with a few terrific action sequences and fantastic performances from Van Damme and Lundgren, as well as quips from Schwarzenegger, Willis, and Yu. But I guess it's not enough to just take a bunch of recognizable old action stars and throw them together into a deadly situation, if the script is beyond saving and everything looks terrible. I know that currently there's a dearth of good action movies being made, with something great like Fast Five the exception rather than the rule, so people are just ecstatic to see these lovable old faces back onscreen kicking ass because it reminds them of when awesome action movies were plentiful. I'm thinking we should try harder to make great modern action movies with new stars, since we can't rely on those old guys forever. (Not that they should stop, obviously, I'm psyched as hell for Kim Jee-woon's The Last Stand and the new Universal Soldier movie).

And as much as I'm salivating for more decent female-fronted action flicks, I'm pretty sure they'll manage to fuck up a female Expendables. And yet I'll still see it, because I'm a tool.

3/5

Pair This Movie With: Well we just wanted to watch a GOOD action movie after this- might I suggest Commando, Tango & Cash, or Expendables 2 director Simon West's fantastic debut, Con Air? I was especially in the mood for more Van Damme, for which I recommend Bloodsport, Universal Soldier (with added Dolph Lundgren!), and/or Maximum Risk.

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Saturday, September 1, 2012

Alex Makes Art #93

Whooooa posting on a SATURDAY? I feel like I'm breaking some internet rule but it's art time. (Saturdays usually suck on the internet, you know it's true.) So I saw Enter the Dragon (my first Bruce Lee movie) on Thursday and suffice to say IT WAS AWESOME. I was mostly psyched for Jim Kelly- who totally ruled- but obviously I was way into Bruce Lee and now I want to see all of his movies. I was inspired to do a lil' pencil sketch of him that I went over lightly in pen and a dash of red ink for the bloody claw marks. I never draw muscles so please don't judge. Behold.



The main other art project I've been working on is a commission that's going to be a gift so I won't post it yet. In other news I've put some work for sale on society6, which will feature alternate versions of some of my favorite prints, as well as some iphone skins/cases and laptop decal thingies. I'm still adding stuff to it but check it out.


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