Sunday, June 30, 2013

Frances Ha (2013)

Seen: At the Kendall Square Landmark Cinema in Cambridge.

I've seen most of his films, but I've never really warmed up to Noah Baumbach. I think he's a great writer with the ability to tap into some ugly emotional drama and humor, but his films and characters are always so mean, I just can't fully get into them. I was excited for his second team-up with Greta Gerwig, since she was the best part of Greenberg, and I'd heard it had lady friendships (!), so Frances Ha was a must-see. Gerwig stars as a 27-year-old dancer who's struggling in relationships and career choices but finds comfort in her close friendship with roommate Sophie (Mickey Sumner). When Sophie moves out and starts seriously dating a guy Frances doesn't like, our star finds herself moving through various living situations and job fluctuations, trying to make sense of her life as an educated but unemployable and "undateable" woman who finds she's lost her most reliable constant.

Ok I haven't seen any of her mumblecore movies but I'm definitely developing a crush on Greta Gerwig, who is incapable of being unlikable I think. This works greatly in her favor for a Baumbach movie, since she manages to avoid most of the despicable, uncomfortable character tropes of his films. Frances Ha is funny, tragic, and utterly relatable thanks to its hapless but adorable protagonist and her realistic but slightly kooky struggles. I mean, I'm an over-educated, unemployable young woman myself with nowhere to really go in life, so I was totally feeling everything Frances went through. And though it is following her personal experiences completely, one of the main focal points is her friendship with Sophie, which informs some of her decisions and conversation, and I of course loved that theme. They are super cute together and they have goofy conversations.

There are moments of discomfort and unease, particularly at a fancy dinner party that launches Frances into an ill-conceived trip to Paris, but these moments are integral both to our understanding of the character and her development as a person. The script is a little episodic, scenes in the life of a wandering twentysomething, but the overall story of self-actualization is cohesive. I dug the dialogue, which carried itself with a believable hipstery air but was never so self-satisfied as to annoy me. Self-absorbed voice of a generation? Basically. But never is Frances Ha as self-loathing as Baumbach's other features, and I came out with a grin on my face and a teeny bit of hope for the future. Which is definitely saying something. Plus the black and white was nice- gave it a bit of a more personal feel somehow.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Hmm I'm not too sure, I feel like Kamikaze Girls might be a fun juxtaposition with its over-saturation of color and weirdness, while keeping with a theme of young ladies figuring out their lives and being best friends.

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Friday, June 28, 2013

Alex Makes Art #109

Ahh both movie blogging and art-making have fallen off lately, haven't they? Jeez, how embarrassing. I was traveling for the past week so I haven't actually watched too many movies lately, since I was busy doing real world things like visiting museums and eating lots of dinners with friends! And I've slowed down with art things mainly because I have less free time when combining my temp job and internship and thesis research all happening right now. Oh well. Anyway here are a few art things I've done lately.

One of my cousins moved into his first apartment a few months ago, and my mom commissioned me to make some art for his walls. He digs Star Trek and said his two favorite characters were Scotty and Picard, so I did two matching portraits for him to hang as a pair. I don't really know much about Star Trek so it took a decent amount of wikipedia-ing to learn about uniforms and ship design, but I think they both came out really well! They are for sale independently on etsy.


And as I've been interning for UFORGE Gallery I've been encouraged to branch out with my art-making a bit to submit to their themed exhibitions (I'm also writing for their blog, if cool art stuff interests you). The June show is "Contemporary" themed so I did a self-portrait inspired by one of my favorite contemporary artists, Yayoi Kusama. She's pretty into polka dots, and she often dons a pink wig for public appearances. She is the best. Anyway, here's my piece on view in the gallery.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Much Ado About Nothing (2013)

Seen: At the AMC/Loew's at Boston Common, for a free preview screening.

I'm way behind on blogging because I've been visiting friends in Seattle, sorry dudes. But anyway I saw Much Ado About Nothing a little while ago. Joss Whedon's adaptation of Shakespeare's comedic battle of the sexes moves the action to a current-day mansion (in fact the director's own house) but maintains most of the same dialogue. The story concerns a get together of rich people who play at mistaken identities, nascent romance, classist snobbery, faked deaths, and general tomfoolery during a big house party. Beatrice (Amy Acker) and Benedick (Alexis Denisof) have been matching wits for years but never considered a romantic relationship until their friends and family conspire to trick them into dating. Meanwhile young Claudio boyishly romances Beatrice's cousin Hero (Jillian Morgese) but their love is threatened by the machinations of the evil Don John (Sean Maher). Comedy BUT ALSO DRAMA ensues.

I've never been a big Shakespeare person- I've seen a few play and film adaptations and read a few of the major ones in high school, but I wouldn't consider myself a fan. But I knew that the killer cast Whedon had assembled in his house during his vacation to make a movie just for fun would give me plenty of reasons to check out his version of Much Ado About Nothing. Though it took me a few minutes to get the old-timey vocabulary and iambic pentameter in my ear, I easily fell into the swing of things as the action got underway. It's funny and well-paced, combining timeless witty banter with hilarious and up-to-date visual gags. The production is understated, but Whedon makes good use of the resources at his disposal, taking advantage of his house's nooks and crannies and beautiful backyard, and throwing in some cool tunes and cute costumes. The use of black and white gave it a slightly DIY feel to me, which I liked, since that added to the intimacy of the presentation.

Of course we're all here for the cast, and I totally get that, because the cast is GREAT. I'm so happy Whedon has finally found a great leading role for Amy Acker, since she's fantastic but rarely a star. She has a lot of funny physical moments and shines with energy. Alexis Denisof is also excellent but I felt not quite as comfortable as Acker with the dialogue (he does get the funniest scene though). While Fran Kranz, Sean Maher, Riki Lindhome (a nice gender-bent Conrade), and company are great, the standout co-stars are definitely Clark Gregg, who is utterly adorable, and Nathan Fillion, whose well-meaning, doofusy Dogberry is probably the most entertaining character. The script is fairly true to the original (I'm led to understand) but Whedon throws in some lady-positive nods while maintaining the balance of super-silly and melodramatic elements. Overall it's just a pleasant, enjoyable film, hurray!

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: I don't know you guys, more Shakespeare? I'm so uninformed on these things. Or I kinda felt like revisiting The Cabin in the Woods for some of the actors/Whedonness.

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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Battletruck (1982)

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

Originally known as Warlords of the 21st Century, Battletruck is one of those dime-a-dozen sci-fi b-movies with gruff leading men, violent dystopian settings, and misleading poster art. It follows a group of militaristic assholes who parade around in their titular "battletruck", stealing all the oil they can find and generally terrorizing people they come across. You see, it's the future, and there's no centralized government and no oil or resources and everything is a barren wasteland. The mysterious Corlie (Annie McEnroe) escapes from the battletruck battalion and falls in with a hippie-dippie commune. But when the villains come looking for her, she turns to lone wolf biker Hunter (Michael Beck) for help fighting back. And also for some lovin'.

So we thought this was gonna be all about battletrucks battling it out in the future or whatever, but it turns out there's only one battletruck, and it doesn't really get to do much. Mostly it's about this kinda helpless lady who wanders around New Zealand and gets to sex up Michael Beck, and then there's a battletruck sometimes. And John Ratzenberger plays a nerd. There are some pretty neat action sequences and chases, and some believable post-apocalyptic visuals (great use is made of rural New Zealand's open spaces with impressive helicopter shots). It's not a bad vision of the future, since everything is realistically shitty, and I dug the seemingly unstoppable villains and their lumbering battletruck. But really it's just ok, not a terrible film but not especially memorable. Michael Beck is not onscreen often enough and he was the main reason I wanted to see it.

Not much else to say, oh well.

2.5/5

Pair This Movie With: It definitely had a Mad Max-ian vibe, but then the first Mad Max is kinda boring, so maybe go with The Road Warrior. Alternatively, all the motorcycle stuff had me thinking about MegaForce.

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Monday, June 17, 2013

Casual Sex? (1988)

Seen: On my laptop, streamed from netflix instant.

So Casual Sex? has been gaping out at me from netflix instant's comedy and romance sections for a while, and I finally broke down and gave it a try. At first I wasn't too optimistic about an 80s romantic comedy that was all about ladies and sex, but then I saw it was written and directed by women and starred Lea Thompson and Victoria Jackson, and my curiosity won out. And boy am I glad it did, because this movie actually rules! It focuses on long-time best friends Stacy (Thompson) and Melissa (Jackson), who have had very different relationship experiences. Stacy has been dating regularly since high school, considering herself sexually adventurous and experienced, but the arrival of the AIDS epidemic has her so worried about contracting an STD that she can't help but become celibate out of fear. Melissa, on the other hand, has developed her own anxieties about sex over the years and has been with just two men, and never experienced an orgasm during. Wanting to meet good guys but paranoid about disease, Stacy whisks them away to a health resort where she hopes they'll both find lovers who are health-conscious and not assholes. Humorous romantic escapades ensue.

Taking a casual storytelling approach, with Stacy and Melissa laying out the major exposition in the beginning and then continually talking to the audience as the narrative plays out, Casual Sex? is a funny, frank, and just wonderfully surprising comedy. Its focus on heterosexual sex and romance makes it a little narrow in its direction, but I found myself loving the open discussions about female sexuality and sexual experiences, as well as the honest portrayal of these two women and their strong friendship. Though finding boyfriends may be their ultimate goal (and the film's predictable ultimate resolution), their friendship is the most important constant, and indeed at one point Stacy is ready to immediately forsake her own romantic entanglement to help out Melissa. Good priorities! Jackson and Thompson have an easygoing dynamic defined by relaxed and funny dialogue and disparate personalities that nevertheless understood each other. They are joined by some funny dudes, too, with very silly performances from Andrew Dice Clay and Stephen Shellen, but I was most won over by the freaking adorable Jerry Levine. HE IS SO CUTE YOU GUYS.

The script is funny though not uproarious, and generally the tone is light and a little campy. It's mostly the sex-positivity and well-rounded portrayal of women that won me over, since I rarely expect those things in frivolous romantic comedies. I loved that Stacy is never, ever judged or shamed for her sexually active lifestyle and frequent change of partners, nor is Melissa shown as lacking because she's inexperienced. They both do their own thing and are supportive of each other, and the only issue raised with Stacy is the importance of safe sex. They also have some open conversations about sexual acts and pleasure, and whenever there is a sex scene it's never gratuitous or even that revealing, generally focusing on Stacy or Melissa's experience. There are just a lot of little things that I really appreciated about Casual Sex?, making it a genuinely enjoyable and memorable movie. It has its flaws of course- mostly I could have used a little less romantic focus, especially the hokey ending (though I hear there's an alternate ending out there), and the "skinny blonde bitch" character is a tired and backwards stereotype (she's not a major figure, though). But but but mostly I just really liked it and was surprised by how refreshing it was and will probably watch it again soon because of girl power.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: My first thought was another under-seen lady-centric 80's comedy, Modern Girls, which I watched recently. But a really great thematic pairing (ie best friendships and female sexuality) is For a Good Time, Call... which is just excellent all around.

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Sunday, June 16, 2013

History of the World: Part I (1981)

Seen: On my laptop, from a digital file. Recently discovered and copied from my dad's then-unopened Mel Brooks dvd collection.

It's a little goofy to admit it but Mel Brooks has kind of been a major force in my life. He, Monty Python, and Weird Al were the main sources of comedy in my grammar school years, whom I can only assume helped shape my own highly sophisticated sense of humor. My first awareness of Mel Brooks came from my dad impersonating the Ten Commandments bit in History of the World: Part I, a joke I thought was the most hilarious thing I'd ever heard before I'd even seen the movie. And so revisiting it for the first time in at least seven years reduced me to the stupid middle schooler I actually secretly am, giggling uncontrollably at a bunch of puns and inappropriate musical numbers. That's just what Mel does to me, what can I say? I love that man. The film is an episodic parody of sword-and-sandal epics as well as period dramas, jokingly chronicling Western history in a series of ridiculous, and at times musical, segments from the dawn of Man to the French Revolution.

Skewering historical and biblical episodes with equal parts irreverence and utter nonsense, Mel Brooks brings his over the top comedic stylings to all sorts of recognizable characters, including Moses, Caesar, Jesus Christ, Torquemada, and Louis XVI. He rounds things out with a cast of comedic stars, from the heavenly Madeline Kahn to the brilliant Gregory Hines, and it's all lent a bit of satirical gravitas with narration provided by Orson Welles. Some segments are so ludicrous it's hard not to laugh just thinking about them, with Brooks' careless, blissfully lowbrow attitude made palpable: Moses dropping the last five Commandments, Madeline Kahn's "Empress Nympho" selecting her escorts to an orgy, Cloris Leachman's Madame Defarge bemoaning her phony French accent, gleeful monks tap-dancing their way around the Spanish Inquisition. Of course, my absolute favorite is the Last Supper scene, wherein Brooks' waiter calls out Judas (trying to push the bad wine), invents "Jesus" as a slur, and places himself in the center of Leonardo's famous fresco. This is the kind of stuff that gave me comedy highs as a kid, before I even fully grasped how stupid Christianity is.

Admittedly I think the script is one of his weaker efforts, as Brooks tries to have both a cohesive narrative as well as scattered episodes. If the film had completely been comprised of unconnected skits I think it would have worked better, especially since we spend too long in some time periods (I'm looking at you, Ancient Rome). And the opening caveman scenes can be cut altogether, I usually forget they even exist since they're not very funny. And too many sex jokes, I think, which makes me sound prudish (I'm NOT, so you know it must really be too much), but especially the human chess scene is like ick when the players all jump (rape?) the Queen chess piece. Brooks' tendency to repeat himself pops up more often than it should, with several jokes/stock characters re-used from previous films (I'm not talking about the "Walk This Way", I mean, that's a trademark) and some would make appearances in later films ("Jews in Space" became the "Men in Tights" song, for example).

Anyway, it's not perfect, obviously, but it is Mel Brooks, and therefore maintains a special place in my heart of hearts. Plus for the most part, it is really funny! And just try to get "The Inquisition" out of your head, I dare you!

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Oh dear I just don't know. Perhaps Robin Hood: Men in Tights? That one was my absolute favorite in middle school.

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Onibaba (1964)

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

So a thing about my summer job is that we have Japanese movies showing without sound on a tv, so I'm like always in the mood to watch Japanese movies now. I bumped Onibaba up my netflix queue since it fulfilled those needs plus it's a horror movie I've been meaning to see for a while. Set during a civil war in the fourteenth century, the film delves into the lives of those left behind when all able-bodied men were drafted into feudal armies. A mother (Nobuko Otowa) and her daughter-in-law (Jitsuko Yoshimura) have taken to slaughtering wayward soldiers who tread through their wetland community's tall grasses, and selling off their armor and weaponry in exchange for food. They are hardened and cold-hearted, but they get by together. When male neighbor Hachi (Kei Satô) returns from the front claiming their man is dead, their dynamic gradually shifts. Hachi aims to seduce the daughter, and she is amenable to re-awakening her own sexual pursuits and perhaps gaining some independence from her overbearing mother-in-law. Desperate to hold on to her one remaining family member, the mother dons a dead samurai's demon mask in an effort to frighten the girl away from Hachi.

Though billed as a horror movie and advertised with horrific demon imagery, Onibaba isn't so much about the supernatural. It focuses more on the horrors of wartime scarcity and despair, of the desperation suffered by soldiers and citizens alike. The unnamed mother and daughter are introduced as vicious killers, silently and systematically attacking unsuspecting soldiers and dragging their stripped-down bodies to a mysterious bottomless pit. They hunt, they kill, they steal, and then they gorge themselves animalistically on a pot of rice before collapsing in a shared bed within their straw hut, sweaty and exhausted from their wordless escapade. Like, what a fucking fantastic opening. I couldn't even deal with all the feral misandry being thrown at me. In 1964! And then the rest of the movie is basically an exploration of the sexual and emotional needs of these women and how they are grasping wildly for self-sustenance and self-realization.

Writer/director Kaneto Shindô takes his time building up to the all-out scares, quietly establishing an eerie, unknowable setting in the marshlands, with tall waving grasses that seem to knowingly observe the actions of the human players. The jazz/taiko drum combination score adds to the uncanny feel of the place, as does the use of slow-motion and shot repetition. It's a gorgeous film visually, eventually employing memorably creepy imagery that settles in perfectly with the already-unsettling locations. What really makes Onibaba scary is how universal it felt despite its very Japanese origins and iconography. These women could exist in any war-torn country, abandoned by their man and scrounging for survival. Their codependent relationship grown out of need is understandable, just exaggerated through an added supernatural element.

Ok, it's a horror movie, sure, but also... not really? It excels as a character study, with Nobuko Otowa standing out especially as the mother. Her hard, cold stare and brazen sexuality are matched only by her honest affection for her daughter-in-law, whose maturation into womanhood pulls at their frayed familial bond. I loved how open and non-judgmental the film is about female sexuality, like these ladies want to have sex and who gives a damn? The mother tries to shame her daughter-in-law, but that was only to hold on to her, not out of any actual puritan feelings about sex. Onibaba was certainly not what I expected, but I think that made it better. An eerie, compelling tale of desperate women and the lengths they'll go to for fulfillment, even when surrounded by death and destruction.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: I'm sure there are a lot of thematically similar movies that I'm just not familiar with, so you can probably do your own thing. But I thought of The Exorcist since Friedkin drew some of his own demonic imagery from this movie.

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Heat (2013)

Seen: At the Regal Fenway in Boston- a free preview screening!

Did you know that Sandra Bullock's main dream in life has always been to make a female buddy cop movie? Like, how adorable is that? And now in The Heat her dream has been fully realized, and I'm really happy for her. Bullock stars as Sarah Ashburn, a cold but perceptive FBI agent who is up for promotion if she can prove that she plays well with others. When a series of horrific drug-related killings are found in Boston, she is forced to team up with hardened local cop Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy) to track down the murderous drug lord. Though severely at odds at first, the two women eventually learn to work together and form a bond of friendship, mostly through goofy misadventures, alcohol, and a few life-threatening situations. There's a lot of yelling. And jokes!

Ok I really wish the marketing for this movie hadn't come out with that shitty poster that photoshops Melissa McCarthy's face to make her look thinner, because not only is that a stupid and fat-shaming thing to do, it's also now the main thing people seem to know about this movie. And I'm here to tell you that The Heat is pretty great, and actually McCarthy's weight and looks are never even addressed, just a few digs at her clothing choices (part of a running joke where she makes fun of Bullock's fashion sense). If you wanted a funny, bawdy, ridiculous comedy with ladies dispensing justice, then you need look no further. The rapid-fire dialogue and over the top sight gags had the audience laughing uproariously for most of the running time, and I personally also responded to the cute friendship that developed between Ashburn and Mullins.

In a lot of ways this follows the typical buddy cop mold- it's got a vaguely interesting criminal mystery, an easy-to-spot double-cross, a predictable dynamic between its protagonists, and a couple of explosions. But honestly the mere fact that the lead characters are women makes it immediately novel to my eyes, since it cleverly dispenses with a lot of stereotypes one might find in a male-centric movie. There's a part where the ladies have to sex themselves up so they can get close to a bad guy, and while that sort of bullshit plot development happens all the time, the film manages to subvert it in hilarious ways through the characters' strong self-awareness and exaggerated portrayal of sexuality. On the other hand, the obvious displays of misogyny and discussions of "women on the force" are a little clunky and so extreme as to be funny and unreal, rarely touching upon the more nuanced issues of institutionalized patriarchy. Also there are some weird albino jokes and a totally unnecessary botched tracheotomy that now I can't unsee.

But in all honesty, I'm not going into The Heat for a thoughtful exploration of these problems, I mostly just wanted a female-centric action-comedy that didn't suck, and that's totally what I got! It's funny, it's silly, and it's got girls with guns. Throw in a grindhouse-throwback opening sequence, some kickin' lady hip hop on the soundtrack, Boston accents, and a slew of great supporting cast members (Hey, Kaitlin Olsen, Jane Curtin, and Marlon Wayans!), and you've got yourself some summer fun you can enjoy with your rowdiest lady-friends.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: The style of humor is definitely reminiscent of Bridesmaids (also directed by Paul Feig), and that'd be a fun lady-comedy pairing. Alternatively you could go with a classic buddy-cop action movie. My favorite is obviously Tango & Cash.

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

They Live (1988)

Seen: At the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge.

They Live is the main John Carpenter movie I've been meaning to see for a while, and then the Brattle showed it! Yay for me! The director's satirical horror stars Roddy Piper as a buff drifter looking for honest work in Los Angeles. He falls in with a community of homeless men and women who do their best to get by day to day, but soon discovers that some of them are involved in a strange secret faction working against the government. He eventually comes upon special sunglasses they developed, and looking through them changes his entire understanding of human society. He then arms up and kills a shit ton of rich people.

With pointed social commentary, hyped-up action sequences, and a healthy dose of horror-comedy, They Live is a good movie made better to future viewers by its hilarious portrayal of exaggerated 80's masculinity. Seriously, the amount of overblown manly-man moments between Piper and Keith David is ridiculous, and, intentional or not, it further serves Carpenter's satirical purpose. Everyday life is brainwashing you and everyone you know, modern society is structured to benefit rich white people and fuck over everyone else, hetero-normative standards of living are subconsciously enforced by the media, and those in control always work to maintain this status quo. His blaring signs screaming "OBEY" and "MARRY AND REPRODUCE" may be humorously obvious and over the top at first, but that doesn't mean his point isn't accurate. Also: ALIENS!

Of course, it's not all dire social commentary around here, in fact for the most part They Live is a fun and funny action movie with a few twists and turns and very cool effects. I dug the whole sunglasses-vision aesthetic, with black and white alien creatures casually grocery shopping and Roddy Piper gaping in confusion for like fifteen minutes before deciding to just Tear. Shit. Up. It's pretty great. Also there's a lady with impossibly blue eyes who is mostly kind of subdued but then at one point she straight-up shoves a man out of a window to his likely death, without any warning, and I LOVED that.

I must mention that this movie takes too long to get going, which is unfortunate, and that its repetitive soul bass line score didn't really fit, I felt. But otherwise it's pretty great! And I'm so happy that now I get the "bubblegum" line that's referenced everywhere!

4/5

Pair This Movie With: The violent urban sequences made me think of The Terminator, which is another quick 80's action thriller with horror elements and would make for a fun night. Alternatively, some of the general weirdness reminded me of Repo Man, plus there's the Sy Richardson connection!

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Sunday, June 9, 2013

Le Tableau (The Painting) (2013)

Seen: At the Kendall Square Landmark Cinema in Cambridge.

In The Painting, group of paintings come to life and their figures search for their painter so he can finish working on them. The whole story is animated in colorful, playful styles with references to great Modernist painters. The protagonist is a plucky young woman looking for adventure. So. Someone finally made a movie exactly for me, I thought. The story throws together three distinctive figures living within a single painting: a privileged "Alldun", a completed figure; a "Halfie", incomplete and relegated to living outside of the central castle; and a "Sketchie", a line doodle who isn't accepted anywhere. They set out somewhat accidentally to find their painter so he can finish them, eventually escaping their own canvas and landing in his abandoned studio where other works have also been left. Venturing through a few lively painted worlds but finding no clues as to their creator's whereabouts, they endeavor to solve their painting's oppressive class issues another way.

With an overly simplistic, repetitive script, uneven pacing, and a plot that stretches thin even over the film's scant 76 minute runtime, The Painting is unfortunately not the compelling, dream-fulfilling movie I hoped it might be. It's for kids, and I get that, but it's kind of just for kids despite its highbrow source materials. I liked the central character if Lola, who's a self-confident Halfie who'd rather ask the painter life's big questions than ask him to finish painting her. The parallels to a God-figure and his creations/acolytes aren't fully explored, though it's clear the filmmakers are trying to make some statement about divisive religion and class systems and God's Plan or whatever. I was content to view it all literally, since I don't care about God but I do care about art.

The more time passes, the more important art becomes to me. I do it, I study it, I plan to make it my life's work, and this all-encompassing obsession is why films like The Painting will always capture my imagination. The immersive animated world created by Jean-François Laguionie is absolutely enticing for an art history nerd, especially a Modernist. Sly nods to Modern heavyweights like Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, and Pablo Picasso abound, and the variety of color schemes and design styles makes for an exciting and eclectic visual experience. I loved the painterly, at-times amorphous scenery, and the wild abandon with which color is employed. The concept of artistic creations interacting with their maker is fascinating to me, so I liked the little coda of Lola finally finding her painter (even if visually it looked terrible) and setting out to explore the world beyond what was created to contain her. But I do wish that idea had been explore further, or maybe handled differently. I have this feeling that with a different script and tone this film could be all the art historian in me could want in a movie, but I guess I'll have to keep looking.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Some of the concepts and visual ingenuity reminded me of MirrorMask, which would be a nice atmospheric pairing, but animation-wise I think The Secret of Kells would make for a nice double feature. Or if you want another example of creators interacting with their creations, there's always Cool World. Or Monkeybone!

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Friday, June 7, 2013

Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

Seen: At the AMC/Loew's at Boston Common.

My most anticipated movie of the summer! And that's not me being ironic, it seriously was! And it's here! And it's GREAT! Fast & Furious 6 follows up the phenomenal Fast Five with even more ridiculous stunts and chase scenes and, best of all, badass ladies. The story picks up sometime after the previous film, with Toretto (Vin Diesel), O'Conner (Paul Walker), and their loved ones living quietly in a country without extradition. When their former adversary Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), a super special agent (or something), shows up asking for help tracking down a deadly British gang composed of expert drivers, Toretto is talked into getting the old crew back together. His motivations, however, rest with the possibility that his dead girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriquez) might actually be alive and somehow involved with these British assholes. They all work together to uncover some mysteries and double crosses and bad guys, while driving around real fast.

I first watched all the Fast/Furious movies a while ago and admittedly I was pretty hard on them but I've come around since, and now I'm a big fan of the series, for all its ridiculousness and wild antics and corny writing. I've been through the whole series a few times now, most recently the month before 6 came out (admittedly, we skipped 2). In Fast Five, most of the film focused on a complex heist plan that worked kinda like an Ocean's 11 plot line. This time around, we see how the crew reacts when their plans don't come together. Everything is thrown at them, sometimes literally, from tanks and planes to kidnapped loved ones and treacherous partners. But everyone contributes their own skills (except Tyrese, who doesn't really have any), and you know somehow they'll pull through because of FAMILY (a word that's used enough times to make it the only component of a Fast 6 drinking game). It is a truly exciting, intense film with jaw-dropping action and a good balance of levity and melodrama. These characters are so enjoyable to watch, and everyone seems like they're having a swell time, even with the more serious undertones of the over-arching story. Ludacris and Tyrese are especially adorable together (and daaaaaamn Ludacris has nice abs!).

So this is a pretty rad movie in general, and for the most part I felt it was as great as Fast Five but then I realized it's got one amazing thing that the other movies don't showcase enough: Kickass Ladies! For real though, between Michelle Rodriguez, Gina Carano, and Gal Gadot, I was in super heroine heaven. They fight bad guys, they fight good guys, they fight each other, they fight all over the place! (They never actually pass the Bechdel Test, though I'd say they let their fists do their talking.) I was so happy about Rodriguez's return that the amnesia cop-out didn't bother me at all, especially since if I'm being honest you know I love most pulpy sensationalist twists/shortcuts. Also it meant she got to have all the fun of being a bad guy while still actually being a good guy! Wowee! Basically the ladies make this movie for me, even if as usual Jordana Brewster is given nothing to do and I kinda missed Elsa Pataky. But seriously these ladies are amazing and independent and written decently, and above all, ass-kicking. And while we're on the subject, remember to read this Angie Han article.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: More Fast/Furious movies, I guess, if you're marathoning like we do. Or Haywire to revisit the pure awesome that is Gina Carano.

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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

Seen: At the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square.

JJ Abrams and Co return to the Enterprise for another adventure in Star Trek Into Darkness, the follow up to the massively popular Star Trek reboot. This time around Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto), etc are out for revenge against the mysterious John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), whose attack on Starfleet headquarters resulted in numerous deaths. Once captured, Harrison reveals various secrets about his own origins and his connection to Starfleet, and Kirk and Spock must decide whom to trust as they find themselves fighting their very own command. Lots of frantic running around, harried talks about feelings, and wandering lens flares occur.

First, a reminder that I'm not really into Star Trek. I've seen Wrath of Khan and the reboot, and that's it, so I don't really know how the new version fits together with the original series. But I do know that this movie is all over the place, and ultimately middling. It's got moments and components that I love, from Benedict Cumberbatch's hilariously grandiose, scenery-chewing performance (despite his unfortunate whiteness), to John Cho's short stint in the captain's chair. I LOVED that Peter Weller was there, and not just as a one-scene cameo but as a gleeful surprise villain. He's so great, and MEAN. I also liked how Uhura got to wear normal clothes for a few minutes, that was nice, even if the Trek universe seems to have a strange preoccupation with turtlenecks? Chris Pine remains cute and Zachary Quinto remains excellent, and they share some funny bro-ship moments as well as a few feelings. When lens flares weren't in the way, many of the visuals were pretty, especially that red-saturated opening sequence.

But then like everything else about this movie is not too great. Continuing a trend of treating women like shit, Alice Eve's character is completely useless, and Zoe Saldana remains woefully under-valued. The script is choppy and often doesn't make any sense, or fails to make note of important developments (THEY CONQUERED DEATH?!?). There are some thrilling action sequences and some funny moments, but for the most part I just felt like the enthusiasm was gone. I enjoyed the previous film because it was just so fun, despite its flaws there was a playful eagerness to the whole thing that I got caught up in. Into Darkness is missing that feeling, and it doesn't do a very good job of presenting itself more seriously (though I think it wants to), so in the end it just felt kind of lackluster. I'm glad Scotty got to save the day though. That was adorable.

3/5

Pair This Movie With: I wanted to revisit Wrath of Khan, since I don't remember it that well but know I enjoyed it. Or maybe another ensemble sci-fi/action movie, like The Avengers? Although, honestly, like anything Star Trek-related this movie just made me want to watch Galaxy Quest.

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Sunday, June 2, 2013

Dredd (2012)

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

Here's one of the many 2012 films I meant to catch in theaters but missed due to school or work or whatever it was. An adaptation of the comic (which I haven't read) that tries to steer clear of the trappings of the previous film version, Dredd is a tight action flick that's heavy on gore and light on stupid jokes. Set in a future where the land between Boston and Washington, DC is a giant walled-in metropolis and justice is doled out by police-executioners, the film follows the first day in the field of a young psychic "judge", Anderson (Olivia Thirlby). Though less than skilled in police work, her mutant abilities get her partnered up with the best judge in the force, Dredd (Karl Urban). While investigating a drug-related death in a low-income apartment complex, they stumble upon a massive criminal operation run by the formidable Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). When she locks down the entire building, the two judges are left to fight their way out with limited resources and a host of henchmen to take out.

Briskly paced and with impressive attention to character, Dredd is just a super solid action movie. It's not groundbreaking but it twists some conventions around in subtle ways which I liked, like how the slow-motion effects are used to show the effects of a new drug known as "Slo-mo", and filmed with a special camera as opposed to slowed down in post-production. Or how the cold-blooded crime lord at the top of the mountain is a woman, but she's not sexualized and in fact her gender rarely comes into play. Aside from her backstory (MISANDRY!) she is written like a male villain might be, and so relies on her wits, disposable lackeys, and deadly weapons holdings to take out the good guys, never her sexuality or "feminine wiles". And daaaaaamn does Lena Headey fucking SLAY in the role. At first I was just really impressed that they were able to uglify her so convincingly (because, did you know, in reality she's totally hot), but then I just fell in love with how mean she was, and how she's so completely evil that even a badass but sympathetic backstory can't make her salvageable. It's great.

I liked pretty much everything else about this movie, too, though. Urban is the right amount of gruff and tough, not overplaying it but still somewhat exaggerated to fit this sci-fi super-cop mold. He's got a great scowl, which is very important for a protagonist who never takes his eye-covering helmet off. I was generally really happy with Olivia Thirlby's character, since she's a cute naive rookie who also happens to be a mega-powerful psychic and totally not up for being victimized, despite attempts by Ma-Ma's henchman Kay (Wood Harris). She becomes more self-assured but also more ruthless as the film progresses, forcing herself to change so that she can survive the day. It's an interesting progression and Thirlby is well-suited to the character's mix of vulnerability and determination. The action sequences are well-choreographed, with both hand-to-hand combat and a few firefights. I liked the vision of the future primarily because it felt fairly realistic (aside from the notion that there'd be enough resources to power such a sprawling, overpopulated city). The extreme class discrepancies, crumbling infrastructure, rampant crime, and hyper-violent police "justice" are not far-fetched to contemporary viewers, and while for the most part this is a straight-faced action thriller, there are hints at serious commentary that I assume is more apparent in the comics' world-building.

I have to say the only thing I didn't like was how the ending felt rushed, or a little anticlimactic. For most of the film Ma-Ma is a pretty intimidating villain, and she remains merciless and cunning to end, but the final battle is strangely tame for a such a violent movie. I liked her final defeat, just thought the moments leading up to it were a little lackluster. But that's kind of inconsequential considering how I really, really liked the film otherwise!

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Of course The Raid comes to mind, or the Stallone Judge Dredd, but instead I would recommend my personal favorite action-movie-in-a-run-down-apartment-building, Attack the Block! If you want something more European, there's also District B13, which has some similar themes but is more upbeat.

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