Sunday, November 25, 2012

Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

Seen: In 2D at the AMC/Loews at Boston Common.

Wreck-It Ralph reveals the world of arcade games as a vibrant, inter-connected community once the players leave the building. Behind the scenes, everyone is settled into their assigned roles- typically good guys, bad guys, and victims. Ralph, a Donkey Kong-esque villain in the game "Fix-It Felix, Jr", is tired of being ostracized from everyone just because he's naturally good at wrecking things. So, he sets off to win a medal to prove to his game-mates that he can be a hero and earn their respect (and cake). His presence in the intense Halo-esque "Hero's Duty" leads to some issues, but his troubles really begin when he crash-lands accidentally in the candy-colored racing game "Sugar Rush". There he reluctantly teams up with a bratty "glitch" called Vanellope in order to gain his medal and maybe JUST MAYBE win some friendships.

So this piqued my interest, as I'm sure it did many in my age/taste bracket, for its promise of recognizable video game characters being used in a funny narrative setting. That bad guy therapy session in the trailer is all a lot of us needed to draw us in to this movie. And while I know some people are disappointed that this isn't really what happened (the real-life gaming characters are there, but more as short cameos), I loved the new games and characters that were created for the film. The three games where most of the action takes place are all recognizable archetypes with fun worlds and characters that are comfortably familiar but not derivative. The detail in the animation is wonderful, especially the movements of different characters- the jerky motions of the Fix-It Felix denizens had me giggling every time and I loved the erratically floating Pacman ghost. The designs are lovely, from the super-saturated, super-cutesy candy land of Sugar Rush to the dreary, insect-alien-riddled planet of Hero's Duty. And the latter also features the wonderfully forthright and completely badass Calhoun (voiced perfectly by Jane Lynch), who just generally made me happy with her tragic backstory and ridiculous namecalling. I didn't even completely mind her romantic subplot (she is a dynamite gal, after all).

Story-wise the film is a little uneven, mainly because it changes in purpose and tone once Ralph gets to Sugar Rush, which I think is about half-way through. I loved that world and its sneering characters and weird diabolical king (Alan Tudyk!) and happy colors, and I liked Vanellope's plotline a lot, it was just a bit of a sudden shift for the film, almost like they had two stories they wanted to tell and couldn't quite find a way to combine them believably. Her story could have been a movie in itself, actually. It's a minor criticism I guess, since overall I had a lot of fun with Wreck-It Ralph. The humor is goofy (puns galore!) and nicely referential without relying on that as its point, and while it's aimed at younger kids I can't say I wasn't into it. And, doggonit, it's got a cute central friendship and a sweet message.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Well the whole idea of seemingly inanimate things coming to life and having their own secret society when humans aren't around is of course reminiscent of Toy Story, which is also about friendship and stuff.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Down by Law (1986)

Seen: On blu-ray on our projector set-up, from our own collection.

You guys I was SO CLOSE to Jarmusch completism but then I find out about Permanent Vacation, which I'd always thought was a student short film or something but nope, it's like a real thing. So watching Down by Law finally was a little less exciting since it's not actually my final Jarmusch. Set in a dingy, grayscale New Orleans, the film details how opportunistic pimp Jack (John Lurie) and unambitious radio dj Zack (Tom Waits) are both set up for crimes they didn't commit and wind up sharing a cell at a nondescript prison. They form a tepid bond despite their clashing personalities, and are eventually joined by chatty Italian transplant Roberto (Roberto Benigni), who also considers himself innocent. The three work together to hatch an escape plan, but aren't really sure what to do next if they actually get out.

Man, Jarmusch is just so good at making his movies cool, you know? Down by Law fits into his typical style- a fairly loose narrative, sprawling conversations, disaffected male leads, and fantastic music. I have been on a Tom Waits kick lately totally just because of the opening song to this movie. After a slow opening establishing Jack and Zack's crumbling relationships with two rad ladies (Ellen Barkin and Billie Neal), the film settles into the main characters just chilling in jail. They're funny, they're grumpy, and they make a lot of faces at Roberto Benigni. It's the kind of movie where not much happens yet you're totally into it anyway, reeled in by the languid black and white cinematography and ambling guitars, and staying for Tom Waits' AMAZING hair and Benigni's cheesy American idioms. These three lost souls come together unexpectedly, form something resembling a friendship, and make it through an unpleasant journey only by sticking together. Everything is just a little bit unreal, with the prison-as-purgatory and bayou-as-walkabout metaphors bubbling under the surface. It's not an especially complicated or varied story, but it's an engaging one thanks to the convincing and endearing performances of its leads, replete with personal tics and unseen baggage and bittersweet monologues. This didn't become my favorite Jarmusch, but I'd say it's up there.

Alsoooo Tom Waits: Cool Guy or COOLEST GUY? I think my answer should come as no surprise.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Well my new go-to for dudes-in-prison movies is Le Trou, soooo that!

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Monday, November 19, 2012

Alex Makes Art #99

Oh hey guys. Many things happening IRL right now, most of them not so good, so I haven't done much in the way of movie-viewing or art-making lately. But I will keep on keeping on or whatever they say. Anyway the main art thing I've done lately is this commission for a bibliophile I know from high school. She gave me the Emily Dickinson poem "There is no frigate like a book" and I basically pulled images from different book types, and made them hanging out with actual books and they're covered in text from the books she listed. Soooo I worked pretty hard on it and I hope it looks ok? It was complicated to make. And not movie-related, for once!

In other news I'm getting laid off at the end of December since my store is closing, SO depending on how quickly I can find a job that pays adequately (which is tougher than it sounds since I need a part-time job that pays my rent and can also work around my class schedule), I will possibly have a ton of time for art and movies starting in January. So... that's positive, kind of? Until I can't pay my rent anymore, that is? What this is all leading up to is: I'M HAVING A SALE IN MY SHOP. Neat! If you use the coupon code "WINTER12" when you check out, you'll get 10% off your whole purchase! And my prices are already fairly low anyway, I think! So if you've got gifts to buy for movie-loving people or for yourself, hopefully you'll find something you like amidst my posters and prints and portraits and postcards and p-words. I've also got some t-shirts and hoodies on redbubble, no sale there though, sorry. But remember the money you're spending will go toward helping a hard-working, over-educated lady to, um, feed herself. If that means anything to you.

After my semester ends in mid-December I'll be free for more commissions, if anyone is interested. I'm pretty much open to whatever as long as it's not, like, assholeish. So let me know and we can talk about it at alex.kittle@gmail.com

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Friday, November 16, 2012

DeadHeads (2011)

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

Remember when I went to Toronto After Dark last year and it was super awesome and I loved it? Yeah. Good times... Anyway, DeadHeads is one of the movies I missed but when it got some awards at the festival I figured I should check it out. Luckily it's made its way to netflix instant, and just in time for my ongoing horror movie binge! This one isn't particularly scary, but offers an interesting take on the over-done zombie genre. Mike (Michael McKiddy) and Brent (Ross Kidder) are two "inexplicably sentient" zombies who undertake a wacky road trip hoping to find the former's still-living girlfriend Ellie (Natalie Victoria). Unfortunately their romantic escapade is frequently side-tracked by a bunch of shady zombie-containment workers in hot pursuit.

Whelp I dig road movies and zombie movies so DeadHeads was a pretty easy sell. It's a pretty fun flick with a decent script and two dynamic lead performances. The humor is a mix of goofy gore and ridiculous, often inappropriate, dialogue while the story combines elements of slacker comedy and wistful romance, all situated within a paranoid zombie apocalypse milieu. While admittedly I wasn't especially engaged by the narrative or the half-assed "secret government organization/unethical experiments question mark?" stuff, I really liked the idea of a zombie movie from the point of view of the zombies. The other undead characters we meet are typical drooling, hungry-for-brains creatures, but our heroes are just regular dudes who happen to be zombies. Sure, their limbs fall off occasionally, their skin is decomposing, and Brent doesn't have any reservations about eating human flesh (Mike is more discerning), but at heart they're good guys! It was funny to have the super badass zombie hunter (played with dirty sexy aplomb by Thomas Galasso) be the bad guy, and to have no fear of death in the middle of a zombie outbreak because the protagonists are already dead!

Though it's got some great ideas and a strong cast, the meandering script had me losing interest by the end of the film, admittedly. Overall I enjoyed DeadHeads, and am having fun asserting that Warm Bodies is totally just a DeadHeads ripoff every time someone's brought it up this week.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: My favorite morbid-but-romantic road trip movie is Wristcutters: A Love Story, and I think that'd be a nice team-up. Or there is of course Zombieland for another zombie-related road trip, only from the point of view of the zombie killers/survivors.

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Beauty is Embarassing (2012)

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

In case somehow you don't already know, I study art history and it's like the main thing I know anything about besides movies. And I've got a lot of opinions about it, including an outspoken hatred for pretentious art world snobs and scholars. So I feel a natural affinity with artist Wayne White, the subject of the excellent documentary Beauty is Embarrassing. A painter, sculptor, animator, puppeteer, and banjo player, White is known primarily for his work on Pee-Wee's Playhouse. After years in television and music video, he unexpectedly found mid-life success as a fine artist in hip L.A. galleries with his funny and weird paintings. The film tracks the ups and downs of his career, while also looking into his rural Southern roots and family life.

With a wry sense of humor and an already-prolific career, White makes for a fantastic subject. He's open and funny, with an impressive archive of past works and an anti-establishment attitude coupled with astute self-awareness. I loved the interviews with his family, friends, and peers, many of whom are artists and writers themselves (including Mark Mothersbaugh, Paul Reubens, and his awesome cartoonist wife Mimi Pond). His struggle with his supportive but emotionally closed-off father is compelling, as that "strict Southern dad" archetype has found its way into his work again and again. I've seen some of Pee-Wee's Playhouse- I remember it rerunning on some digital cable channel when I was in high school- but I'm not super familiar with its history, so it was also really interesting to see the behind-the-scenes stuff as well as meet some of the talented and interesting people who worked on it. And best of all, SO MUCH COOL ART. White is a remarkable fabricator and puppeteer, and it was joy for me just to watch what he'd do with some cardboard and paint.

While it's so cool to watch White work and learn about all the awesome stuff he's done (Hello, Smashing Pumpkins' Tonight, Tonight video?!), I think what sealed the deal for me was the discussion of the contemporary art world's closed-mindedness and general lack of humor, because dang it infuriates me that we can still be so fucking snobby about these things! And I love that artists like Wayne White have caught on to how stupid such people can be and are totally toying with them in their work. Everything can be art, you guys, just deal with it. And Wayne White, you just keep on keeping on with your goofy, supremely talented self.

Oh one criticism of this movie, though: I really wanted to know more about his wife Mimi! She is so awesome! But I guess that'll be for when she gets her own doc.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Ok I watched this before the whole Kevin Clash debacle but I think Being Elmo would make a really great pairing.

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Monday, November 12, 2012

13 Going on 30 (2004)

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

So remember that huge storm that ransacked the American East Coast and various island nations two weeks ago? Well while I personally was ok, I did spend the whole time alone in my window-heavy apartment, anxiously reading about how NJ was being destroyed and worrying for my friends and family there, while being convinced I myself would lose power or have a window explode onto me. SO I cooked up some cheesy orzo and lemon chicken, settled in, and watched 13 Going on 30 to calm my nerves. Because nothing bad happens in this movie. On her thirteenth birthday, adorable but uncool Jenna Rink (Christa B. Allen)- who desperately wants to be one of the popular kids- finds herself transported into her future self (Jennifer Garner). She's thirty years old and highly successful, working at her favorite fashion magazine, best friends with Judy Greer, and dating a professional hockey player, but as she adjusts to living 17 years in the future and not remembering the intervening time, she comes to realize she did not grow up to be a nice person. She reconnects with Matt (Mark Ruffalo), her best friend as a kid, and with his help tries to make up for apparently being a jerk all her adult life.

This movie is the embodiment of cuteness, basically. Jennifer Garner just smiles that big dimpled smile and everyone melts into her effusive joy, and then Mark Ruffalo shows up with his aw-shucks sarcasm and general Ruffalo-ness and we all just have our pants charmed the fuck off, I mean jeez. It's a little too sickly-sweet at times, with some overly-bubbly dialogue and basically zero conflict except maybe when Matt is going to marry a different lady who seems ok, oh darn. Most of the story doesn't make any sense if you think about it for more than five seconds, BUT I generally really enjoy 13 Going on 30. Garner is very funny in her time-displaced-13-year-old reactions to things, with gags ranging from exultation at discovering her boobs to freaking right out when she hears a cell phone ring. And I love Judy Greer as the stuck-up frenemy Lucy, she gets saddled with these "best friend" supporting roles but somehow she always shines the most. And naturally the ultra-80s soundtrack lends a nostalgic glow to everything.

It's brisk, it's breezy, it's brightly colored, it's just a fun time. It can be too cutesy and pleased with itself at times, and I wanted more Mark Ruffalo, but for a light-hearted romantic comedy with convenient fantasy elements I can't really expect much serious writing. Also I wanted to say that I think it's cool that though this is pegged as a romantic comedy, it's actually largely focused on Jenna's career and platonic relationships. Most of the plot revolves around the workplace and her maturation as a young woman, as opposed to giving everything over to romance. I was almost sad when she re-did it all and married Matt (OH SPOILER WHAT) because I was afraid she wouldn't become a powerful, creative businesswoman anymore, but they don't show what her job is in the alternate future so I can hope that she is still rockin' it.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: We can go a few different routes. For a Mark Ruffalo romantic comedy love-fest, there's Just Like Heaven. Or for another tale of a naive young women transported through glitter to New York City, there's Enchanted. OOOOR everyone compared this movie to Big when it came out, so that's an option as well.

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Friday, November 9, 2012

Coolidge Corner Horror Double Feature: The Exorcist (1973) and The Thing (1982)

Seen: At the Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline, on 35 mm. Opening double feature of this year's Horrorthon.

This year I had to skip the 12-hour Horrorthon that Coolidge Corner does every year, which is a bummer, BUT I totally caught the double feature that opens it. And I got to hang out with Katie of Cinema Enthusiast after many months! What pleasure. So the Horrorthon opened with some rad lady hard rock from Dream Warrior and a costume contest and was rightly won by an awesome chopped-off-head bride. She looked so sharp. Then we settled in for The Exorcist and The Thing, a spoooooky double feature. The former I hadn't seen since I was a kid, and on cable tv, so I didn't remember most of it and I think a lot had been cut anyway. The latter I saw a few years ago at the Sci-Fi Marathon and it was awesome, but I haven't seen it since then. So exciting times all around, revisiting some hazily-remembered scares!

While actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) is shooting a movie in the DC area, her young daughter Regan (Linda Blair) begins exhibiting strange behavior. Usually sweet and playful, the girl begins acting out and cussing up a storm, having seizures and levitating the bed, and possibly killing a guy? Doctors are convinced it some sort of brain tumor, but after running every test Chris turns to priest/psychologist Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller) for help, believing Regan must be possessed by some demonic spirit. Thus begins the ultimate showdown between Man and The Devil, OOOOOOOH SHIIIIIT.

Damn, this movie is like, really good. Who knew? It builds up slowly, pulling out details from the lives of its main characters, from Father Damien's past as a boxer and guilt about leaving his aging mother alone, to Chris's strained relationship with Regan's off-camera father. The outright "horror" elements are fairly minimal, though a kind of mysticism is introduced in the prologue. As the confined spaces of the house become more and more claustrophobic, and Regan's demonic behavior becomes more and more intense, the horror of the situation becomes more apparent. Most effective is seeing Father Damien's belief- and subsequent fear- increase slowly but surely. All the Catholic stuff got a bit weird for me, just because it's been so long since I went to church yet I still remember all the prayers and responses and shit, barf. But otherwise The Exorcist is just a really solid thriller, with strong special effects and a well-paced story aaaand a creepy as hell (and at times funny) performance from Linda Blair, prosthetics, and the voice of Mercedes McCambridge.

4.5/5

The theme of tight spaces and evil possession continued with John Carpenter's version of The Thing, though the gore increased tenfold. A group of American scientists and soldiers working at an Antarctic base are plagued by a shapeshifting alien being who is decidedly unfriendly. Helicopter pilot MacReady (Kurt Russell) tries to keep it together while all the dudes at the compound react with varying levels of paranoia, suspicion, and desperation. A lot of people die. As do some dogs.

So I've already talked about how this movie rules, but here I go again! It's dark and scary and mysterious, plus it's got a super-beardy Kurt Russell! And, the point must be made, there's a character of color who makes it to the end! Rare in American sci-fi and action films, that is. The real star of the movie is the remarkable creature effects and puppetry, seriously I want to hang out with whoever did the creature design because it just looks so good and must have been so fun to make! Good score too, of course, Morricone no less. The biggest drawback for me is that there are zero women in this entire movie, which is just too bad I think. But then there probably would've been some boring romantic subplot or whatever, which I DO NOT need. Anyway great job everybody, I love this movie.

4.5/5

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Monday, November 5, 2012

Carrie (1976)

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

So I've kinda been binging on horror lately, it's like all I really want to watch. This is exacerbated by the fact that there is SO much I've never seen, since it's never been a genre I've been much into. But now it's like my new favorite thing and I want to see all the movies. Carrie had long been on my list since I need more De Palma, you know? Adapted from the Stephen King novel, the film follows the eponymous character (Sissy Spacek) during a few defining moments of teenage-dom. The daughter of an intense evangelical Christian mother (Piper Laurie), Carrie is terrified when she first gets her period, having no idea what it is. With her womanly times comes the onset of telekinetic powers that manifest themselves the more she gets bullied at her school. It all comes to a head at the prom when the meanest students plan a grotesque prank.

It's not like I didn't know the general plot of this movie- it's referenced all the time and several of the scenes are iconic, so I wasn't really in it for the suspense. That being said, I kind of totally loved it, and was even surprised by several developments! It's not especially terrifying, but it's got the slow-burn pacing and feel of other horror films of its era, takings its time to build up Carrie's suffering and subsequent telekinetic abilities. Her mother is not only domineering and controlling, but downright scary in her fanaticism and manipulation of her daughter. Their house is claustrophobic, filled with tight spaces that are all watched over by some religious icon, most memorably the bug-eyed Saint Sebastian sculpture. De Palma reveals Carrie's confusion and paranoia through intimate close-ups and private moments, while the audience remains unsure of the rest of the characters' motivations and thoughts. We know pretty, popular Chris (Nancy Allen) and her doltish boyfriend Billy (John Travolta) have it in for Carrie, but I honestly didn't know how much the other kids were in on it. Was Tommy (William Katt) really taking Carrie to the prom just because his girlfriend asked him to? Was his Nice Guy thing just an act? And what was Sue's (Amy Irving) angle the whole time? Not knowing how different characters would play into the whole event created a thrilling tension even if I did know the ultimate outcome.

And my, what an outcome! As the film progressed I was fairly engaged, enjoying the performances and wondering when all that religious build up would come back into play, and then there's the PROM SCENE. And daaaaaamn it's fucking awesome, you guys. I want to marry De Palma's split screens. It's melodramatic in the best way, and when Carrie gets back home to deal with her mother THAT'S when all that Christian imagery pays off and Piper Laurie gets to truly shine with her craziness and big hair. It's great, it's seriously great. And I will say there's one jump scare at the very, very end that totally got me, so I can't say this movie isn't completely not scary. For the most part it's just really good! And it's got PJ Soles being super mean and super adorable in her red cap! AND... Girl power?

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Hmmm quiet girl gets bullied at home and at school, develops telekinesis... Matilda!

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Friday, November 2, 2012

Lurking Fear (1994)

Seen: On dvd on our projector set-up.

You guys have probably ascertained that I will always, always check out a movie if it's got Jeffrey Combs, and Lurking Fear was no exception- especially since it's a Full Moon Horror! Gotta get me some more of those. Anyway, here's yet another example of Combs hanging out in a super loosely-adapted version of a Lovecraft story that I haven't read (lol I've only read Re-Animator and that's ALL I'LL EVER NEED). There's this town where freaky creatures rise up from the graveyard every night and try to eat the townspeople, who for SOME reason insist on living there, even though this happens LITERALLY. EVERY. NIGHT. A roguish criminal recently released from prison heads to this awful place to dig up some family treasure, followed by some jerkier criminals who also want the treasure. Eventually everyone gets trapped in a tiny church, trying not to get eaten by undead monsters or killed by asshole thieves. And there's like a mystery? Or something? And Vincent Schiavelli for five minutes?

Sooooo yeah this movie isn't all that great but daaaaaamn it is entertaining. The production values are expectedly low budget, though the creature design is pretty good. The story is all over the place, attempting to combine elements of survival horror with a crime/mystery plot, and not succeeding on either level. Admittedly I wasn't really paying attention to the criminal treasure plot, because I was SO DISTRACTED by the main dude's ridiculously 90s hair/outfit/general character type. I also became convinced that he was secretly Sawyer from Lost, and that in fact this movie was secretly the basis for Lost? These are the theories. Anyway, the best part is the cast. You've got Ashley Laurence from Hellraiser as a dynamite-toting badass who proves to be almost as useful as she looks. And there's Allison Mackie as a slightly sociopathic, but really not so bad villain who's well-dressed and pretty badass herself. The ladies have a mudfight at one point, and it's hilariously out of place. Jeffrey Combs leads the way despite having only a supporting role as an alcoholic doctor. He does this amazing thing where at any given moment he is either puffing on a cigarette or taking a swig out of his flask, and seemingly sometimes both simultaneously. It's a fun, self-aware performance aided by the addition of a beard and terrible haircut, and I loved it.

Lurking Fear doesn't really make any sense narratively, and I forgot most of it after I watched it, but it was engaging enough in a goofy way while it was playing out its 76 minutes, so no regrets. And I really did like the creature effects, and the big explosion at the end where allllll of the money went.

3/5

Pair This Movie With: Well personally I could go for another look at Doctor Mordrid, which shares a studio, screenwriter, and of course, Combs. Ooooor for more Lovecraftian Combs that's a bit off the beaten path, give From Beyond a try! It's kind of like a sexier, gooier Re-Animator.

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