Thursday, November 21, 2013

Day 719 - Blue is the Warmest Color

So, last week my movie options were - Robert Redford lost at sea or a 3 hour French lesbian drama.  Obviously that was a no-brainer as I went and saw Blue is the Warmest Color.

Honestly, I'm always saying that I'll watch anything as long as it's not boring.  If it's good, that's even better.  At 3 hours, Blue could've tipped the scales into boredom, but it never even came close.  The basic coming-of-age story is given quite the radical treatment.  But let's see if I can dole out why it's as good as it is over the next few paragraphs.

Adele (played by Adele Exarchopoulos) is a high school student who is just living her life, doing her schoolwork, and hooking up with the cute boy from school.  But things just don't feel right.  And when she sees a girl with blue hair, all I could think of was Willow's response from seeing her vampire doppelganger in a Buffy episode - "I think I'm kinda gay."  And then Adele starts searching for that blue haired girl by going to a lesbian bar.  Emma (Lea Seydoux) is the blue haired girl, and she's everything Adele could possibly hope for.  She's smart, artistic, worldly, and into her.

And here's where things intensify for the viewer.  When Adele and Emma consummate their relationship, it's in a scene that feels like it goes on for about 10 minutes.  Within the context of a 3 hour film, that's not too much, but when you're watching it, it's staggering.  It makes you run the gamut of emotions when you see it, simply because of it's length.  Obviously there's titillation.  But then there's uncomfortableness, because you feel like you're intruding on a very intimate act.  Then there's boredom - the scene is going on forever!  Then there's the detached technical aspect - what is each person doing right now, where's the cameraman, who's doing the lighting?  And then it circles all back around to just honesty.  This is what these characters want, and we're just privy to to it.  It's Verhoevenesque in that it extends the scene past it's normal stopping point in order to make you experience every emotion and feeling that wouldn't otherwise occur in anything shorter.  It's also the scene that I think caused a few walkouts.  (Wimps.)

But from this scene, Adele's and Emma's relationship is created and builds.  Time passes, Adele becomes a teacher, and Emma an artist.  Both are doing what they want to do.  And that's when the trouble starts.

I hadn't really thought about it until now, but this is one of the things the film wants us to think about.  Are we happy if we get the job we want?  Adele is a teacher of young children.  This is what she's been wanting to do for years.  Emma is an artist (a painter), and she's starting to get recognized.  One of them starts to feel down about their job.  And I don't even want to say disillusioned, because they knew what they're getting into.  But Adele doesn't know what she wants from her life anymore, and while she still loves Emma, she starts to lose sight of the treasures she has.  And because she's not as mature as Emma, she doesn't know how to express her feelings beyond the surface ones.  And because of that, she torpedoes the only relationship that has any meaning for her.  It's devastating for both her and us.  We want to reach out into the screen, grab Adele, and shake her, shouting, "Stop ruining the best thing that that's ever happened to you, let alone the only thing you really want."

This is a devastating film.  Emotions are always out in the open.  While Adele may have issues with expressing her thoughts, she has no problem expressing her emotions.  If we weren't able to spend so much time with the characters, it's probable that we wouldn't care as much as we do.  But we've been intimate with them.  We know their friends.  We know their jobs.  We know their lives.  Our feelings have now become part of the film.  And that's why I think it's been as lauded as it's been.

I've seen two female lead performances this year that have been knockouts - Sandra Bullock in Gravity (I've always liked her as an actress, but even I didn't know she had that in her), and Adele Exarchopoulos in this.  She goes from a student searching for her identity to a flawed human being who doesn't know why she made the mistakes she did, let alone how to recover from them.  It's a tragedy of the highest order, and she so inhabits the character that we sympathize with her even though we've seen every misstep that she's taken.

Yes, the movie is long.  Yes, the sex is graphic (hello, NC-17).  Yes, it's not going to win the feel good movie of the year.  But as a film, it grabs you, demands your attention, and leaves you with the lingering aftereffects of its story.  Sometimes I just want a movie to just be good.  This one is.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Day 710 - About Time

About Time

Richard Curtis has directed three movies - Love Actually, Pirate Radio, and About Time.  Love Actually is one of my go to Christmas movies, because, well, it's just great.  Pirate Radio has been sitting in my "to watch" stack for over a year (I'm just bitter because I never saw it in the theater).  But I saw About Time tonight, and I'm both joyous and sad.  Joyous, because it's one of my favorite movies of the year.  Sad - because I feel like I'm the only person who actually went and saw it.

Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) is just your average, ordinary, slightly awkward guy.  He's part of a loving family with Dad played by Bill Nighy (who, as always, knocks it out of the park).  All he wants is a girlfriend, but he has some problems with his execution.  But what would happen if he had a chance to do things over?  And that's the secret his father reveals to him.  The men in their family have the ability to travel through time.  There are certain rules Tim has to follow, but nothing that really causes a lot of "Butterfly Effect."  It appears that each family member has used this power in a different way (go for the money, read every book possible, etc).  Tim really just wants to use it to help his love life.

But, hey, when the object of your affection is Rachel McAdams (who plays Mary), why wouldn't you want to do everything right?  And that's what makes this appealing and not creepy.  Tim is using his powers to make himself look good, sure, but he wants to make his relationship with Mary work.  He uses his powers to build (not create) a life that is filled with love and joy and sometimes sadness.

And the reason we become so invested in Tim and his entire family, is because everyone that we meet is so well-defined.  Besides his family, Tim and Mary's friends, Tim's co-worker, Tim's roommate, and so many others are given distinct personalities.  Heck, Tom Hollander's Harry (the playwright Tim is sharing a flat with) is one of the surliest, funniest, and most honest characters I've seen in a while.

The idea of what would happen if we were given a second chance at certain things is incredibly appealing.  The simple story of a man who takes those second chances, and then learns to appreciate the here and now, is even more appealing.  The film is funny, touching, sad, and thoughtful, and sometimes all at once.  It's never overwhelming, it's always smart, and it's filled with great characters.  It's one of my favorite movies of the year, and I really can't recommend seeing it in the theater highly enough.  But you've probably only got about a week or so to do that.  So get on that.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Day 686

Uggh.  I feel sick.  I wanted to write about the Two Door Cinema Club concert I went to last week.  It was great, by the way.  But it was filled with lots of people under the age of 21.  And at age 41, this is starting to get a little disconcerting.  Although, nothing still angers me like a 6 foot plus behemoth pushing his way in front of all us tiny people.  C'mon!  Genetics have obviously been kind to you, you don't have to be a jerk about it.  But the other thing about the young people there is something that happened that I don't plan on writing about (see, while that may be frustrating to the reader, I have some own limits to what I want people to read). But, needless to say, it was incredibly awkward, and while I found a strange workaround, it was still a surreal experience.

But the concert, and today have proven what I already know - I'm a coward.  Not in everything, but in certain things.  My mouth doesn't work the way I want it to many, many times.  I have a hard time letting my brain shut down sometimes, and that seems to be one of the biggest problems. My social anxiety can be a crippling thing, and while I hate it, telling me to "Get over it" or "Just do it" ain't helping.  It's really just something I live with.  And, at times, I'm fine with it.  I know what I can or can't do, and I just deal with it.

And, yes, this is a completely depressing post, but it's really just for myself (and possibly the seven followers I have on here), since I won't advertise this post on any social network.

 Oh, and this video is the main reason why I wanted to see the band in the first place.  My love of choreography and the bright colors make this massively addictive.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Day 672 - Convention season

I love the San Diego Comic-Con.  I've been going every other year (or so) since 1996.  There's a number of people who complain because they think it's gotten too media heavy,with less emphasis on comic books.  My simple take on this is that when they expanded the convention center space they used all that extra space for pop culture, yet they've kept the same amount of space for comics and such.  Since that was a lot of space back in the day, it's still a lot of space now.  I'm still able to meet all the writers and artists I want to.  I'm still able to get sketches, original art, autographs, and early issues of Amazing Spider-Man without sacrificing my love of pop culture.  But, because I work at Carol and John's Comic Shop, going to a local comic convention just doesn't hold the same allure for me anymore.  My list of back issues that I need gets smaller and smaller.

So I've been going to horror film conventions in the area.  The short story for those of you who don't know - I have three notebooks that I filled with my reviews of all the films I watched during 1988 to about 1996.  So whenever I meet someone who starred in a movie that I reviewed, I have them sign by that review.  It's made for some interesting stories  (of which, I will only be relaying some of the most recent here).

A month ago, I went to Horrrorhound Weekend in Indianapolis with my buddy Jason.  Honestly, the main reason I wanted to go was because Monica Keena was going to be there.  I'm a huge fan of Undeclared (Judd Apatow's followup to Freaks and Geeks).  But there were plenty of other people there that I was happy to meet.

First off, was Katharine Isabell of Ginger Snaps fame.  I've got to say, she's actually more gorgeous in person than in any picture I've seen.  She was also very nice as she signed my Ginger Snaps DVD (she wasn't in any movies that were in the notebook, so sometimes I have to make do).

The next person was Dana Ashbrook (Bobby from Twin Peaks).  By far (by far!) one of the nicest people I have ever met.  He was incredible!  I would go to a convention just too meet him again.

Then it was a sprint as I got Vivica A. Fox (she whispered some secret Quentin Tarantino info to me), Larry Drake (who doesn't love Darkman?), Gerrit Graham (Used Cars, and the awesome and awful TerrorVision), Megan Ward (Freaked), Barry Bostwick (we bonded over the SyFy Moby Dick movie), Chris Marquette (who signed my Fanboys DVD, but like I told him, I could have just as easily had him sign my Joan of Arcadia DVDs),  Zack Ward (Titus' brother and, of course, A Christmas Story), and Sherilyn Fenn (who I've met before, but she was still very nice).

Eventually Monica Keena showed up.  She was very pleasant.  I did not get a photo.  I'll leave it at that.
Finally, I discovered the deal of the day.  Sean Clark, the writer of a film called The Black Waters of Echo's Pond, was selling DVDs and BluRays of the film, and if you bought one, Danielle Harris, James Duvall, and Electra and Elise Avelon would sign it for free.  I still haven't watched the movie yet (I'll probably get around to it in a couple of years).

I spent a lot of money at the show, but not as much as I brought, so I was able to have some extra cash to have a good meal at Red Lobster.  I can be a simple man with simple needs.

This last Friday Cinema Wasteland started.  The "get" for this convention was Dee Wallace.  Obviously, Elliot's mom in E.T., but for me, the decision was between Critters and The Howling.  But also, I was going to meet Chester Turner the mastermind behind one of the rarest VHS movies ever - Tales From the Quadead Zone.

And Chester was a real nice, soft-spoken gentleman.  I bought the DVD of Quadead Zone even though I may never watch it, simply for the curiosity value.

Dee Wallace was a sweetie.  I had her sign by Critters, and she got to tell me that she's taken more recent "evil" roles because she was tired of the "good" roles.  I followed that with a visit to Donna Wilkes.  She even read my review of Jaws 2 saying, "Yep" then signing it.  I got a picture with her, and when I left I forgot one of my notebooks.  She actually ran after me to give it back.  My friend Laura had the best statement -  "She got up from behind her table to bring your notebook to you?  That's so cute!  I wish I had gotten a picture of that."  Donna Wilkes is awesome!

The last autograph of the day was Stephen Macht.  I could have gone the easy route and had him sign by my review of  The Monster Squad, because we all know Wolfman has nards.  But instead, I went with Graveyard Shift.  It's an awful movie, but it does have a tremendous performance by Stephen, which I mentioned.  We had a great laugh about it, and he is simply a fantastic guy.

And a visit to the Wasteland wouldn't be complete without some purchases, and my very best one was a VHS copy of the movie Dudes with Jon Cryer, Daniel Roebuck, and Catherine Mary Stewart.  It really is an undiscovered classic that has never been released on DVD.  But I also bought a copy of Lon Chaney's He Who Gets Slapped.  I saw it last week, and it made such an impression that I may even watch it again in the near future.

So two conventions in the last month.  I may have spent more money than I needed to, but I had some great times, hung out with some good friends (Thanks Jason, Joe, and Laura!), and met a lot of cool people.  And admission for both those shows was the same as it would have been if I went to Wizard World Columbus.  I feel I made the right choice.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Day 668 - The Best Films I've Seen This Year (so far) - Part 2

Alright - it's a Wednesday morning, and I'm watching Married...With Children.  That seems appropriate when writing about the best movies I've seen so far this year.  Let's jump right in (and this is in the order I've seen them in).

Spring Breakers - Harmony Korine's surreal masterpiece is one of the most subversive movies to ever have been given a wide release.  The fact that it had Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens toting guns in bikinis was only to bring the audiences in the theaters.  James Franco's gonzo performance was what kept them there.  It's not a perfect movie (it does meander at times), but when it hits, it's a home run.

Mud - Matthew McConaughey is just pumping out solid movies one after another.  And he isn't even really the star of this film.  It's Tye Sheridan as the young kid, who, with his best friend, Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), stumble upon Mud (McConaughey) and try to help him out as he's hiding from people who want him dead.  And all that's almost incidental to the coming-of-age story that plays out.  A compelling look at families in disarray, what the truth is, and where one's loyalties really lie.

Before Midnight - Richard Linklater's (and Ethan Hawke's and Julie Delpy's) third film in the series takes place 9 years after the last one, and the two characters are hitting a rough patch in their relationship.  As with the previous two films, this one is massively dialogue heavy.  But the ideas expressed and the emotions that are portrayed are some of the most honest in just about any film.  And from a movie nerd standpoint, one of the opening scenes, with its long, unbroken take is just fabulous.  So far, my favorite film of the year.

From Up on Poppy Hill - Goro Miyazaki (Hayao's son) directed this highly melodramatic animated film.  It's yet another coming-of-age film on this list, and it reminded me of a 1950's Douglas Sirk film, but with more lightheartedness and not as much tragedy.

The Hunt - Mads Mikkelsen plays a kindergarten teacher accused of sexually molesting a child.  Really inspiring, right?  It's simply a powerful film, made all the more gripping because of what we, the audience, know.  Never boring, never preachy.  Just a tough, suspenseful film that tests its characters, and lets you know, sometimes there isn't a bad guy, and that can be more heartbreaking.

The Way,Way Back - Oh, Sam Rockwell will you finally be Oscar-nominated for your role as water park manager in this film?  I hope so.  And as inspiring as he is, Steve Carell plays the most loathsome character he's ever portrayed on film, and does a great job at it.  Deftly mixing humor and pathos, it was one of my most anticipated movies of the year, and it didn't disappoint one bit.

You're Next - Probably the lowest on my favorites list, it's still one of the most fun horror films I've seen in a long time, although that's probably because I don't seek them out that often.  Plenty of fist pumping, yelling at the screen in encouragement moments, and a heroine who kicks major, major butt - that's what I wanted.  And explanations for the bad things that happened was icing on the cake.

The Family - Luc Besson's newest film is still sticking with me.  Tonal shifts aplenty.  Funny at times (but never really hilarious), suspenseful when I wasn't expecting it to be, and shockingly brutal towards the end.  I didn't know what I was getting into, and I'm still not sure even now.  But it was nice to see Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert DeNiro play a loving couple (even if they were mobsters in witness relocation).

The Spectacular Now - A high school kid in a small town is an alcoholic, and on the rebound falls for a smart girl.  An absolutely no-holds-barred look at young love, young heartache, and second (and third) chances.  Sometimes circumstances say we can't see ourselves the way others see us, and that's what this movie is telling us.  The performances are uniformly amazing, and with a touch of hope at the end, it's so, so satisfying.

And now it's time to go to work.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Day 666 (oooh, scary!) - The best films I've seen in 2013 - so far (Part one)

For all the hotly anticipated films that were supposed to come out this year, my favorites (with a couple of exceptions) have been some of the smaller films that have been critical hits, but maybe not seen by everyone.

I figure, why not start with a couple documentaries (I mean, nothing's gonna get people to read this like reading about movies they'll probably never watch in the first place. Right? Right?0

Adjust Your Tracking - About people (guys) who still collect videotapes.  Mostly horror films.  Just enough history to keep you on your toes, but filled with wonderful and sometimes hilarious stories from the collectors themselves.

Stories We Tell - Sarah Polley  looks back at her mother around the year that she (Sarah) was born, and tries to find out if her dad is her real biological father.  Fascinating, thoughtful and compelling.  Never has a smile told so much.

And now I'll jump in with the blockbusters that were my my favorites of the year.

White House Down - Die Hard in the White House.  This was an action movie that knew exactly what it wanted to give the audience and made no apologies about it.  This was an infinitely better film than the last Die Hard movie.  the only thing against it (being derivative is not a knock on this film) is that the last 10 minutes are way too schmaltzy.

Pacific Rim - Giant Robots vs Giant Monsters directed by Guillermo del Toro.  Yay!

Furious 6 - These Fast and Furious movies just keep getting better.  Yes, this series adheres to its own line of physics and a mangling of the time/space continuum (yes, that was the world's longest airline runway, and I don't care), but the action is tremendous, The Rock was one of the best additions to a franchise - ever, and when I wasn't cheering at the screen (which really did happen), I got one of the most pleasant surprises ever, with an ending that was shocking and had not been ruined beforehand.  It was a great moviegoing experience.

More tomorrow (maybe even in the morning - we'll see how I feel)...

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Day 665 - The Alloy Orchestra scores Metropolis, Phantom of the Opera, and HE Who Gets Slapped

I first saw the film Metropolis in either high school or college.  It was the two hour version, which was the only version available at the time.  And I thought it was amazing.  There is a reason why it's considered a masterpiece (set design, striking performances, general awesomeness).  And since they've recovered 25 more minutes of film that had thought to have been lost, it really is even better.  So, now I have a videotape of the 2 hour version, and the DVD of the 2 and 1/2 hour version.  And now I also have a CD of the Alloy Orchestra's score of the extended version, because I got to see them perform it last night.  While I was a little tired during the first hour of the film (it was a long work day), the final hour and a half was one of the most amazing combinations of film and music that I've ever experienced... until tonight.

But first - "ALLOY ORCHESTRA is a three man musical ensemble, writing and performing live accompaniment to classic silent films.  Working with an outrageous assemblage of peculiar objects, they thrash and grind soulful music from unlikely sources."

That's from their website, and it's completely accurate.  Heck, I got to see one of the guys show off his Stradivarius saw!

Tonight was a Lon Chaney double feature - Phantom of the Opera and HE Who Gets SlappedPhantom was just like Metropolis - solid start, but amazing finish.  However, there was a 75 minute break between both movies, and I seriously considered just skipping out.  I'm so glad I didn't.

HE Who Gets Slapped is a fantastic film!  Lon Chaney plays a scientist/inventor who loses both his work and his wife to the same man.  Finding the tragic humor in all of this he becomes a clown whose routine is that he gets slapped.  He finds love again, but other forces, both old and new, keep it from him.

Even if this film had no score it would be tremendous.  The story is poignant, dramatic, and tragic.  The acting is uniformly strong, with Chaney giving a standout performance.

But the real winner was The Alloy Orchestra's score for this film.  It was, in my mind, even better than their score for Metropolis (and like I said, I bought that immediately after watching the film).  I found myself tapping my feet at times, nodding my head to the rhythms, and leaning forward just so I could hear that tiniest of bits better.  It wasn't just a performance, it was an experience.

I really can't recommend these guys enough.  Any lover of great films should at least see them once.  Suffice to say, any time they come back to Cleveland, I'm clearing my schedule so I can see them again (and again).

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Day 613 - The Hunt

I'm not exactly sure how to convince anyone to see a Danish film about a teacher accused of sexual impropriety and how that accusation changes his life.  It's a tremendous film that makes you constantly think, and, as the person in front of me did, let out a huge sigh of relief when the film was over.  You don't realize how much you've been holding your breath until the film actually ends.

Mads Mikkelsen (the bad guy in Casino Royale) plays the teacher in question.  When we first see him he's jumping in an ice-cold pond to help a friend out in a variation of a polar bear club.  This group of guys have apparently been hanging out for a long time.  And that's what the film focuses on - friendships and trust.

As we can all imagine, once an accusation of an adult touching a child makes an appearance, there's no getting away from it.  Innocent or not, that stigma stays with you forever.  But if you're innocent, what proof do you really have?  And who stands by your side in times like this?  These are the questions the film asks.

Because the stakes are so high, and there are no real bad guys, everything that plays out is given equal importance.  Whether it's a girl asking to walk a dog, or a son casually flirting while buying groceries, each scene is supercharged with tension, because you keep waiting for something else bad to happen.

The acting is uniformly fantastic.  The characters are given depth and weight, making you see what everyone is thinking and why.  It's a full-on dramatic film that plays out like a thriller.  And the ending is truthful, sad, frightening and accurate all at once.

This is not the sort of movie you're watching while eating junk food.  It's one you watch with other people, so you can all be melancholy together and talk about the movie afterwards.  And because of that, it's hard to sell.  I'm not even sure if any of what I wrote is convincing enough to see the film.  It may not be a "good" time at the movies, but I was captivated, entertained and moved.  Sometimes I want those feelings, too.


Sunday, August 4, 2013

Day 609 - The Wages of Fear and The Island of Lost Souls

Whew.  It's been a long time since I've written any long form review.  I've been writing on the weekends, but nothing I'm ready to put out there yet.  But two movies that I've been waiting to watch for many, many years appeared at the Cleveland Cinematheque over the last weekend.

Let me give a little explanation of how my mind sometimes works.  Jaws is my second favorite movie of all time.  And one of those reasons is Roy Scheider.  Because he was in Jaws, he's become one of those actors that I will watch what he's starred in, regardless of quality.  And one of the movies that he's the main actor in is William Friedkin's Sorcerer.  Years ago, I had read about this film which tells the story of four guys who are hired to drive two trucks filled with nitroglycerin over 300 treacherous miles to help stop a fire.  I finally Watched Sorcerer just last year, and it was good.  But I've also known for years that Sorcerer is a remake of Henri-Georges Clouzot's The Wages of Fear.  I've been meaning to see this film for a long time as well, not merely because it was the original template for Sorcerer, but because I love Clouzot's Diabolique.

The plot between both films is pretty similar, but the execution is different.  The Wages of Fear spends the first hour setting up the desolation of place, the poverty of all the people there, the interpersonal relationships between everyone, and the absolute desperation of the men who would volunteer for what is almost a suicide mission, in the hopes that they can get out of their current situation.

The last hour and a half is a tension-filled masterpiece.  There's four guys and two trucks.  300 miles to go.  Along the way is a road that you have to drive either under 6 MPH or over 40 MPH or else the trucks explode.  What happens when one of the trucks starts catching up with the other one on this road?  There are roads that you can only get to by backing up on a half built bridge made with shoddy wood.  There are boulders in the road that have to be blown up with some of that nitroglycerin.  It's insane.  And that's not even talking about all the conflicts between the characters, because we've seen all their issues that have been set up and are now being paid off.

Yes, the very last scene of the film is jarring.  It's frustrating, because the entire film has been so meticulous up until this point, and yet the last scene feels like it came from a different director.  And I'm speaking only in how it's shot. The end result is something I completely understand, because it works with what the character goes through, but the emotional impact is muted because of how it's shot.

But if you want to watch a strong, strong character-driven, suspenseful film, then this is the one for you. ***1/2

And the second film of the night was The Island of Lost Souls.  My history of this film goes back to when I was about 7 or 8 years old.  I grew up reading everything I could about monster movies - Them!, This Island Earth, Dracula, The Wolf Man, and The Island of Lost Souls (among many, many others).  Before videotape, my only access to any of these films were Saturday afternoon screenings presented by SuperHost (Cleveland's awesome movie monster host).  And I saw nearly every monster film I had read about.  But the one (two, if you count the 1977 version) film that managed to elude me was The Island of Lost Souls.

Based upon the H. G. Wells novel, the movie opens with Edward Parker, the lone survivor of a shipwreck, getting picked up by a ship that is transporting a bunch of animals to a small island owned by the mysterious Dr. Moreau.  Moreau is played by Charles Laughton, in one of his first leading roles, and he grabs it with gusto.

There's no suspense in the fact that Moreau is obviously a bad guy.  It's not a spoiler to say that he's messing with nature in a very profound way.  The true strength of the film is in what lengths will Moreau go to in order to prove his theories.  The creatures he's created are both appealing (I'm looking at you Panther Woman) and monstrous (everyone else).  The creatures live by three rules - Not to eat meat, not to go on all fours, and not to spill blood.  When the rules are broken, chaos rules.

I have waited a long time to see this film.  I recently bought it used on blu-ray, figuring I could end this long drought.  But, as always, there's nothing like seeing a film on the big screen.  And this film met all my childhood expectations.  Scenes I've only seen in pictures, lines I've only read in books... it's all the more striking in glorious black and white.  ****

Saturday night was both amazing and fulfilling!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Day 480 - Spring Breakers

Spring Breakers

I have real sympathy for anyone who went to see this film thinking they were going to see a normal, linear actiony-comedy movie.  Because what Harmony Korine has done is made one of the most expensive experimental art films that has been released in recent years.

The story of four college women (girls) who go "wild" on spring break, get arrested, and then hook up with a gangster rapper is a pretty simple one.  But the real film is in the telling of the story.  When the film opens we're inundated with the debauchery of spring break.  It's both titillating and sad.  This is where the girls want to go to?  And they can't even afford it.  So they turn to robbery.  In a normal Hollywood film, this heist would be glamorized to the nth degree. Here it's hidden the first time we see it - we catch glimpses here and there.  But when we see it in flashback, it's what it probably would look like in real life - ugly.  But Spring Break is the objective, so off they go.  Drinking and drugs and promiscuity are the main courses, and eventually it catches up to them, and they're carted off to jail.

At which point it becomes the James Franco show.  As the gangster rapper Alien, Franco creates a character that is so hypnotic that any of the films previous faults (like lethargy) are completely forgiven.  He is a captivating monster.  Every time he appears onscreen or says something you feel like you're in for a treat.

This movie has been advertised on the strength of its leading ladies.  For a lot of young 'uns, seeing Selena Gomez or Vanessa Hudgens cavorting in bikinis and waving guns is more than enough to get them to the theater.  But their characters are barely even characters. Almost all the girls are interchangeable, with Gomez given at least the tiniest bit of backstory to differentiate herself from the others.

And that may be the point.  The less we care about the characters the more the film can just objectify them.  As I said, the film is not the most linear of pieces.  With time jumps, hand held cameras, and repeated lines the film is less interested in story than it is in style.  I may never care what the girls' story is, but I was swept up in their escapades.

I left the theater thinking that about 80 percent of the audience probably hated the film, thinking they were hoodwinked.  But that other 20 percent had their minds blown by the fact that they thought they were going to see "girls gone wild with guns" and got something they would never see on their own.  And then they had the added attraction of seeing James Franco with enough grill in his mouth to rival that of Lil' John.

Was Harmony Korine playing a joke on us using "innocent" actresses in a movie that glamorizes debauchery and violence?  Probably.  But it was at least a funny and clever joke.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Day 477 - Horrorhound Weekend

I've been to San Diego Comic-Con, Mid-Ohio Con, C2E2, Cinema Wasteland and previous Horrorhound conventions.  I have never waited in line to get into any of those conventions for more than an hour... until this weekend's Horrorhound.  And my experience only relates to Friday's show.  But I waited outside, to simply get into the convention, for 3 hours.  The show opened at 5PM, and Jason (a patient saint) and I finally got inside around 8PM.

I have no problem with the convention itself.  I had a great time for the three hours that I spent inside the building.  I got (almost) all the autographs I was hoping to get.  But that was all I was able to do.  I made a quick pass through the vendor rooms, but I really didn't have time to browse.  An extra two hours may have been a more profitable two hours for some of those guys.

I expect to wait in line for autographs when I go to a convention.  I don't mind waiting for 3 hours to meet someone I really appreciate as an actor, actress, director or writer.  But waiting for 6 hours for that same autograph (regardless of the company you're keeping) is too much.

Horrorhound changed venues this time to a larger location.  It was a good move.  But I have to imagine there were more entrances into the building other than the one (one!) everyone was herded into.  Different doors for different ticket holders would have to get people to move through the line quicker (I have to imagine).

Some of the complaints from other people who've attended seem to place the blame on the fans of The Walking Dead.  When you have a half dozen actors from one of the most popular shows on television (and it's not a niche show with those ratings), obviously a lot of people are going to want a "piece" of them.  But I've read things saying that these attendees aren't true horror fans.  Well, you know what?  The Walking Dead is a horror show.  Zombies, exploding heads, arrows through the eyes, and social commentary... sounds like some of the best horror movies I've seen.  And the more people who watch things like this the better it is for all of us.  That means more networks are going to try more outrageous shows.  Of course some of them are going to be crap, but maybe something just as good or better will come along.  But a fan of Norman Reedus has the same right to attend one of these shows as a fan of Sig Haig.

But enough negativity. I had a blast at the convention (once I got in).  The three hour wait to get in was alleviated by the fact that I got to hang out with one of my best friends, Jason, and the young lady who was with us.  We never got her name, but that was okay.  Her conversation made the wait go by a lot faster than it could've.  Jason kept nudging me - "get her number."  But we both knew that wasn't going to happen since she was married.  (But we did get to complain about the fact that some of the women that we've met would seem to be perfect for us, except for the fact that they're already in relationships.)

Once we got in the show we headed downstairs.  That's where The Walking Dead cast was, and I wasn't willing to wait in those lines, so it was back upstairs.  The first celebrity I got to meet was Robert Patrick (the T1000 from Terminator 2).  I work with somebody who used to hang out with him back in the day, so we talked about that.  And while I waited in his line, Jason scoped out some of the other rooms.  The buddy system was the perfect way to do this.

Diane Franklin was next.  And she was really the reason I wanted to attend the show.  Better Off Dead is one of the greatest comedies of all time.  But as I told her, she has been in three truly memorable films - Better Off Dead, The Last American Virgin (the most shattering comedy you'll see), and TerrorVision (a movie that combines awesomeness and awfulness in one amazing package).  I bought the last copy of her autobiography in hardcover, and got a picture with her.  But the great thing about getting a picture with her, is that she still has the hat and coat her character wore in Better Off Dead, and she wears the hat while you wear the coat.  After Jason took my picture, he pulled out his wallet and paid the 10 bucks for his own picture, because how could you not?  She was truly great, and I can't wait to read the book.

But the best person I got to talk to was Daniel Roebuck.  Most people know him as the science teacher who blew up on Lost.  I was originally going to have him sign by my review of The River's Edge because he's truly terrifying in that film, but once I realized he was in Dudes, one of the coolest movies no one has ever seen, I had to get him to sign by that (3 star) review.  Then we had a long conversation about Cavegirl, one of those terrible 80's flicks that I just can't get enough of.  We talked for a good chunk of time, and it's one of the reasons why I try and go to these events.  Just a nice guy.

And I finished off the show with meeting the director of TerrorVision, Ted Nicolaou, and he told me why Gerrit Graham wasn't on the "Making of TerrorVision."  (He was filmed, but the sound was bad so it wasn't used.)  And I finally got Bill Mosely (Chop Top from Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2) to sign my review notebook.  He seems to be at a lot of these shows, and it was about time that I met him.

So, was it worth it?  Heck, yeah!  Would I liked to have a chance to look through the dealer rooms?  Yeah.  But that's the convention's fault.  Sorry guys.  Not my fault.  But, hey, Cinema Wasteland is in 2 weeks.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Day 452 - Django Unchained (and Norm Greenbaum)

So, I actually hadn't planned to write anything, but sometimes you just have to.  And Django Unchained was as good a movie to write about as anything.
I still remember reading Film Threat back in college, and they had been raving about Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs for months before it actually came out.  Then I got to see it in the theater with my buddy Greg, and when the film was over, we had a discussion about whether or not we thought Harvey Keitel pulled the trigger at the end or not (I thought he did, he thought he didn't).  Regardless, I knew after seeing that film, I was more than ready to watch whatever he wanted to make.
The newly Academy Award winning Django Unchained is Tarantino's newest effort.  And while it may not be his best, it might be his most fun.  It captures the feel of a 70's exploitation film, along with a Robert Altman-esque western vibe (which, is to say, it looks like McCabe and Mrs. Miller), as well as that ever-important (and clever) dialogue that is Tarantino's signature.
Set two years before the Civil War, bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (portrayed masterfully by Christoph Waltz - in a performance that is as charming as his Inglorious' role was nasty) teams up with Django (Jamie Foxx - clearly enjoying himself) to both collect some bounties and eventually free Django's wife, Broomhilda, from the vile clutches of Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio - having the time of his life).  Much bloodshed ensues.
Much has been said about the violence in the film.  But you've got to know, going into the film, that it's a Tarantino movie.  Caveat emptor.  But what seems to be overlooked is that it feels incredibly 70's.  The blood gushes out in arterial sprays that have no semblance of realism attached to them.  His visual flourishes are a statement as much as his musical cues (which, as always, seem spot on).  We're watching Tarantino's filmic reality, and in his world, this is what would happen.
As for the neverending use of the "n" word, there are no apologies.  For some of the characters, it's a way to ingratiate themselves with others, for some it's simply because they don't know any other way, and for others it's because they're racist.  And those racist ones - yeah, they get what's coming to them.  Because the film doesn't seem like it has a racist agenda at all.  King Schultz is one of the most progressive characters in the film, and slavery is something that he does not like.  Putting a bullet in the chest of a wanted man doesn't make him bat an eyelash.  But seeing a black man (or woman) with whip lashes on their back, shakes him to his core.  As well it should.
Fun, loud, smart, well-acted, overlong - completely Tarantino.  ****

And when I was driving home after the movie, Norm Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky" came on the radio.  At Christmastime, my uncle asked me what my favorite song was.  My reply was "Grey Matter" by Oingo Boingo.  And it is, but the incredibly close number two would have to be "Spirit in the Sky."  The first time the song really impacted me was during the opening credits of Miami Blues (starring Alec Baldwin and Jennifer Jason Leigh).  The credits are the only thing on the screen, and all you hear is the song.  It's a great opening, and it immediately sucks you into the film.  I remember watching it in the student lounge on a Monday night.  (man, that was a long time ago).  Years later, I bought the soundtrack to A Perfect World on cassette for a buck because the song was on it, and I could then listen to it in my car whenever I wanted.  And after that, I had my buddy Brian make me a CD of my own specially picked songs, and the first one on that CD...duh.  It's a great song to sing along to, and it's a great song to drive to.  Music is always so subjective, but when a song can conjure up memories or inspire joy, then I think it's worth writing about (or at least listening to).
(Of course, now I want to watch Miami Blues again.)