Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Man With the Iron Fists (2012)

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

So it's my understanding that RZA is just a big kung fu nerd, and all he wants is to hang out in East Asia with people doing martial arts, and I think that's pretty cute. The Man With the Iron Fists is his personal tribute to Asian martial arts movies, focusing on a small town where warring gang members are always seeking vengeance for something or other. It becomes known that a traveling envoy carrying treasure for the emperor will be passing through, and suddenly everyone in town has an eye for power. The major players include the ruthless Silver Lion (Byron Mann), conniving brothel owner Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu), mysterious visitor Jack Knife (Russell Crowe), and vengeful Zen Yi, The X-Blade (Rick Yune). Caught between them all is the local weapons maker known as Blacksmith (RZA), who just wants to save up enough money to leave with his lover Lady Silk (Jamie Chung), who works for Madam Blossom. There's, um, lots of fighting.

I recognize that this isn't an especially well thought-out movie, or even well-made, but I can't say it isn't fun. The story is convoluted and most of the acting is either terribly exaggerated or hilariously flat (usually purposefully, I think/hope), and the whole thing is obviously a rather self-indulgent project for RZA to share his love of Asian action films. Luckily, the cast is excellent, and the action is generally very well-done, anddddd I have low standards. I loved the ridiculous characters and weird non sequiturs, especially the totally bizarre end credits sequence. There's an interesting range of weaponry, and lots of attractive people fighting, plus magic for some reason! Like, there's a dude whose body is secretly made of brass (he's called BRASSBODY) and a little bit of Dragonball Z shit thrown in for good measure. I was most taken in by the Geminis, who were either married or brother and sister (who cares?). Their fight scene is fucking extreme, and that's the point where the movie won my favor. I mean, seriously, these two like merge to create an ultimate fighting machine and they kill a hundred bad guys and it's the most badass thing! And also later Lucy Liu and her ladies all become slinky poison warriors and it's a nice payoff for their otherwise passive presence in the film.

I didn't like Russell Crowe at all, his character didn't make any sense plus his fight scenes were boring, but he's not a particularly major figure since it's really more balanced ensemble piece. And at least his knife/gun contraption is kind of cool. RZA isn't too charismatic but he doesn't give himself many lines, and when he gets the titular iron fists (spoiler?) he manages to get in some good action bits even though it's clear he's not a trained fighter. If anything, I could tell he was having a blast making this movie and it was endearing. As a partially self-aware, partially genuine throwback to martial arts movies of the 70s, it mostly works, though it's necessary to not think too much about it to truly enjoy it. What it lacks in writing and performances it somewhat makes up for in enthusiasm, anyway.

Oh and the soundtrack is great, obviously!

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: The styling of the gangs and the referential elements reminded me of Sukiyaki Western Django, and the over-the-top violence and imaginative weaponry put me in mind of Yakuza Weapon. You'd have a fun, bloody triple feature with those!

Read more...

Thursday, March 28, 2013

eXistenZ (1999)

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

In a strange and illogical future, video games are kind of a big deal, and Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a revered game designer working for one of the two top gaming companies. Her latest game, eXistenZ, is being tested by a panel of fans, but a group of assassins bound in the fight against virtual reality attacks the demonstration and Allegra finds herself running for her life with only a marketing lackey named Ted Pikul (Jude Law) to help her. She fears the attackers have sabotaged her game, and convinces Ted (a total n00b) to play it with her to determine if it's been compromised. But everything is kind of confusing, and various levels of reality begin to surface.

So reading the premise of this movie really didn't prepare me for what it actually is, and that was mostly ok because it turned out to be more Cronenbergian than I had anticipated. Even though on paper it sounds sort of cyber-punky and sci-fi-thrillery, it's still in keeping with his more characteristic works. One thing I kind of love about Cronenberg is how he's always super weird about sex and how that ties into his body horror, and eXistenZ unexpectedly touches on this with its super sexualized game technology and obvious sexual parallels within gameplay. He also seeks to comment on our changing perception of reality and the problematic social interactions encouraged by virtual technology. These concepts are all interesting, especially when fit into a bendy thriller from a highly imaginative filmmaker, BUT unfortunately it doesn't quite come together. Cronenberg is out of his element when it comes to video games so a lot of the film just comes off as pointlessly nonsensical- the story is all over the place and the resolution is overly convenient in explaining certain inconsistencies while totally glossing over others.

Uneven as it is, eXistenZ does have some good ideas. The effects and tech design are weird and gross, just what you want from Cronenberg, and I did enjoy the premise of a world obsessed with virtual reality. Also I have to point out how exciting it is that the lead character in a sci-fi movie is a female game designer. I mean, that's just atypically cool! I liked Jennifer Jason Leigh in the role, she's kind of off-putting and obsessive but also sexy, and while I was frustrated that she was wearing stilettos while running around in a video game, I realized she's pretty short and it might have been to keep her in frame with Jude Law. Also to be fair the video game they play is not actually that action-y. It's more about hanging out and sometimes shooting people. ANYWAY this movie is made up of strange and interesting parts but is not exactly a functional whole.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: eXistenZ is basically a video game version of the far-superior Videodrome, so they would definitely work together as an exploration of certain themes (obsession with technology, sexual/bodily connections with technology, weird brainwashing, etc).

Read more...

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Alex Makes Art #106

Hello, friends, I'm getting into final paper-writing time, so be aware updating will be even spottier than it already has been. For today I have some art to share with you! First up is a new movie band gig poster that someone suggested I do a while ago but I forget who it was (sorry, person!). After watching The Fifth Element at the end of the Sci-Fi Marathon I was reminded of it, so I got to work on a Diva Plavalaguna gig poster, and I like how it came out. I wanted something a little trippy, though it's less abstract than I had initially envisioned. Click ahead to see! And it's for sale on etsy.


I also have a commission from last week, which was my first project for Custom Made. I joined their site recently and am hoping to get more commissions from their community. This one was pretty silly, but I like the way it came out and the customer was really happy with it!

Read more...

Monday, March 25, 2013

Seconds (1966)

Seen: On our projector set-up, rented from the Tufts library.

So I read Andreas's post on Seconds over at Movie Mezzanine and was instantly curious. A psychological sci-fi thriller from the 60's starring Rock Hudson and directed by John Frankenheimer? I believe "intriguing" was the first word that came to mind! The story begins with sweaty, middle-aged bank employee Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph), who on the recommendation of a friend he thought dead finds himself in the offices of the shadowy "Company" offering to release him from his humdrum life. You see, he's got a grown daughter who's happily married, a well-paying job, and a friendly wife who doesn't sleep with him anymore, so OBVIOUSLY his life is pretty shitty and he needs a new one. Which is just what this business offers: new face, new name, new house, new profession, and hopefully a new outlook. Arthur wakes up as Rock Hudson and tries to cut it as a painter in California, but finds himself completely unraveling after a few months of identity crisis.

Rife with uncomfortable close-ups and fish-eye effects, the camerawork aptly conveys an alienating and unsettling feeling throughout the whole of Seconds, transforming suburban domestic spaces and innocuous men in business suits into unfamiliar monsters. It's a dark tale with almost no likable characters (except the "Old Man" played by Will Geer, whom I kind of adored), and it's clear early on that there can be no happy resolution. The focus is more on the journey, the realizations of the main character that his old life was worth more than he thought, and that his rash decision with the Company comes with harsh consequences. This isn't a story about a man's road to transformation, but rather about a man coming to terms with change he thought he wanted, but can't actually cope with. It's billed as a horror movie and I guess its concepts and trippy visuals could make that an appropriate designation, I just found it more of a twisted character study of the privileged white "Everyman" going through a warped mid-life crisis.

Seconds is strange and fascinating, complete with an unexpected surrealistic drug sequence and strong performance from Rock Hudson (oddly enough this is the first movie I've seen him in). It's eye-catching and imaginative without being sensationalistic, and works as both a criticism of and compassionate insight into the type of man it takes as its focus. Really it's like an extended Twilight Zone episode, which is cool. It's the kind of movie I'm surprised I hadn't heard of before, as it seems easy enough to fit it in with other great forward-thinking psychological thrillers of any decade. It's the kind of movie I'm surprised hasn't been remade yet, but now that I've said it I'm sure it'll happen.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Thematically it reminded me of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which I haven't seen in quite a while I'm realizing. Alternatively, some of the visuals and general feelings of anxiety and confusion made me think of Brazil.

Read more...

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Anna Christie (1930)

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

So a few weeks ago I finished Frances Marion's terrific memoir Off With Their Heads: A Serio-Comic Tale of Hollywood. This informative and funny book is sadly out of print, but I recommend anyone who's interested in early Hollywood history and/or in women filmmakers to try and track it down (I found a copy in my university's library). Her many anecdotes about silent film stars reminded how many films from the 1910s-30s I still hadn't seen, and I was motivated to finally sit down and watch a Greta Garbo movie. The Swedish actress's first talkie, Anna Christie was also written for the screen by Marion so it fit my needs perfectly. It focuses on the titular Anna, an unhappy young woman who reunites with her father (George F Marion) after a long separation. A sea captain, he left her in the charge of farmer relations believing that they would give her a better life than he could, but she resents his abandonment. He takes her along on a voyage to reconcile, where she meets a rough-and-tumble sailor (Charles Bickford) and tries not to fall in love with him.

Filmed with a static camera and drawn-out, dialogue-heavy scenes, Anna Christie remains play-like in its style, which allows the cast to relish the script's colorful language. Garbo is passionate and compelling, expressive in her whole body the way a silent star should be but not so exaggerated that it's reduced to comedy. And of course, she's also gorgeous. And stylish! I was digging her high-waisted pencil skirts paired with thick sweaters. Very fancy. Though this is very much Garbo's film, supporter Marie Dressler almost steals the show in her few scenes, swaying and slurring like an expert fake-drunk and combining humor and pathos in a sad but weirdly dignified character. Marion wrote a lot about Dressler since they were good friends, and it was great to see her perform after reading about her.

While the performances are strong and the script is interesting enough, I didn't love the story. It's paced strangely with this really long opening and then halfway through a love story is suddenly inserted and rushed onward. I liked the theme of a father and daughter reconciling after their estrangement, and felt the romantic subplot wasn't necessary, though it did encourage Anna to reveal her mysterious secret at the end. Her final big monologue at the climax is pretty great, and deals with perceptions of women in a surprisingly open way (though still is pretty anti-sex workers). I just didn't like the actual ending, the resolution. I either expected a super depressing but realistic ending about how much all men sucked (Anna has maaaad misandry in this movie) or maybe something of her starting a completely new life separate from those who bring her pain. But instead (spoiler alert) she ends up a giddy housewife. Eh. Just too easy.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Mmm I don't know, haven't thought of too many other boat-heavy dramas that might go well with this. Or maybe another Garbo film?

Read more...

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

All of Me (1984)

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

I'm still working my way through Steve Martin movies over here, you know how it is. This one enticed me for its co-star, Lily Tomlin, whom I've always enjoyed when I've seen her but I'm not actually too familiar with her larger roles. (Incidentally I did devour her wikipedia page after watching this and newsflash she is completely cool and also ALMOST has an EGOT!) All of Me is the kind of magical realism-infused romantic comedy that I've come to expect from Martin, and it's pretty dang adorable. Martin plays Roger Cobb, a lawyer who dreams of trying big cases but is stuck helping the curmudgeonly Edwina Cutwater (Tomlin), an extremely wealthy invalid, manage her will. At the time of her impending death she plans to place her spirit in the willing and able-bodied young woman Terry (Victoria Tennant), with the help of a Tibetan mystic. But the process sees a few hiccups and Edwina finds herself sharing Roger's body, much to the chagrin of both parties.

It's a loopy premise, obviously, and one that combines Martin's penchant for exaggerated physical gags with a script that's equal parts silly and witty. I loved Tomlin's snooty Edwina, and while her role is limited in that she's a ghost trapped in Steve Martin's body most of the time, she gets in some great disembodied dialogue and I liked the mirror trick that is used to show the two conversing. Martin continually cracked me up as he physically conveyed Roger's strange experience of half-possession, splitting his body in half with stereotypically masculine and feminine movements. When Edwina desperately takes over his body completely during a courtroom scene I was laughing so hard I had to catch my breath, it's just so outrageously goofy.

While there are things about it I loved- namely, whatever happens when Lily Tomlin and Steve Martin are together- All of Me suffers from some problems that keep me from wholly loving it. I think the premise is interesting, but the actual plot is too dumb/simplistic to really be compelling. All the stuff involving Victoria Tennant's character is just kind of stupid, and I feel like the same elements could have been handled differently in a better script. Also there is mad ethnocentrism in the representation of Prahka Lasa (played by Richard Libertini), whose childlike "foreignness" is played for cheap laughs. Aaaaand I wanted more of Tomlin and Martin onscreen together! It's too bad they haven't made 100 movies with each other.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Well Steve Martin falling in love with a disembodied woman is of course reminiscent of The Man With Two Brains.

Read more...

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare (1987)

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

Ok I have to preface this with saying that I did NOT know what I was in for with Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare, and it turned out that was a very good thing. So if you don't want to know anything else, just be aware that this movie starts off as a seemingly cliche cheesy horror movie but then it has this magical ending. MAGICAL. The story is generally concerned with rockers Triton and their supportive ladies/wives, who all take refuge in a remote Canadian farmhouse to record their next album. But uh oh, turns out the house is haunted by a variety of demons, who can take the form of their victims and seem to be as hungry as they are sexually frustrated. Will the band make it through the recording session?

Starting off as a laughably stereotypical slasher movie, what the film lacks in acting, pacing, and dialogue it makes up for tremendously with gratuitous sex scenes and bodacious hair metal. At various intervals little demons pop up and wreak havoc, and it's kind of hilarious and kind of super gross at the same time, and I actually really appreciated the creature effects just because I generally dig prosthetics and puppetry over CGI. Screenwriter/star Jon Mikl Thor (a bodybuilder turned rock star turned actor/producer turned jack-of-all-trades) leads a gang of big-haired, fun-loving ditzes who just want to hang out and have sex and rock on, with some couples happily married and another just forming a surprisingly cute romance. The script is light, throwing in some pro-Canada commentary and some goofy jokes and Terminator references, until there's this wacky curveball towards the end. Like, seriously, I did NOT see that coming. I know saying there's a twist ending is a spoiler in itself but well I can't help but comment on it. Because it's FUCKING AWESOME. The ending of this movie is crazy enough to completely redeem the so-so first two-thirds of the film, both blowing the preceding events out of the water and somewhat explaining their vibe.

I don't have much more to say except that Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare is everything I thought it would be and more, and even though I started to get a bit bored halfway through it was all worth it!

4/5

Pair This Movie With: A few films sprang to mind with this one. The 80s cheese and rock band protagonists made me think of Miami Connection, while the creature effects and horror/comedy elements had me thinking of Evil Dead. BUT really I think the best pairing might be The Cabin in the Woods because they both deal unexpectedly with horror stereotypes.

Read more...

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Stoker (2013)

Seen: At the Kendall Square Landmark Cinema in Cambridge.

This has been among my most-anticipated for 2013, because, well, I love Park Chan-wook (OBVIOUSLY) and I was curious to see how he'd work within the Hollywood system for the first time. Stoker is a grave, sensationalist tale about a quiet high school genius named India (Mia Wasikowska), who must tread carefully after her father passes away. Following the funeral, her estranged Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) immediately moves in with them and begins seducing her more-than-willing mother (Nicole Kidman). India observes her uncle cautiously, and realizes there is more to him than he has revealed. She becomes equally distrustful of and infatuated with him, and it becomes clear the two are connected by something more than just blood.

Gradually paced and masterfully shot, Stoker proves that Park's talents certainly translate outside of South Korea. Every frame is thoughtful and precise, every detail is assuredly placed to intrigue or unsettle. The story is interesting and a bit pulpy, which I loved, riddled with incestuous and homicidal threads and unabashedly incorporating consistent sexual undertones. I could generally see where the plot was going, so the mystery elements were slightly weak, but for me it wasn't about the mystery, it was more about the characters' complex relationships that shifted and transformed as the film progressed. While I understood how most of the events would play out, I wasn't sure how certain characters would react to one another, and that's how the film remained so compelling throughout.

The performances are so, so good, especially Goode and Wasikowska. Especially Wasikowska, my god. Goode eases his way through creepy as fuck facial expressions heightened by intense stares, but she just NAILS it. I like her in general (remember how much I adored Jane Eyre?) but I've never seen her in a role so dark and sensuous, and it really worked. She is tense, continually poised to strike, and indeed there are a few times when she does. And it's amazing. Her character blends sympathy and sociopathy and Wasikowska's hardened looks and body language convey everything we need to know, while also effectively capturing the hormonal confusion and sexual fascination that is often central to teenage development. And I loved her style! (Kidman is good, too, but her role isn't that big so I don't have much to say about it.)

Park Chan-wook: I LOVE YOU. LET'S HANG OUT. I PROMISE I WON'T MAKE IT WEIRD. THEN AGAIN MAYBE YOU LIKE WEIRD.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: The whole "evil uncle hanging out with his niece" thing had me thinking about Shadow of a Doubt, which I think would pair well.


Read more...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

John Dies at the End (2013) at 366 Weird Movies

Seen: At the Kendall Square Landmark Cinema in Cambridge.

So this was my birthday movie, which was kind of exciting since I like weird movies and John Dies at the End is definitely weird. Appropriately, I wrote about it for 366 Weird Movies! Know that I haven't read the webserial/book, and that I found the movie as a whole pretty uneven and a little lackluster towards the end, but that I definitely think it's bizarre and imaginative enough for their list of weird movies. The most interesting thing to me about this movie is that it had several unexpected connections to Buckaroo Banzai, which is not something I can say about too many movies. But seriously, they both have inter-dimensional beings who are also Jamaican, gross slug creatures, stories that don't make any goddamn sense, and Clancy Brown! Whoa!

Anyway, check out my full review, half-written sleepily on a morning train ride, half-written on a couch in my parents' house.

Read more...

Friday, March 8, 2013

Alex Makes Art #105

Oh yeah, art stuff. I've been doing it but I haven't been blogging about it, oops! So. Here are a few projects I've worked on lately.

First is something I meant to post ages ago but kept forgetting, it's a promotional poster for the short film screening series Shorts That Are Not Pants, which sadly I won't get to go to since it's in Toronto but I did enjoy making the poster. It's sort of a pictogram, I guess, but... with disco? Yes. This is a slightly different version than the one James is using since I've just been fiddling around with the text. I was thinking of getting a few printed if anyone was interested in buying one? I wasn't sure if that would be a thing. Let me know!


Next we have new Parks and Recreation character portraits, re-vamped from that hand-drawn postcard series I did a while ago. This set of 5 small digital prints is available for sale.


Finally, just a little news item that I've recently started interning at an awesome gallery in Jamaica Plain, and I'll be submitting work there when I can. This month I have a piece in their "Grayscale" exhibit, and it was really exciting to see my art on a gallery wall for the first time!


Read more...

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Castle (1997)

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

The other night my boyfriend was in one of those moods where he wanted to watch something, but had no idea what, and everything we found in our to-watch pile or on netflix instant just didn't fit. Luckily he'd been recommended The Castle and it seemed like a light enough pick. The story centers on the Kerrigan family, a lovable bunch who live in a cheap but highly personalized house adjacent to the Melbourne airport, where patriarch Darryl (Michael Caton) takes pride in home-improvement projects and matriarch Sal (Anne Tenney)takes pleasure in amateur arts and crafts. Their children are grown but their two younger sons still live when them; their only daughter has recently married and their eldest son is in prison but set to be released in a few years. They don't have a ton of money but they get along well enough, and take genuine pleasure in each other's company. What a great family! When the airport wants to expand onto their land, Darryl takes it upon himself to defend their home in court.

I don't have too much to say about this one, except that it's very sweet and funny in a sort of simple way. I loved this adorable, loving family who are goofy and somewhat exaggerated but still relatable and likable. The humor is silly and at times a little dumb, relying on repetitive gags and dopey narration from Stephen Curry, playing the youngest son. The story itself is light but the script is engaging, and everything moves along at a decent pace to nicely fill out 85 minutes of screen time. The film as a whole is a good blend of quirky comedy and heartwarming family portrait, without dwelling on sappy commentary. There's even a bit of courtroom drama thrown in, and everyone wears hilarious wigs. Also, a weird thing that I didn't expect: This is Eric Bana's film debut (after he was known mainly for tv sketch comedy), and since I've only seen him in more recent films it's weird to see him all baby-faced.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Ummm I don't know, really. I haven't seen too many Australian comedies, though I'm a big fan of Danny Deckchair.

Read more...

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Orlacs Hände (The Hands of Orlac) (1924)

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

The Hands of Orlac was originally supposed to play during the Thon, but the print didn't make it (or something?) so I didn't get to see it. Which was fine, actually, because its intended 4AM time slot would not have worked given its length and slow pacing. Adapted from the novel by Maurice Renard, the film details the experiences of renowned concert pianist Orlac (Conrad Veidt) after he's injured in a massive train accident. His wife Yvonne (Alexandra Sorina) begs the doctor to save his hands above all else, and so an experimental surgery is performed that replaces Orlac's hands with those of a recently-hanged convicted murderer. Haunted by the origin of his new hands, he becomes convinced that they're turning him into a criminal.

I'll admit I expected something more sensationalist given the premise of this movie. I thought it would be all bug-eyed murdering and wacky visions but actually it's mostly a depressing drama about a guy who's going insane and the wife who has to deal with it. The story moves slowly, gradually revealing Orlac's horrific realization about the supposed power of his hands and the desires they might instill in him. He's haunted by strange dreams and the ghost of the convict, and feels his own hands are so alien that he won't even touch his beloved Yvonne. He worries that this paranormal presence is causing him to change, and to possibly commit criminal acts in his sleep. He spends so much time brooding and staring manically at his hands that his household goes bankrupt, and Yvonne is the only person man enough to handle things. And then towards the end it turns into this unexpected mystery thing.

Maybe if my expectations had been different I wouldn't have been a little disappointed with The Hands of Orlac. It's just... slow, really, which is fine, but not what I was feeling, I guess. I did come out liking it, just not as much as I wanted to. I enjoyed the performances of Veidt and Sorina, who have scintillating sexual chemistry, as well as the devious turn from Fritz Kortner. There's a good twist at the end and a surprisingly strong emotional drive throughout, and generally the tale is interesting even it's much more subdued that I had anticipated. I really liked the score as well, with its thumping piano and shrill strings, though I can't say if it's the original (I watched the version on netflix instant).

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Well the Robert Wiene/Conrad Veidt connection had me wanting to revisit The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, so that can be your German Expressionist double feature for the day.

Read more...

Sunday, March 3, 2013

WALL-E (2008)

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

Gathered together at our house with some friends after the Holy Motors screening/Leos Carax talk we wanted to get into sold out (I WILL see Holy Motors soon, I promise!), it seemed like a nice idea to dig into a familiar favorite. One of Pixar's finest, WALL-E looks towards Earth's bleak future, with humans escaping the environmental destruction and trash build-up by taking a space pleasure cruise, sponsored by globally dominant super-store Buy N Large. The corporation leaves behind a legion of robots programmed to clean up the planet so it will be habitable again, but after centuries have passed only one is still functioning. This "WALL-E" is adorable and idiosyncratic, developing a sweet, romantic personality with hoarder tendencies during his many years alone. When a robot scout called EVE lands near him, he falls in little robot love. But EVE is there on a mission, and upon finding a small plant in WALL-E's collection she is automatically shipped back to the human cruise ship, with WALL-E tagging along. The discovery of plant life on Earth means the planet is habitable again (well, barely) so the long-adrift human population can return.

Pretty much everything about this film is great, and the fact that it somehow blends ominous dystopian portent with kid-friend comedy makes it a true marvel. Though steeped in satire and exaggeration, this future feels incredibly realistic because its developments seem so likely- a Walmart-esque chain taking over the world, an Earth so polluted it's completely untenable, a society so addicted to its glowing screens that little physical human interaction takes place anymore. It's not all gloom and doom of course, but I remember when I first saw it I was honestly a little chilled by some of the ideas presented, especially the apocalyptic videos featuring Fred Willard as the Buy N Large president, relaying centuries-old evidence of an inhabitable planet and the hubris that let it get that far, and the lack of any real plan for the human population aside from shipping them off on a completely automated deep-space pleasure cruise. This film isn't so much about environmentalism, it's really more anti-corporate greed and anti-consumerism.

What keeps everything grounded is the central character of WALL-E, who is just the best. Pixar draws from their ever-maturing stock of dialogue-free shorts to imbue speech-free characters with charm, sympathy, and personality. The first 30 or so minutes of this movie are perfection as our protagonist plays with trash and hangs out with his cockroach buddy and EVE. It's also visually the most impressive part, I think, because I adore how the robots and the metallic structures are handled, it's just beautifully solid and grungy and detailed. The space parts are gorgeous as well, of course. When they get to the ship, it's a whole other world rife with gleaming white surfaces and pudgy floating humans and efficient robot servants, and it's both lovely and terrifying. I love that WALL-E basically rolls around making everyone he meets either his new best friend or his deadly enemy, and it's both hilarious and thrilling.

Obviously my favorite thing about the whole movie, though, is the end credits sequence that visually mimics developments in Western art history up through Post-Impressionism. Art history, you guys!

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Well I know it's not a great movie but at times this had us thinking of Idiocracy, because that's one of the most believable dystopian futures ever put on film. Or there's always Hello, Dolly! if you're like me and always get "Put on Your Sunday Clothes" caught in your head after watching WALL-E.

Read more...

Friday, March 1, 2013

Sisters (1973)

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

Aw dang you guys, I am totally riding the De Palma train, like all the way to DePalmaville, which is I assume some sort of gritty utopia where Bill Finley is enjoying the afterlife and every major moment plays out in split screen. After Phantom of the Paradise and Carrie, I wanted more 70s De Palma, and Sisters pretty much met all of my wants, no... needs. Margot Kidder stars as Danielle, a French-Canadian model whose date with the handsome Philip turns sour when her deranged twin sister arrives and murders him. The event is witnessed by Grace (Jennifer Salt), a journalist neighbor who dedicates herself to finding out the truth behind the strange situation after Danielle and her creepy ex-husband Emil (William Finley) cover it up sufficiently to fool the police.

Aw man, AW MAN. I'm such a sucker for weird pulpy mysteries involving secret pasts and/or personalities, I don't know what it is. I like stories that go in unexpected directions, that dwell within the seedier edge of things. Sisters is exactly that type of film, but elevates itself from that sort of low-brow foundation through its strong cast, emotional score, and dynamic visual techniques. I loved watching this strange tale unfold through a series of half-ambiguous, half-expository conversations and tightly-controlled interior shots. Margot Kidder is great in this confused dual role, with a beautifully innocent face that made me completely unsure of her motivations or capabilities. Jennifer Salt's Grace Collier was of course my favorite character, as her outspoken journalist blatantly accuses Staten Island's racist, unthinking cops and fearlessly snoops around herself, ultimately stumbling upon a wholly unexpected situation. Bill Finley was nigh-unrecognizable to me (having only seen him in Phantom) as the super intense and skeevy Emil, but he's sooooo good once you realize his importance to the story. He's somehow both sinister and kind of sympathetic, and his climactic scene is brilliant.

I know it's kind of exploitative in its subject matter but I can't say that bothered me too much, because everything felt so removed from reality. I loved the almost extreme presence of the camera, punching up the grungy aesthetic. I am completely enamored of De Palma's split screen, and here it's used to great effect as both the discovery and the cleaning up of a murder take place simultaneously. It's gorgeous stuff, really. Honestly this is the kind of movie I've wanted when I've tried out Dario Argento- all hyper-stylization and bright red blood and 70s fashion and eeriness. Sisters is slick and dark and weird and I LOVED IT OK.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: I feel like this movie is a spiritual prequel to Cronenberg's Dead Ringers, which would be a great double feature. There are also some parallels to A Tale of Two Sisters, if you want a more straight-up horror pairing.

Read more...