Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The 2013 Boston Science-Fiction Marathon, Part III

BUT FIRST! Read Part I and Part II!

Well ok then. It's 4AM, we have had A LOT of science fiction. I don't know, maybe you can't handle anymore. Maybe you should just call it quits, go home, sleep it off. NO I DON'T THINK SO. We are in it for the long haul, guys, and I will keep my eyes wide open through the next four movies so all the geekery can really sink in. I was a little bummed that The Hands of Orlac was cancelled (I think the print didn't make it due to the snowstorm), since I'd never seen it and was looking forward to seeing a silent German Expressionist film on the big screen, but then I realized that watching a slow-moving silent at 4 in the morning probably wasn't the smartest programming choice. It was replaced with a festival film and the director was in attendance, so that was cool! Another nice touch was a showing of "La Luna", the cute Pixar short made for Brave. Anyway let's power through, dudes, it's the final stretch of the Thon, and soon enough we'll have to walk into the blaring sunlight and be... Outside. Let's hold onto the soothing glow of the screen for a few more hours.

9 Motivational Growth (2013)
This was the replacement for Orlac, and I was looking forward to it because it featured the voice of my guy, Jeffrey Combs! It's a strange, uneven film detailing the sordid, unkempt existence of Ian Folivor (Adrian DiGiovanni), a man who hasn't left his apartment in many months, spending his time sleeping or watching tv. When his beloved television breaks, he feels a friend has let him down, and he attempts to kill himself, but after a serious head injury he spends a week talking to a sentient mold growth who tells him how to clean up his life. The movie progresses in a dreamlike state for the remaining time, throwing in video game-esque animated sequences and hallucinatory imagery. It oscillates between funny and interesting and gross and aimless, and I think my biggest issue was that I didn't really care about the protagonist that much. His narration is often funny, but as a character I didn't like him, so watching a film completely centered around him is a little tough. This was the most polarizing film of the Thon, as far as I could tell, with several people calling out against it while several quieter viewers seemed to really like it. I'm in the middle, I guess, since I appreciated its unique take on depression and its no-holds-barred weirdness, but I don't think the premise really worked as a whole, and it might have been better as a short. I will say it definitely kept us all awake as we tried to understand what the hell was going on, and for a 4AM film that's always a positive thing!

10 V for Vendetta (2006)
This is the one I had sort of blocked out to sleep through, at least partially, since I'd seen it before and wanted to make sure I was awake for Escape from L.A. But wouldn't you know it, I just ended up watching the whole thing. This is a movie I remember really liking in high school, but upon a rewatch I'm not quite as taken with it. It's grounded in a believable future dystopia and has a fantastic cast as well as some cool action scenes, but it's also super preachy and unsubtle, and I'm really uncomfortable with the romance that develops between a strong-willed young woman and a man who has physically and emotionally tortured her. I feel like V as a character is given a pass for his murderous, cutthroat tactics just because he has a strong stance against the tyrannical government. He's put on a pedestal instead of being recognized as the lesser of two evils. Not that he isn't right- he is- but his actions are still questionable. Anyway I do still enjoy all the knifey parts and Natalie Portman shaving her head and the beautiful lesbian love story and Stephen Rea's detective work.

11 Escape from L.A. (1996)
Ok obviously Escape from New York is an awesome movie, but I'd always been warned off the sequel so when I heard it was screening at the Thon I was half psyched and half concerned. Turns out this movie is pretty fun, if steeped in too much loopyness even for me. This time around Kurt Russell's Snake (another addition to the aforementioned HUNKS this year) is thrown into the city of LA, which was made into an island and a mandated deportation area once some religious nut became America's dictator. It's got criminals, immigrants, and various folk who deviate from the new ultra-conservative standard, and the president's daughter has thrown herself in with them in a bid for world takeover. While trying to retrieve a doomsday weapon that she's entrusted to a dangerous faux-hippie revolutionary, Snake suffers run-ins with aging surfers, plastic surgery monsters, an opportunistic tour guide, various assailants, and a badass transwoman gang leader. And everything is set to a truly kickin' soundtrack. I was way into it at the start, but towards the end they throw in hang-gliding and surfing and it just gets to be too much, like they didn't know how to edit themselves at all. But the cast is fabulous (Steve Buscemi, Pam Grier, Stacy Keach, Peter Fonda, Bruce Campbell!) and you can tell Russell is having fun revisiting this character. Plus it's set in 2013 so perhaps it's an... omen?

12 The Fifth Element (1997)
This is another one I hadn't really seen since high school but was looking forward to revisiting, especially since someone (sorry I don't remember who) suggested that I do a gig poster for Diva Plavalaguna which is a good idea. The print melted twice, which was weird and scary, but we made it through somehow. The story of a gruff cab driver in the future who finds himself escorting a wayward god-figure to her destiny as a planet-sized pit of evil hurls towards earth is a path well-trod, but Besson injects enough humor, visual ingenuity, exciting action sequences, and kooky characters to make it fresh. The movie is all over the place and often confusing, but I do enjoy myself every time I watch it. Plus after all the handsome man-meat (what?) going around, I'm sure those attracted to ladies could definitely appreciate Milla Jovovich's memorable turn as Leeloo, a smokin' hot god with ass-kicking skills and cool hair. I know I was ok with it. Like many of Besson's films, it stretches longer than it needs to, with so many side characters and subplots clashing together that at any given moment I forgot half of the story, but overall it's just a fun time. Best of all you get to see Gary Oldman with actually the worst hairstyle in existence.

There you have it! This was our fifth year doing the marathon and I have to say it's super fun every time, and it's worth having my sleep schedule thrown out of whack for a couple of days. Until next year, fellow nerds!


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The 2013 Boston Science-Fiction Marathon, Part II

BUT FIRST! Read Part I. There's 24 hours of sci-fi overall!

Alright, back from dinner, everybody's feeling ok, I'm still on a bit of a musical high from The Ghastly Love of Johnny X but I am definitely (always) ready to settle in for more science fiction goodness. One of the coolest things about this year's Thon is that we were treated to an episode of The Twilight Zone, wholly appropriate since one of the films being shown was written by TZ stalwart Richard Matheson. It was the episode "Time Enough At Last", which I have often seen referenced and parodied but had never actually watched, so it was great to see the original version. Poor Henry Bemis! He just wants to READ! An interesting short, "Death of a Shadow", was also shown, which I really liked. It's beautifully shot and has a fascinating premise concerning a dead soldier caught in limbo, trying to win back his life by collecting other people's deaths. And I just found out it was nominated for an Oscar this year, so that's rad! Anyway here are the next four features I watched, from about 8PM to 4AM, to ensure you're consistently impressed with how much I totally stayed awake.

5 Battle Royale (2000)
It's no secret I am in love with this movie, and I don't think there'd ever be a bad time to watch it. The premise may only be lightly sci-fi because of the supposed future setting and a few technological bits, but who cares? THIS MOVIE RULES. While packed with awesome gore and intense action, it also has such a knack for succinctly and lovingly describing its characters, so that you can't help but feel deeply for everyone. It manages to balance over-the-top situations and a bit of cheese with a believable emotional core, and I think that's part of the reason I love it. The title links to my original review. And here's a poster I made for it ages ago.

6 Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)
I saw this when it was in theaters last summer but it was nice to revisit it, especially since as far as I could tell a lot of the audience hadn't seen it (it got a big round of applause at the end). I love Aubrey Plaza here and I think the central story is so sweet and interesting, and I initially came out really enjoying the film overall. I had sort of blocked out how the b-plot of Jake Johnson trying to sleep with an old girlfriend was pretty stupid and sleazy. The title links to my original review.

7 The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)
Ok so as far as I can tell the theme of this year's Thon was HUNKS because here is yet another example of a total babe in the lead. And not only is he shirtless a few times, he also shows off those GAMS, and I'm now fanning myself. Anyway. This movie is actually completely great, it's not at all what you'd expect from the title. Matheson's script is gradually paced and introspective, ultimately setting itself up for a metaphorical view of man's entire existence as the protagonist Scott Carey experiences a mysterious shrinking disease that gives him a shockingly new perspective on life. The performances are great, there's a bit of action thrown in what with giant spiders and cats, and I was really impressed with the effects. The only thing that bothered me was how at one point a regular-sized actress was used to portray a little person, and it was distracting and I didn't understand why they couldn't have just cast an actual little person. It was pointed out to me later that maybe the optical trickery wouldn't have worked otherwise, since she and Scott are shown side by side as the same size. So I guess that makes sense. Otherwise I was just generally taken in by this film, it's thought-provoking without being preachy, and it's exciting without being sensationalist.

8 Phase IV (1974)
This is one of the films I was most excited for, since I knew it was the only feature from legendary graphic designer Saul Bass as a director. I'd read about it on Nuts4r2's blog ages ago and had been meaning to see it ever since. When large groups of different varieties of ants in the Arizona desert begin forming a collective hive mind, two scientists set up an observation station to observe their developments and determine if they're a threat. The ants manage to wipe out most of the animals (and some of the humans) in the area and prove smart enough to consistently outwit the scientists, so it soon becomes a standoff between man and ant. And honestly I had no idea who was going to win. What's great is the movie feels utterly realistic, there isn't much that's out there, the main anomaly is that these ants are all working together with a common cause. They don't have super powers or anything, they're just really smart and quick to adapt to new situations. I liked the more intellectual, low-key approach to storytelling, but I must say I kind of expected (and wanted) more trippy visuals. I mean, it's Saul Bass! But still a smart, compelling film, with excellent ant photography from Ken Middleham (who also did The Hellstrom Chronicle) and a kickass finale.

Ok I had to brush my teeth and catch up on my tea-drinking, but otherwise I am doing good! The audience definitely starts to thin out a little, but there's only 4 more movies left to go, I can do this!


Monday, February 25, 2013

The 2013 Boston Science-Fiction Marathon, Part I

Is it that time of year again? WHY YES IT IS! Every year the Somerville Theatre hosts the 24-Hour Boston Science-Fiction Marathon, which in recent years has also expanded into a festival for new sci-fi films, and the marathon itself now includes a few of the festival picks. So it's basically a lot of nerds young and old gathered together in a gorgeous and spacious theater, armed with pillows, blankets, laser blasters, and caffeine, yelling geeky jokes at the screen. This year (my fifth in a row!) I'm proud to report that I stayed up actually the entire time- usually I nod off during one or more movies, but I was honestly 100% awake for the whole event, which means I won. The line-up was pretty damn solid this year, which I think helped, though there were one or two uncertain choices in the mix (more on that later). And we had this weird problem where people kept coming in at random times and sitting right in front of us? Like where did they come from? You should stake your claim on a few seats and set up camp, guys! There's plenty of room! Anyway, the way these posts work is I will break down the 24 hours into three segments, and my memory might get a little loopier as it goes on due to the sleep deprivation. So here we go, erm, BLAST OFF!

1 John Carter (2012)
I missed this when it was in theaters so I was excited to see it here, and it made for a fun opener to the Thon. The somewhat convoluted story focuses on the titular gold-digging Civil War soldier who is accidentally transported to Mars, where he discovers warring aliens and an uncanny ability to leap tall buildings due to the lesser gravity. Overall it's kind of silly but I found it generally entertaining- great effects and action sequences, imagination, a kickass warrior scientist lady, and a lot of shirtless Taylor Kitsch. Like, A LOT. I think the biggest problem is that it's way too long. I felt like Andrew Stanton just got really wrapped up in this fantasy world and wanted to hang around in it for a while and really situate his audience within it, which I can understand. It is very beautiful.

I also want a quick shout-out for the well-done "In Memorium" segment that was shown after this, for those connected to sci-fi media who'd passed away last year.

2 Reptilicus (1961)
This was the "so-bad-it's-good" pick for the night, which allows everyone to get out their wannabe MST3K snark. A Danish production but scripted in English, the film is a goofy monster movie with old European charm and an actually kind of cool dragon-like creature design. The effects are outdated and the acting is laughable, plus there's a musical number for no reason, but it fits decently inside the mold of so many of those mid-century monster flicks. And it's got a guy who kinda looks like David Bowie, and he was definitely trying to date the main military dude, so I may have had a little fanfiction going on in my head the whole time, no big deal. It's enjoyable for how ridiculous it is and I was definitely entertained, but I wouldn't put it high on a list of my favorite b-movies or anything.
As a movie: 2/5
As entertainment: 3.5/5

3 The Ghastly Love of Johnny X (2012)
This one has really stuck with me, and I think I'm liking it more upon reflection even if I was torn as I watched it. I mean the premise alone suits almost all of my tastes- a black and white rock musical about alien punks who are exiled to earth and the main guy has an electric suit that he uses to save an aging rock star and they're all dressed like they're in Grease. The tagline is "They Sing! They Dance! They're Juvenile Delinquents from Outer Space!", I mean this movie was clearly made for me. Also the lead guy (Will Keenan) is fucking adorable, even if he's a dick to his girlfriend at the beginning and I was a little uncomfortable. Mostly I dug the wacky visuals, the 50s atmosphere and characterization, and the splashy musical numbers though the songs weren't the most memorable. (Still good tunes, though! I just kinda wish the amazing Paul Williams had expanded his cameo appearance and maybe contributed to the score? We could've had a Phantom of the Paradise-vibe!) The story's all over the place but I guess that doesn't actually matter, since for the most part it was funny and weird enough to keep me watching. It's like if somebody mashed up Cry-Baby and Matinee and Alien Trespass and maybe Richard Elfman directed it? Kinda? Check out this video about it, that might give you a better idea. Also definitely wins best title of anything at the Thon, easily.

4 War of the Worlds: Goliath (2012)
Ok ok here's where we cheated a little. After about 15 minutes of this animated steampunky alien invasion movie, we decided to head across the street for some dinner, since it just wasn't especially appealing. I'm sorry guys, I felt bad leaving a new animated sci-fi movie since usually I'm all into that, it just looked sort of derivative and I didn't love the visual style. We caught the very end though and uh it looks like the good guys won! Yay humans! And Nikola Tesla was there to help out, thank goodness. I've never seen/read War of the Worlds so I'm not sure how it all connected, I believe it's meant to be a speculative sequel. Luckily we returned in time to catch "Asternauts", a charming short about farmers who manage to contact alien life, from Marta Alicia Masferrer, who directed the excellent "Conlang", a short from a previous Thon.

Alright so now that we're back from Chinese food and really settled in, it'll be time for Part II! Check back next time for more sci-fi fun, eager young space cadets!


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Wo hu cang long (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) (2000)

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

Somehow, for no particular reason, I missed the whole "wire-fu" trend of the early 2000s. And I just never caught up with it. But lately I'm definitely into expanding my martial arts film knowledge, and when Sasha went on about how great Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is (while discussing our poster tumblr that you should be following), it seemed high time I watch it. And by golly am I glad I did! Set in Qing Dynasty China, the film follows warriors Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) and Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-fat) as they search for a powerful sword stolen from a Peking businessman. The sword belonged to Li Mu Bai and holds sordid memories for him, but when he meets the mysterious fighter who took it- fierce teenage noblewoman Jen Yu (Zhang Ziyi), chafing against her family and societal obligations- he realizes he may have found a student worthy of its mastery. But her hot-headed bid for independence as well as the appearance of the outlaw who killed Li Mu Bai's mentor make for some complications.

This Movie. Is SOOOOO. GOOOOOOOOD. Oh my gosh, for real you guys, like have you heard about it? Has anyone told you in the past 12 years that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a perfect movie? BECAUSE SOMEHOW I MISSED THAT. It's basically just badass women fighting for two hours. And when they're not fighting, they're hella passing the Bechdel Test because all they talk about is fighting! And swords, and how much marriage sucks, and the future. It's so great. I loved the story, layered with flashbacks about Jen Yu's desert adventures and yearning discussions about Shu Lien's and Li Mu Bai's checkered relationship. The characters are complex and interesting, with no one standing out as a clear villain as various motivations were uncovered, meaning I basically loved everyone. Though obviously Michelle Yeoh is the absolute coolest. The visuals are gorgeous, rife with grandeur and color and- when the moment calls for it- tranquility.

BUT THE FIGHTING. It's a good movie all over the place, but the fight scenes make it great. Ang Lee really captures the dance-like nature of sword fighting, stressing elegance and grace over gore. There is great attention to weaponry, choreography, and setting- from a two-story restaurant to the tree tops-, making for an almost loving facsimile of deadly swordplay. All the running and flying and leaping is beautiful, but I could watch these people try to kill each other all day. Especially the ladies.

Anyway yes this movie is amazing in every way, I'm in love with it, sorry I didn't figure it out sooner, you all probably already knew this. I'm just behind on everything, as you are likely aware.


Pair This Movie With: Well yeah like I said I haven't really seen other movies like this, so I don't know. Some of the visuals and the desert setting reminded me of A Woman, A Gun, and A Noodle Shop. Otherwise I don't know.


Friday, February 22, 2013

Alex Makes Art #104

Oh hey! So maybe you saw yesterday how I kind of dumped all over Goodfellas, well yeah I didn't like it all that much obviously. I watched it because Blake commissioned a poster for it, with the request that Joe Pesci feature prominently, so I had some fun with it. I've wanted to do a bit more with text lately so all of Henry's monologues gave me a chance to play around with that, and I like how it came out. I'm also pretty proud of the blood splatter effect at the bottom there. Anyway the image is ahead, the poster is for sale, and there's more art to be found in history.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Goodfellas (1990)

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

Ok let's get this out of the way: I don't like this movie. I know it's held in high esteem by so many people, and I know Martin Scorsese is Important and everyone loves gangster movies with Italian-Americans, but this is not for me. I watched it because I was commissioned to design a poster for it, which I enjoyed making, but since I watched it in full I also have to review it. So here we are. Just wanted to start with that so you won't be aghast at my negative reaction to a movie that honestly isn't very good. Here we go. Inspired by true events, Goodfellas traces the rise and fall of gangster Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) as he becomes part of a major New York criminal enterprise. He'd always dreamed of being a gangster, and believes the respect and wealth that he gains are worth the murders and threat of imprisonment and all that. As the years pass he starts a family, does some time, gets deep into drug trafficking, and eventually becomes an informant when several of his friends are killed.

The thing about Goodfellas is, I don't care about it, like at all. I don't care about any of the characters, I don't care about the story, I don't care about the visuals or the music or the production. So little about it interests me. I know it's not a poorly made film, and I know the cast is generally strong, and that to a lot of viewers this type of story is important, but honestly I can't believe so many people can sit through 146 minutes of this, and like it so much. Despite narrating almost every single scene (except for a few segments when his wife abruptly narrates), the protagonist is strangely flat. I felt like I knew very little about his personality even though this was his biography, and wondered if the narration was meant to haphazardly give him some dimension. I didn't understand his motivations or his feelings. The bulk of the charisma is handled by Joe Pesci, who is unexpectedly terrifying as loose cannon Tommy DeVito, and Robert De Niro, who is sinister as the deceptively friendly James Conway, but their roles are limited. Suffice to say I hated all of the female characters, but I won't pretend that that's a surprise. One of the few times this movie caught my interest was when Henry's wife Karen (Lorraine Bracco) threatened to kill the adulterous Henry, which I was ALL FOR, but then she wimps out and goes on some monologue about how she couldn't leave him because she was still attracted to him. Whatever.

Admittedly I am definitely not the audience for this type of movie, which is why I wouldn't completely write it off. I don't even know that I hated it, I just couldn't care less about it, really. It's not offensive or anything, and there are some things about it I liked, like the aforementioned performances of Pesci and De Niro, plus all the discussion of Italian food (I was even making a good pesto while I watched it, so I felt very connected to my Italian roots). But there's really so little here that interests me, and yet somehow SO MUCH movie, it just went on and on and I was constantly checking how much time was left. The narrative is poorly paced, and I felt like there was no drive, no direction, no oomph. And the face that I didn't care about any of the characters, and indeed found most of them reprehensible, didn't help matters. I honestly don't know if we were supposed to be rooting for anyone, because I sure as hell wasn't. They're all just bullies who think they deserve an inordinate amount of wealth just because they, what? Threaten people? Wear nice suits? Speak Italian? I have no idea what gave them all such big heads. And if we're not supposed to root for them, that's ok, but then at least make them more compelling characters.

In the end it all boils down to boredom. Goodfellas is boring.


Pair This Movie With: I don't know, other boring manly gangster movies I guess. It's not my field.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Searching for Sugar Man (2012)

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

Well you know me, consistently behind on all the hot documentaries of any given year, but I finally caught up with Searching for Sugar Man. Tracing the short-lived career of folk-rock singer Rodriguez and its strange aftermath, the film follows the impact of his music on the people of South Africa during Apartheid. Though virtually unknown in his United States home, there Rodriguez is more revered than Elvis Presley and his politically-charged songs are considered integral to the development of revolutionary opposition in the 70s and 80s. Long thought dead by a dramatic on-stage suicide, he is discovered alive and working in construction in Detroit decades after his only two records had been released, thanks to the efforts of diehard South African fans in the music business. His rediscovery leads to huge shows in South Africa and the possibility of a new album.

I've got some mixed feelings on this one. It's an interesting story and Rodriguez himself makes for a fascinating and likable subject, but the actual doc has some problems. Certain information is passed over to make the story of his rediscovery more dramatic, and the talking heads seemed intent on maintaining a sensationalist approach to the tale. The thrust of the film is definitely the musician's impact on and loyalty of his South African fans, as opposed to Rodriguez himself. He remains something of a soft-spoken mystery, either because that's how he actually presents himself or that's how the filmmakers wanted him to appear. It's a little frustrating, because while he seems like a really talented and intelligent guy, I felt like there was this manufactured enigma built around him. His music is great (I don't really care about the "cheap Bob Dylan" comparisons since I don't listen to much Dylan), and his biography is pretty engaging. The scattered and questionable nature of the film's narrative is what made it disappointing, since it always felt like there was more to tell about a certain aspect of it. I wanted more of Rodriguez himself, more about his short career, more about his music's impact during Apartheid, more about the search for him and the record company who owned his work. It's not that the doc needed to be longer, it just could have been more focused or more comprehensive.


Pair This Movie With: Ack, I don't know, I haven't really seen many music documentaries. Maybe Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods since that's another portrait of a somewhat enigmatic artist with a cult following?


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Il grande silenzio (The Great Silence) (1968)

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

So maybe you heard about that big blizzard that hit the Northeast America/Canada last weekend? Yeah. We were very much snowed in, which was fine with us, and Miles decided a snowy western he'd read about on Nuts4r2 would be a good way to honor the day. The Great Silence stars hunky Frenchman Jean-Louis Trintignant as a mute gunman, known as "Silence" because that's what he leaves in his wake. Though unbeatable as a marksman, he only shoots in self defense, often knocking off his enemies' thumbs so they can't raise a gun against him again. He's asked to aid a group of well-meaning outlaws hiding out in the Rockies, who are under attack from vicious bounty hunter Loco (Klaus Kinski), but complications arise due to the fucked up nature of 19th-century laws in this country.

Man, this movie was unexpected in a lot of ways, and I'm glad I went into it without knowing too much about it. While grounded in typical western conventions- bounty hunters, anti-heroes, damsels in distress, horsies- the film stands out for its sobering view of politics and class structures during the "Wild West" period. All of the characters bend the law to their own will, and nobody really acts illegally except for the bounties that Loco mercilessly (but lawfully) shoots down. This twisted view of the law is at times almost playful in the hands of the gleefully sadistic Klaus Kinski, but the dark nature of frontier life in the nineteenth century for anyone without wealth or status- and the corrupted system that allows for it- is very clearly communicated. The ending (the real ending, not the tame one they filmed for certain markets) is bleak as hell, and I really appreciated that. Despite its "spaghetti" elements in voice dubbing and too-cool-for-school protagonist, the film as a whole felt remarkably realistic. Corbucci's use of the Italian Dolomites to substitute for the blizzardy Utah Rockies results in gorgeous landscapes and a convincing atmosphere, and I was even fooled by the shaving cream-infused town set! It looked super real! Plus everyone wore nice warm-looking fur coats, it was very swanky.

The grisly story and general sparseness are buoyed by a fantastic cast. I must now admit that this is my first Klaus Kinski movie (I'm obviously behind on a few Herzogs), and he was creepy as fuck and it definitely works, he's just so self-satisfied and unshakable, it's unnerving. Plus he's got the LAW on his side. And a hideous face. Truly hideous. Jean-Louis Trintignant, on the other hand, is a goddamn BABE, and I was instantly taken in by his expressive eyes and pouty, unspeaking lips. I also really liked Vonetta McGee, whom I'm ashamed to say I didn't even recognize (I'd seen her in Blacula) and at first took her for a dark-skinned Italian actress given the context. She's a really beautiful woman and though her role is mostly passive she has this great fierceness in her manner. Plus I think it's cool that this movie has an interracial relationship and no one makes a thing of it! It's just two super attractive people getting it on, and I loved it. I guess what I'm getting at here is, has anyone made a porn of this movie? Well?


Pair This Movie With: I think another western that deals with moral ambiguity would be good, maybe The Searchers.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Treasure Planet (2002)

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

I caught a chunk of this on tv years ago and always meant to revisit it, mostly because I remembered the lady captain being cool. As its name implies, Treasure Planet is a futuristic re-telling of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson novel Treasure Island, following young upstart Jim Hawkins as he unexpectedly receives a map to the fabled title planet, where space pirates long ago stashed all of their loot. His astronomer friend Doctor Doppler commissions a ship for them to travel there, but most of the crew turn out to be vengeful pirates who plan to mutiny and take the treasure they believe is owed to them from past treacheries. Now Jim, Dr Doppler, and the formidable Captain Amelia must fight for their lives on an unfamiliar, booby-trapped planet.

With beautiful, inventive animation and a few cool futuristic twists, Treasure Planet has a lot going for it. Unfortunately, its story is by now too familiar to me, and the writers do little to spice up the narrative. It's also very clearly aimed at kids, resulting in more cheese than I needed, and it's a bit mired in its early-2000s time. It's got montages set to original Johnny Rzeznik songs, for god's sake. I enjoyed the side characters of Dr Doppler (voiced aptly by David Hyde Pierce, meaning I could pretend he was some alternate-future version of his astronomer character from Wet Hot American Summer), and of course, Captain Amelia, who is a badass British ship captain voiced by Emma Thompson. Their parts are often funny and a bit more adult in tone, but most of the film is more juvenile and without the charm one usually expects from a Disney animated movie. I was very into the look and design of everything, especially the gorgeous watercolor backgrounds on Treasure Planet itself, and the fun mash-up designs of all the 19th-century-inspired technology. But pretty visuals and some great side characters don't quite carry the whole movie.


Pair This Movie With: There are several similar movies out there, but I'd say this reminded me the most of Titan, AE, a movie I unabashedly love. And of course the Treasure Island-ness of it all put me in the mood for my most-watched adaptation of that classic, Muppet Treasure Island.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Eating Raoul (1982)

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

Paul (Paul Bartel) and Mary (Mary Woronov) Bland are just a regular, incredibly boring couple. She works as a hospital nutritionist and he sells wine at a liquor store, and together they dream of opening up their own restaurant. They find the perfect location but need to raise money quickly for a down-payment. After accidentally killing a swinger from a party down the hall, they realize they can get cash quickly by luring rich sex fiends to their apartment, killing them, and stealing their money. They form a partnership with professional thief Raoul (Robert Beltran), who takes care of the bodies, but soon a love triangle forms that threatens to complicate the Blands' plans for the future.

I'm not sure what I expected walking into Eating Raoul, maybe something a little more cannibal-y because of the title, but I was fairly entertained by what I saw! I loved Woronov and Bartel together as this super conservative, laughably out of touch couple with separate beds and a seething hatred for swingers. And very little guilt about all this murder. Woronov is the natural standout, harsh and uptight most of the time but then gradually relishing her sexual exploration as she loosens up around Raoul. I loved the Sex Mistress pretext that the Blands use, resulting in many wacky costumes and sex-crazed victims, and the general situation humor is pretty ridiculous. The story is loose and nothing makes much sense, but Bartel keeps everything moving along that you're never given much time to think about it, and soon you've had a super goofy 83 minutes.

With a proclivity for silly sight gags (the continued use of a frying pan as a murder weapon somehow doesn't get old) and satire so over the top it's boiling out of the pot, Eating Raoul is entertaining and memorable but I'll admit it's a little too low-key for me, somehow. I wanted more gore, I guess. It's mostly just light fun with a cool cast (including a small appearance from The Real Don Steele!!!) and lots of swingers. And dead people. And food jokes. And dead people food jokes sometimes.


Pair This Movie With: Maybe it was all the unlikely domestic murder, or the restaurant connection, but for whatever reason I was reminded of I Love You to Death, a strange little film with a surprising cast. I haven't seen it in a while though, I can't remember if it's actually good.


Monday, February 11, 2013

Alex Makes Art #103

I don't remember if I mentioned it, but just FYI I've decided to stop doing art posts on a regularly scheduled basis, and am instead going to share stuff whenever I make it, so I'm not stressed about getting things done by a certain date while I have homework and job hunting to prioritize, you know? I'll keep doing in-progress and other art updates on twitter and facebook (and now, vine!), though, more timely than I'll probably do it here.

Anyway, the other day I really just wanted to draw, like on paper instead of a computer. I started a thing for Carrie that I abandoned but will hopefully come back to later, and launched into a portrait of Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) in Beasts of the Southern Wild. I really wanted to draw big, colorful hair, so that's kind of where the idea originated. But then I spilled ink all over it and decided to just make the whole thing colorful. I think it came out nicely. And the original is for sale!


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Little Shop of Horrors: Director's Cut (1986)

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

So this is the first time I'm re-visiting a film that I've already written about on this blog, but this is an important one to re-write I think. Little Shop of Horrors is one of the first movies I ever wrote about, way back in 2008 (if you don't remember that is expected, if you do I am freaked out that you've been aware of my internet presence for that long?). It's a movie I've found myself watching more and more often in the intervening years, and while I've always liked it, it's grown on me even more. Then for Christmas I got the new blu-ray release, which features the original ending, wherein huge alien plant monsters terrorize urban spaces, and goddamn if that isn't the most exciting thing that's happened to me in a good long while. You see, the stage version is one of my favorite-ever musicals, and I was always disappointed by the cutesy (mostly) happy ending Frank Oz was forced to tack on because test audiences didn't like the actual true-to-the-play destructive ending. So the director's cut is kind of like a completely different movie, and now a good thing can become great.

Little Shop of Horrors follows an adorable schlub with no self-esteem named Seymour Krelbourn (Rick Moranis) as he unexpectedly rises to fame and fortune all thanks to his discovery of a strange and interesting new plant. This little guy is named Audrey II, and it grows after Seymour starts feeding it blood, eventually becoming sentient and sweet-talking the put-upon florist to feed it human bodies. Out of his love for his sexy coworker Audrey (Ellen Greene), Seymour finds a perfect victim in her sadistic, abusive boyfriend (Steve Martin), but soon the killing escalates and our hero realizes he's in way over his head. Maybe he should sing out his problems, I don't know.

This musical features a lot of my favorite things, which is why it's remained a favorite since I first saw it in middle school. I mean, it's got aliens and murder and world domination and songs about dentistry and horticulture and stellar 50's costumes and a nerdy hero. AND THE MUSIC IS AMAZING (by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, so it's no surprise). I have listened to the Broadway revival soundtrack (starring Hunter Foster, hello) maybe more than any other musical soundtrack I own? Which is saying a LOT, believe you me. I used to put too much stock in the stage version and focused on the shortcomings of the movie adaptation, since it's missing some of the best songs and I felt the cast wasn't really strong enough. BOY WAS I WRONG. Honestly Seymour could not be more perfectly cast, since Rick Moranis completely embodies this sweet, doofy nerd who makes the stupidest decisions but I can't help but love. Plus he wears a sweater vest all the time (SWOON). Ellen Greene has excellent comedic timing and her breathy voice is spot-on, plus I know we can all appreciate her truly impressive cleavage. Her singing voice is strong and it's kind of at odds with her speaking voice, but that happens to a lot of people who play these funny-voice roles. Steve Martin is, obviously, a super hunk as the studly-but-sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello, DDS, and his one musical number is an exquisitely-paced/choreographed sequence that I want to act out again and again. And his scene with Bill Murray is fraught with sexual tension in the best way.

The musical numbers are done pretty fucking well considering the lead isn't that strong of a singer and the director had more experience directing dancing Muppets than people. Oz captures the emotional crescendo of "Skid Row (Downtown)", the wistfulness of "Somewhere That's Green", the vicious humor of "Feed Me (Git it)", the tender romance of "Suddenly Seymour", and now, the grand scale of "Final Ultimo (Don't Feed the Plants". The three Greek chorus-type figures, played by Tichina Arnold, Michelle Weeks, and Tisha Campbell-Martin, are fantastic, rockin' some fabulous outfits and generally having a fun time as they dance around the protagonists and revel in their highs and lows. And of course as the voice of Audrey II, Levi Stubbs is gleefully malicious and well-suited to the tunes.

The ending, my GOD the ending. It's this grandiose spectacle of massive mobile plants tearing shit up for like 20 minutes, and it's amazing. I was literally agape, AGAPE I TELL YOU! One of the coolest thing about Little Shop in any of its iterations is always the puppetry involved for Audrey II, and Oz really takes advantage of the film medium for his version. There are a wealth of urban sets/miniatures just destroyed by these maniacally laughing plant monsters, as they're shown breaking through buildings, devouring streetcars, and wreaking havoc in the streets while extras run around wildly. The final shot of Audrey II climbing on top of the Statue of Liberty is just fantastic, and the bursting-through-the-screen gag is a nice touch.


Pair This Movie With: Oh jeez, I kind of always just want to watch it again after viewing... and in the past I've done just that. But if you're not into that idea, I don't know, maybe more Rick Moranis? Spaceballs? Or oooooh, My Blue Heaven for another Moranis/Martin team-up!

PS So I made one of the most important discoveries of my young life while doing an image search for this post. The two songs I've always been bummed weren't fully in the movie are "Ya Never Know" and "The Meek Shall Inherit", which both are included in shortened versions but not to my satisfaction. THEN I found out that a full(er) version of "The Meek Shall Inherit" was filmed but not included on any of the releases, and it's a dream sequence that explicitly references Singin' in the Rain, aka my favorite movie of all time. AND SO ALL WAS PERFECT FOR BUT A FEW MOMENTS. Check it out, dudes.

PPS This is just my self-promotional reminder that I made a poster for this movie that I'm really proud of and it's for sale.


Friday, February 8, 2013

Du bi quan wang da po xue di zi (Master of the Flying Guillotine) (1976)

Seen: At my friend Sam's house, part of her Kung Food Remix series.

So a friend of mine has been hosting "Kung Food Remix" viewing parties that involve kung-fu movies and Chinese food, it's a pretty great idea. Before this we did Drunken Master and Black Belt Jones, then last week for a special birthday edition she showed Master of the Flying Guillotine, which is pretty much as awesome as its name implies. A sequel to writer/director/star Wang Yu's One-Armed Boxer (which I didn't know until later), the film follows the title character (Chin Kang), an elderly blind fighter who skillfully wields an awesome head-chopper weapon, as he seeks vengeance for his two students, killed by a one-armed fighting master and teacher (Wang Yu). Believing that the One-Armed Boxer will be participating in a large martial arts competition, the Master of the Flying Guillotine fucks shit up all over the tournament to get to him, killing several other one-armed men in the process.

While I was a little confused about some of the characters- partly due to my lack of knowledge of the preceding film-, as Master of the Flying Guillotine progressed I kind of got really into it. It's mostly just a series of awesome fights, which is exactly what I wanted, and there's a certain strangeness (at least to my untrained eyes) in the characters that appealed to me. Some of the competitive fighters are East/Southeast Asians played (I believe?) by Chinese actors in makeup, and it was interesting to see how other cultures were represented with wholly unfamiliar stereotypes. I loved the Indian "Yoga Master" with his extendable arms, and the mysterious (and treacherous) Japanese fighter known as "Win-Without-a-Knife". The central conflict is interesting because I didn't know whom to root for- both sides had their own understandable motivations and as fighters they seemed evenly matched. At first I was totally on the side of the man with the guillotine, because he had amazingly long eyebrows as well as a fucking flying guillotine. But then I realized the One-Armed Boxer was probably meant to be the good guy, and I did enjoy his serious and pragmatic character.

There's one lady fighter (Doris Lung) who seemed awesome, whipping dudes' clothes off with her braids (for real), and so I invented a sequel/reboot/remake where she is secretly the Master of the Flying Guillotine and takes everybody by surprise. Get on it, filmmakers.


Pair This Movie With: The international fighting competition made me think of Enter the Dragon, which is fucking rad.


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Forbidden Zone (1982) at 366 Weird Movies

Seen: On dvd on our projector set-up, rented from netflix.

So last semester I wrote a paper on pop culture in museums and used MoMA's Tim Burton exhibit as my focus. Since then I've had a hankering to revisit some of his early films, but also I was encouraged to check out Forbidden Zone, a weird and wacky musical that grew out of the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, which Burton cites as a reference (and of course features his frequent composer, Danny Elfman). While the film is somewhat notorious for its stupid use of blackface- done out of juvenile ignorance, I think, not racist beliefs- it's mostly a strangely compelling, almost completely nonsensical live-action cartoon that pulls from jazz greats like Cab Calloway and Josephine Baker as well as German Expressionism, Betty Boop, and whatever fucked up notions the screenwriters had in their heads. The music is fantastic, it's got Susan Tyrell and Hervé Villechaize, and the visuals are artfully DIY.

I don't know, man, I am not at all condoning the blackface, obviously, but I was able to look past its limited screentime (about a minute total?) due to the fascinating weirdness of the rest of it. And I listened to Richard Elfman on the commentary where he's like "I didn't really think about being offensive, and when people talked about Jewish stereotypes I didn't get it since my actual Jewish grandfather played that role and he basically played himself", and he gave the whole "I grew up in a black neighborhood, I have tons of black friends"-type excuse. I think he just wanted to reference these old-timey cartoons that inspired him and he didn't really understand how it would actually come across. Again: Totally Not Ok, but I think the film is worth it for its music and imagination and great cast.

Head over and read my full review at 366 Weird Movies!


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)

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

I read about this on Snarky's Machine a while ago but it got lost in my netflix queue, a sad tale suffered by so many films. Thank goodness, though, I finally watched The Long Kiss Goodnight, because this movie rules. Waking up alone and two months pregnant on a beach in New Jersey, Samantha Caine (Geena Davis) has no memory of her past but has managed to carve out a life in the past eight years. She's a small-town schoolteacher in Pennsylvania with a nice guy boyfriend and a cute daughter, but little bits of her former self have been resurfacing and she's scared of who she might have been, and who she might become. When an assassin attacks her in her own home, she enlists the aid of private detective Mitch Henessy (Samuel L Jackson) to finally uncover her past, and it turns out it's ACTION-PACKED.

For some reason I had this vibe that maybe this movie wouldn't be very good, that it wouldn't live up to its cool premise. But that was a stupid thing to think, because this movie is pretty fucking awesome. I love Geena Davis in general and she is just excellent in her dual role, sweet and motherly one moment and sharp-tongued and homicidal the next, and then effectively combining these two parts of herself into one person. It's an interesting character and I loved watching her shift and evolve as the film progressed. I also kind wish I had a secret past and suddenly developed awesome fighting skills? Maybe one day. I loved her rapport with Jackson, too, since their witty and often mean repartee is the kind of buddy comedy at which Black excels, just usually not with a female character. And Jackson himself is great, rocking these awesome green duds and cracking wise every few minutes. The story itself took a little while to get going, but I liked that the script really takes time to establish these characters, so that their later actions are seen in context.

Action-wise, I was pretty excited by this movie. I'm anti-gun but damn this is the kind of thing where I totally have action movie fantasies about going Commando on some armored compound and shooting all the bad guys. There's also a crazy bomb threat that involves a huge truck and shooting from a helicopter and lots of fire and also crossing the Canadian border? It's rad. In fact, I think most things about this movie are rad, and I'm not sure why we aren't constantly talking about it? I know it's sort of mired in mid-90s-ness in its visuals and gritty fights, and I know amnesia is like this weird, easy plot device, and it does sort of lose itself towards the end, but I can't help loving it all. Also if you're a Shane Black fan, this is interesting to see a few of his jokes and ideas used differently- I recognized some from Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and I'm now wondering if the joke about everyone surviving at the end is drawn from this movie (originally a major character was supposed to be killed off). Curious.


Pair This Movie With: Hmmm a badass lady assassin? I'm pretty sure Haywire would be the perfect pairing. Alternatively, the overall tone made me think of another Shane Black film, The Last Boy Scout.


Monday, February 4, 2013

The Last Stand (2013)

Seen: At the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square, and we had the theater all to ourselves!

The beginning of the year is usually marked by sub-par action movies that I see anyway because I'm a sucker. But in 2013, thank goodness, we've been treated to at least one solid action flick thanks to a surprisingly great cast and the directing talents of Kim Jee-woon. The Last Stand stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as Ray Owens, a one-time LA narcotics officer who opted to become sheriff of a little town in Arizona when he'd had enough of the action. After formidable South American drug lord Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) escapes FBI custody in Vegas, he and his merciless crew of outlaws plan to ride through Ray's small border town to escape to Mexico. Despite the FBI's (led by Forest Whitaker) idiotic refusal to help Ray out, the sheriff pulls his own team together to stop Cortez from crossing.

I know most people have been ragging on this movie pretty hard, and I'm honestly not sure why. It's like they've all forgotten that Arnold Schwarzenegger is awesome, and Kim Jee-woon is freakishly talented? I mean, The Last Stand isn't perfect but dang is it FUN. There's just enough plot to keep things moving forward, with a range of exciting action sequences from a daring helicopter/car chase to a brutal fistfight of a final showdown. (All the car scenes are almost too cool, I wonder if Kim secretly wants to make a Fast/Furious movie?) It's just self-aware enough to make a couple of "old" jokes but never distracted by it, focusing instead on keeping up the pace and knocking around some fun characters. And hating on the FBI, like, seriously. This movie hates the FBI.

For the first half hour there was an exciting new cast member every few minutes- Luis Guzmán, Peter Stormare, Forest Whitaker, Harry Dean Stanton, Jaimie Alexander, Eduardo Noriega, Sonny Landham. Going into this, I only knew about Schwarzenegger and Johnny Knoxville, so all these friendly faces were a nice surprise. Most of the characters fill a familiar archetype, but everyone does such a great job in their roles that it's not a detriment to the film, and in fact adds to the overall Western-feel. This could have easily been some phone-it-in, stupid action movie with an uneven tone, but in such capable hands everything comes together really well and it's just a swell time. So stop being mean to it! BE NICE TO THE LAST STAND, YOU GUYS.


Pair This Movie With: Well old people action makes me think of Red, and indeed there was a trailer for Red 2 before this movie. Or if you want more Kim Jee-woon (WHICH YOU SHOULD), check out The Good, The Bad, The Weird or I Saw the Devil.