Monday, December 31, 2012

Alex Makes Art #100

Oh my gosh I'm back. I've had a ridiculously stressful/grief-stricken two months and I'm just hoping everything does suck in 2013. So I think I mentioned in November that I'd be losing my job, and lo it has come to pass. This means I'll have more time for movies and art, though, at least until my next semester starts, so that's positive! I've been turning to art in earnest this past week, and I have two poster designs this week. I had a drawing of a scene from Singin' in the Rain to commemorate my 100th art post, but it wasn't turning out as well as I'd hoped so I'm putting it aside for now. Instead I re-vamped an old ink drawing and turned it into a poster! You remember Some Kind of Wonderful, dontcha? It might be my favorite John Hughes movie, maybe. My poster's for sale.

I also finished up a commission that was pretty fun, if different from my usual thing. I was asked to do a Road Warrior poster in the style of South Park, since there is an episode that features a parody poster in one of the kids' rooms. I'm thinking of putting it in my shop since but I don't know if anyone else would be interested in such a thing?

Anyway I'll be back with more art soon, lots of ideas, some commissions to finish, etc. Let me know if you want me to make stuff for youuuuuu -


Sunday, December 30, 2012

Roller Town (2012)

Seen: On netflix instant, on my laptop.

When I was in Toronto last year I had the pleasure of seeing a test screening of Roller Town, a film I knew nothing about except for its awesome tagline: "Disco didn't die. It was MURDERED." And that it was the first feature from Canadian sketch comedy group Picnicface, whose now-cancelled show never made it to the US but whose youtube videos had some wide play when I was in college. Due to the nature of the preview I couldn't write about Roller Town, and it KILLED me because I really wanted to talk about it, and now finally it's made it to netflix instant in the US! And I watched it right away, obviously! Set in some sort of alternate universe where everything revolves around roller skating, the movie stars Mark Little as Leo, a well-meaning skater who must save his dead father's roller rink from the likes of Gregs (George Basil), a murderous gangster who wants to turn it into an arcade. Leo also tries to romance Julia (Kayla Lorette), a student at a prestigious skating school (and the mayor's daughter), who is torn between his loose, exciting disco world and her pretentious asshole boyfriend/family.

Ok so be aware that I have yet to see the kind of roller disco movies this one is parodying, I need to get on that. That being said, Roller Town cracks me right up whether or not I'm familiar with the context, since everything is sparkly and smiley and self-aware. It is SO goofy, SO nonsensical, and SO weirdly endearing that there's little I can do except sit back and giggle quietly for 80 minutes. I'm a little bit in love with Mark Little, and not just because our last names are almost the same and on twitter I always for a second think his name is my name. He's really damned adorable as Leo, unabashedly skating around in hot pants with a doofy look on his face. Everyone in the cast is fantastic, really, with Scott Vrooman nailing the elitist but totally hapless character of Davis, and Kayla Lorette getting in some excellent reaction faces. Cheryl Hann is fun in multiple roles, but my favorite bit is her one scene as a slightly crazed dance teacher.

The humor is sort of ditzy and irreverent, and slightly surreal, with a range of bizarre sight gags and incredibly silly conversations. This eclecticism keeps things interesting, but also leads to jokes that don't work (at least for me) and action that drags by the end despite the film's short runtime. It takes this turn in the final act that could have been funny, but just slows everything down and doesn't fit in with the rest of the story. But due to its short length, there isn't much time to really screw things up, and overall I'd say I'm a fan! Through it all we are treated to the discolicious music of the fictional Boogaloos in glittery musical interludes, and actually I think a big fault of the film is that it didn't end with a disco musical number. MY GOD IT WOULD HAVE BEEN PERFECT.

But oh well, I still really enjoy Roller Town. I want to watch it again and again, despite the little things that don't work, because there are so many parts that do.


Pair This Movie With: Well I can only assume something like Roller Boogie or Skatetown, USA would go well with this, but not having seen them I'm not actually sure. I pretty much just watched a bunch of Picnicface videos on youtube the first time I watch this. Alternatively, you could make it a sketch comedy troupe movie day with something like Brain Candy or Wet Hot American Summer. So many choices!


Friday, December 28, 2012

Miami Connection (1987)

Seen: On blu-ray on our projector set-up, a recent awesome gift from me to my boyfriendddd.

So a thing about my super cool boyfriend Miles is that he has gone to several awesome film festivals without me (it's not his fault, it's mine) and brings back all the hip movie knowledge. This year he went to Fantastic Fest and was most excited about Miami Connection, a recently re-discovered 80s martial arts extravaganza that's on its way to becoming a cult favorite. After missing multiple screenings of it in my area, I finally got a chance to watch it. Made by a group of dudes who like taekwondo, it's a fairly silly low-budget action tale. A gang of best buddies who live together, attend college together, practice taekwondo together, perform in a band together, and are all orphans together (mostly), find themselves face to face with several vicious gangs who team up to kick them out of their rock club. Or something. I wasn't 100% on the conflict here, I'll be honest, but it definitely had something to do with bad guys and drugs and martial arts and ninjas on motorcycles. And a guy who was totally into his sister. Like, sexually.

Oh my goodness, this movie is all the goofy 80s action fun that you could want in a ridiculous cult flick. It's got terrible acting, horrendous dialogue, uneven pacing, cheesy characters, an insensible plot, and a truly wonderful soundtrack. Seriously, Dragon Sound is probably my new favorite band, for real though. And the taekwondo! It's all over the place and I love it! Most of the movie is pretty wacky but the fight scenes are genuinely rad, escalating into a crazy-bloody fugue at the end where heads get chopped off and it's really unexpected.

I know that in terms of technical, writing, and acting skills this movie is pretty bad, but by golly these guys are all so jovial and enthusiastic it's hard not to get sucked into their weird and convoluted tale. I loved the adorable camaraderie among the main dudes, with scenes of their shared living area the among the most enjoyable. They're all so doofy and smiley, and as far as I've heard they're basically playing themselves (they presented the film at the festival and by all accounts are just a lively, fun-loving bunch). None of them are film people, for many this is their only credit. They're just here to rock out and kick ass, and I'm just here to laugh at them and/or with them while singing about friendship and taking down ninjas.

As a movie: 2.5/5
As entertainment: 4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Well some scenes were reminiscent of The Warriors, but the general feel put me in the mood for Orgazmo.


Monday, December 24, 2012

I Love Melvin (1953)

Seen: On my laptop, with youtube, here.

It's no secret that Singin' in the Rain is my favorite movie. And I've probably made it commonly known that Donald O'Connor was my first movie crush. So, when I found out the entirety of I Love Melvin, a musical starring O'Connor and Singin' costar Debbie Reynolds that's not on dvd, was on youtube, I was pretty damned excited. Admittedly I'm usually not a watching-movies-on-youtube person unless it's MST3K, just because the low quality gets to me, but I happily made an exception this time. Reynolds stars as Judy, a young stage actress and dancer who dreams of becoming a star, but is somewhat held back by her overprotective family. She meets apprentice photographer Melvin (O'Connor), who works for LOOK Magazine, and charms him (almost) instantly. To get close to her he begins a series of portraits of Judy, hoping he can get them into the magazine and fueling her dreams of fame, but his lack of pull at his job- as well as her father's disapproval- may keep either of them from moving forward.

Set in that magical 1950's musical world where there's rarely any conflict, everyone dresses well, and there never seem to be any people of color, I Love Melvin is a breezy, enthusiastic film that coasts on the likability of its leads. I was pretty into it at the start, finding the simple love story and cutesy musical numbers to be very enjoyable. When Donald O'Connor accidentally bit Debbie Reynolds while trying to kiss her, I designated it the sexiest movie ever. The earlier musical numbers are charming, from her over-the-top dream sequence in the beginning, to their impromptu living room duet. The standout number is the absolutely, disarmingly ridiculous "Football Ballet", in which Reynolds is thrown about the stage by a bunch of athlete-dancers as a human embodiment of the titular pigskin. I mean it's not cool that the woman is literally being objectified, but darn it I was impressed by the weird audacity of it all.

The film kinda slows down about halfway through, with a premise so thin it can't fulfill its 77 minutes and not enough clever dialogue or interesting songs to keep it entertaining. The pacing is all off and it takes this odd turn with like 10 minutes left, by which time I didn't particularly care about this half-assed love story anyway. Sorry, guys, but your movie is uninspired! 1950s musicals are often frivolous and silly, but enough of them are propelled forward by witty writing and memorable musical numbers for me to know when one is just a bit lazy. Like I said, O'Connor and Reynolds are adorable and extremely likable, but there's only so far their charm can take the rest of the film. Also the ethnocentric/racist comedic dance number that O'Connor does made me really sad. I was impressed with his roller-skating abilities though, it's just too bad an annoying child had to sing during that scene.


Pair This Movie With: Well the storyline is really similar to No Small Affair with Jon Cryer (in his first screen role) and rock n' roll Demi Moore. But personally I just wanted more musical Donald O'Connor, for which I'll always recommend Call Me Madam.


Friday, December 21, 2012

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

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

A dysfunctional trio of former child geniuses returns to their childhood home for the first time in over a decade. Successful businessman Chas (Ben Stiller), still grieving over the loss of his wife in a plane crash, believes his own house is not safe for him and his two sons. Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), a playwright who hasn't written anything new in years, is unhappy in her marriage to neurologist Raleigh St Clair (Bill Murray) and needs a change. Richie (Luke Wilson), a former pro tennis player now sailing around the world after suffering a breakdown during a high-profile match, returns to hopefully resolve his romantic feelings for Margot, who is adopted so it's totally not illegal (but maybe frowned upon). While their archaeologist mother, Etheline (Anjelica Huston), is being romanced by her adorable accountant (Danny Glover), their scoundrel of a father, Royal (Gene Hackman)- who has not been invited to family events in years- pays a visit claiming he's dying of stomach cancer.

Oh goodness, this movie gives me feelings. Artfully fusing kooky, understated humor with heart-wrenching pathos, The Royal Tenenbaums is, for me, the perfect balance of Wes Anderson's by-now all-too-familiar filmmaking traits. It's funny and "quirky" without moving too far into caricature, and the characters are incredibly strong. Each actor is able to convey a lot about their person without too much dialogue or showy moments, aided gracefully by an unseen Alec Baldwin as the narrator and a group of really talented child actors for flashback scenes. I really just feel for these characters, all of them (and there are many!), as everyone is just sort of dealing with their own personal tragedy in a wry, self-aware way. While on paper Richie's Elliot Smith scene is the most affecting, I actually am always moved to tears by one simple exchange towards the end of the film. After Eli (Owen Wilson) crashes his car into the house and kills the dog, and Chas freaks out about his kids and beats up Eli, and in the aftermath he's just standing there, and he turns to Royal and says, with a slight break in his voice, "I've had a rough year, dad." Royal responds sympathetically, "I know you have, Chassie." And that's it, Chas walks back into the house. It's this completely heart-breaking moment for me, I'm honestly tearing up right now just thinking about it.

Ok sucking it up now. Of course The Royal Tenenbaums is also pretty funny, and has a million little funny jokes and goofy characters and subplots. Raleigh's unusual patient/research subject Dudley could have his own movie. I love all the fake books created for different characters, especially Eli's Old Custer ("Well everyone knows Custer died at Little Bighorn. What this book presupposes is... maybe he didn't?"). Visually, the aesthetic is perfect. Anderson's penchant for obsessive details and antique charm is well-suited to the film's pseudo-New York setting, and I get a little hot and bothered by all the prim, well-organized tableaux. I mean, Chas arranges his suitcases by size. It's really nice. And the scene transitions featuring chapters from an imagined book of the story are a sweet touch. This film also features self-assigned character costumes, which I always really love. Margot's collared dress and fur coat, Chas's red track suit (with matching ones for his sons), Richie's headband, polo, and tan blazer- these outfits create shields around their wearers as well as a certain kind of comical repetition. It's one of my favorite Movie things, in general.

I guess I just love everything about this movie. I listen to the soundtrack pretty often, I think it's tied with The Life Aquatic for favorite Wes Anderson soundtrack. I quote certain lines from it regularly ("I KNOW YOU ASSHOLE!"), and I never really tire of talking about it. It's the Wes Anderson film I stack all the rest against, and he has yet to top it.

AND YES I know this is just a rich white people problems kind of movie but goddammit if it doesn't just GET to me every time. The TEARS, man. UGH.


Pair This Movie With: It's taken me wayyy too long to pick up on this but I finally realized that the Tenenbaums are basically an updated version of JD Salinger's Glass family so I think it'd be nice to read Nine Stories or Franny & Zooey before watching this movie. Or you should just read them in general, if it's your kind of thing.


Monday, December 10, 2012

Tuvalu (1999)

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

Oh man I love stumbling upon awesome movies unexpectedly! Tuvalu stuck out to us when we were scrolling around netflix instant and I'm glad we gave it a shot, because it's really enjoyable. This mostly-dialogue-free film is set in some sort of mysterious, vaguely European wasteland where a crumbling bathhouse is in danger of being demolished by money-grubbing businessmen. Socially inept Anton (Denis Lavant), who can never leave the building due to his lack of shoes, tries to get the structure up to code without alarming his boss, a grumpy, blind old man (Philippe Clay) who takes pride in running the boiler and acting as pool lifeguard. Meanwhile, a beautiful young woman (Chulpan Khamatova) catches Anton's eye, but she's busy fixing up her father's old boat with the hope of eventually sailing away to Tuvalu.

With lovely use of color filters, weird sets, and a good heap of old-timey silent gags, Tuvalu is a strange and beautiful experience. It takes a while to get going, as the viewer must find their footing in this ambiguous, somewhat alarming setting with little expository information, but I got pretty into it as the film progressed. I loved the decaying settings and visual details, which oscillated between humorous and charming. Denis Lavant and Chulpan Khamatova are adorable and goofy as the leads, toying around with these conventional romantic archetypes and making them weird, while surrounded by sublimely weirder supporting characters- most notably the villain with the Eraserhead haircut. The story is a little uneven but the goofy jokes, adventurous spirit, and truly touching moments sprinkled in make for a fun and memorable film that can say so much with so few words. Interestingly, however, the funniest bit is one that does involve dialogue. "Technology! Profit!" Hilarious.


Pair This Movie With: The visuals and general atmosphere reminded me of Delicatessen, which I've been meaning to revisit for a while. It's the kind of movie I own but rarely watch for some reason.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Point Break (1991)

Seen: In HD on my parents' tv, on one of those wacky movie channels. Encore, maybe?

It's time for another edition of "Watching movies on my parents' awesome cable" THEATERRRR. It's a thing I do most times I visit my parents because they have... cable. Anyway. I caught Point Break the day before Thanksgiving, and though I'd seen it before, I'll admit I barely remembered it so it was kind of like watching it for the first time. For the most part it follows around Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves), a young FBI agent who goes undercover as a surfer dude because his partner Pappas (Gary Busey) is convinced a gang of successful bank robbers are actually local surfers. Johnny gets in with a group of adrenaline-junkie guys led by preachy guru Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) and they become best frenemies. He also dates badass surfer lady Tyler (Lori Petty). And then a lot of action scenes happen, for like three hours.

Blending "100% Pure Adrenaline" thrills with a cat-and-mouse bro-ship, Point Break is the kind of movie that's legitimately awesome while also really hard to take seriously because it's so ridiculous. And I love that combination! Sure, it's overlong (uh HELLO it's a Kathryn Bigelow movie) and dwells within a specific early-90s cheese in its exploration of surfer culture, but the action sequences are fantastic and the characters are strong. The raid on some surfer drug dealers is just excellent, with a closed-in shooting style and gruesome violence (and Tom Sizemore!) and of course there are numerous awesome surfing scenes and a couple of exciting bank robberies. And multiple instances of sky-diving, because for some reason that's Bodhi's main escape plan every time he's in trouble.

The story is a bit dragged out, but I enjoyed the performances and focus on relationships, as we watch Johnny maybe losing some of his FBI edge as he sinks deeper into his undercover role. I do love Keanu all tortured and brooding, it's adorable, but Lori Petty is secretly the stand-out because she's a badass and she's the main character with a sense of humor besides Gary Busey. Patrick Swayze is great as Bodhi but I was sort of unsettled by him because I really didn't remember his character being so... unhinged? Like, I thought of him as this laid-back dude who just wanted to catch the perfect wave and also rob a bank or two, but as the film progresses you see his weird philosophy and the way he draws confused younger men to him and gets them to carry out his orders, and it's decidedly creepier than my memory. Makes for a more compelling villain though, since he really does seem like an ok dude most of the time and it's hard to know whom to root for.

Ok, Point Break! Fun!


Pair This Movie With: Well Hot Fuzz comes to mind for obvious reasons, wouldn't that be an entertaining evening?

PS For those of you who for some reason don't track my every tweet obsessively, here's my live-tweet of the film. I became more tired and therefore slightly more silly as it progressed.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Circumstance (2011)

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

Atafeh (Nikohl Boosheri) and Shireen (Sarah Kazemy)- two female best friends living in Tehran- explore the rebellious youth subculture brewing beneath the surface in present-day Iran, attending wild parties and gradually realizing their attraction to one another. Their secret romance is impeded not only by their country's strict religious codes, but also by Atafeh's zealous older brother (Reza Sixo Safai), whose new position with the morality police and intense obsession with Shireen drive a wedge between various family members. In somewhat episodic form, urban Iran's divisions of class, sex, sexuality, and religion are shown supposedly from the point of view of young insiders, but for logistical reasons the filmmakers are forced outsiders.

Circumstance is an interesting film, not so much for its narrative or technical aspects, but more for its issues of legitimacy. It was written and directed by Iranian-American filmmaker Maryam Keshavarz, who was raised and educated in the US but stayed with family in Iran every year. Most of the actors are not native to Iran, and apparently their speech in this film is heavily accented and the slang is unconvincing (I can't actually speak to the veracity of that statement, as I don't speak Farsi at all). It was filmed in Lebanon, and all the people involved in its production can never visit Iran again. So in trying to reveal the secret lives of Iranian teenagers, Keshavarz was unable to give a truly realistic perspective. She drew from anecdotes of family and friends who lived there, and some of her own observations and experiences, but in the end many who would actually know what it's like to be Atafeh and Shireen's situation can see the inconsistencies.

As I watched Circumstance I didn't know much about its authenticity issues; I just thought a story told by a bisexual Iranian-American female filmmaker might offer an interesting viewpoint, plus I'd never seen an Iranian film before (though I recognize now that this is more of an international outing than its final product lets on). Looking at it from my ignorant standpoint, I found it generally enjoyable and engaging, though the narrative structure is disjointed and certain plot points are overly ambiguous or incongruous. I loved the two lead actors, who turned in strong, powerful performances that balanced out the uneven script. I've seen some critics lament their romantic scenes as "softcore porn", but it didn't bother me. They're horny teenagers exploring their sexuality, what the hell else would you expect? Steamy hand-holding fantasies?

I don't want to be like those uninformed critics who took this film at face value and loved its "realistic" portrayal of Iranian gay teen subculture and family dynamics, but I also can't completely fault it for failing in its verisimilitude because as a movie removed from its context it has merit. And I do believe it contains some truth, or at the very least the truth as Maryam Keshavarz and her collaborators experienced it. I don't really have enough knowledge speak about these matters anyway, as it is a complicated issue.


Pair This Movie With: Other lesbian coming-of-age movies I enjoy are Pariah and But I'm a Cheerleader, sooooo one of those?