Thursday, May 21, 2015

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night - Vampire as Cool Kid

Movie: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
My Rating: 4 stars

This movie is very hip.  It’s not just the black and while color palette.  Or the cool kid soundtrack.  (Of course those help).  I think it’s more about how the main characters slink silently through their world.  They say almost nothing, but those sulking faces are more expressive than words.  And, what they’re saying is “We’re cooler than you.”  I think I agree—probably because I want it too hard.  But, with these kids it’s effortless.  That could have something to do with the confidence that comes with being a deadly vampire.
Of course, we’re all used to slick, stylish vampires.  What makes this story so interesting is that it’s a vampire movie set in Iran.  And, somehow it’s a Western too.  It’s got all the Western tropes: loners, prostitutes, tyrants, a dry, desolate landscape, and a quiet, misunderstood hero.  Of course, the filmmaker couldn’t have actually filmed such an edgy film in Iran.  So, while it’s Persian language, actual filming took place in the lovely Kern County, California.  I couldn’t say for sure, but I think Kern County plays a pretty convincing double.  The town is supposed to be a pretty desolate place, empty of any hope.
Another element of the story that really stands out to me is just how lonely everyone is—especially our vampire friend, and the handsome protagonist that she just can’t bear to kill.  (I guess it would make sense that a vampire wouldn’t want to eat everyone she meets).  Every character is looking for meaning in their lives, and they all have their own strategies.  Some try to fill the void with drugs, others with sex, or frivolous parties.  But, our vampire is one of the few people who is actually seeking a human connection.  Dancing alone in her house to super cool records can only stave off loneliness for so long.  Now, if only she didn’t have an unquenchable thirst for human blood.  That’s pretty inconvenient for someone trying to make friends.

I think you’d probably better see this movie if you’re one of those types who likes to consider themselves very knowledgeable about the world of film.  But, I think it’d also be pretty interesting to people who aren’t quite so pretentious.  The acting is mesmerizing, and the black and white palette is haunting.  And, you’ll really find yourself caring what happens to these pour souls.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road - Grease, Sand, and Explosions!

Movie: Mad Max: Fury Road
My Rating: 5 stars

This is a super fun, balls-out, summer blockbuster.  It’s outrageous, over the top, and even a little sexy, and it apologizes for none of it.  I loved it!  I even went to the theater to see it on opening day, which is a thing I rarely do. And, I’d see it again.  This movie really is insane.  There’s more fire, car crashes, and twisted metal than you’ve ever seen before.  And, the movie just keeps throwing these things at you.  There’s so much to look at, and such sensory overload, that it’s almost impossible to catch every detail in one viewing.
The story appears to be a continuation of the Mad Max saga, rather than a re-make.  The first Mad Max movie takes place at the moment where society is starting to break down, and individual ne’er-do-wells are taking advantage of the anarchy by running amok.  And, the second one is a desolate wasteland in which groups of these rogues have banded together to do even larger scale pillaging.  In the third, several different micro-civilizations have sprung up—some good, others evil.  And, it appears that this movie takes place even further along in time, when the baddies have managed to construct huge temples to their violent, bloodthirsty, testosterone-fueled lifestyle. There’s even a well-established hierarchy of classes, and differentiation of labor.  It’s a well-oiled war machine.  And, it really is an impressive sight to behold—the rowdy “War Boys” and their huge convoy of death and destruction getting psyched up for a raid.  I can understand how that atmosphere would be intoxicating.
Interestingly enough, “Max,” played by Tom Hardy, isn’t really the protagonist in this film.  He just kind of gets caught in the middle of a fight that’s not his, and does the best he can to survive.  Charlize Theron is the real star of the show, playing Imperator Furiosa.  She’s something like a general in Citadel City’s war convoy.  But, her conscience has gotten the best of her, and she’s gone rogue.  She’s decided to kidnap the “wives” of the disgusting, decaying War Lord, to take them somewhere where they won’t be kept as sex slaves.  And, these wives are something to behold.  They’re super models.  The War Lord has found the most beautiful women left on earth to use as his own, private breeding stock.  It makes the skin crawl. 
Needless to say, this guy is none too happy to discover that his girls are missing, so he sets his whole army of insane, deformed goons after them.  Really, this movie is just one big car chase.  Granted, it’s a very fiery, explody, bone-crunching chase, and it’s very exciting.  These guys drive custom-welded, Frankenstein’s-monster-grade, war vehicles, complete with booby traps and heavy artillery.  And, they’re loaded to the gills with War Boys with a death wish.  There’s never a dull moment.

I think you already know that I’m going to tell you to go see this movie.  And, try to see it in the theater.  It’s so amazing.  I can’t wait to see it again.  I already mentioned that there are so many little details hidden in every frame of the film that you’d need to watch it multiple times to catch them all.  And, I’m planning on doing just that.  This is just the trashy, exciting, summer flick that I’d been waiting for.  Don’t miss out on this one.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof - Gold-Diggers and Cry-Babies

Movie: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
My Rating: 3 stars

Every now and then I’ll get a virtuous impulse and I’ll decide to rent an old classic.  You know the type—one of those old standards that you really should have seen already, and are ashamed to admit that you haven’t.  And, on this occasion, I decided to treat myself to a spoonful of sugar with my medicine, and picked this one starring Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor at the peak of their physical attractiveness.  Now, if only their characters weren’t just nagging each other throughout the whole story.  But, the movie is based on a Tennessee Williams play, and that’s pretty much all he writes about—rocky relationships and emotional turmoil, with a healthy dose of bickering.
This story is about a bunch of gold-diggers trying to coax every last dollar out of their dying patriarch.  And, I’m really not sure who is supposed to be the sympathetic protagonist.  All the characters are pretty awful.  Paul Newman sulks in his pajamas, and hits the bottle.  Elizabeth Taylor slinks around in her sexy dress, trying to bat her eyelashes into an inheritance.  The older brother and sister-in-law are obnoxious, socially tone deaf, tattletales.  And, their kids are bratty, little hellions.  I don’t think we’re supposed to sympathize with the sick father either—the disgustingly named “Big Daddy.”  He’s a bloated, lecherous pig, and he’s truly an asshole to his wife and kids.  But, I suppose the whole thing is probably a scathing commentary on the human condition or something.

All that being said, I guess you should probably add this movie to your queue—even if it feels a bit like homework.  Even though I complain about the characters, Newman and Taylor really are fun to watch.  I wouldn’t necessarily call it good acting.  Perhaps it’s just a stylistic difference that changes with the passage of time, but I found their acting to be a little too grand for me.  But, those two do stir up some feelings.  So, go ahead and watch this one.  Pull it out on one of those lazy days when you’re just lying on the couch doing nothing.  It’ll make the day feel like not so much of a waste.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For - Sex and Guns

Movie: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
My Rating: 3 stars

This movie is essentially just a ninety-minute excuse to take a good long look at Eva Green’s tits.  And believe me, they’re glorious.  I was surprised that they didn’t get their own separate billing, for how much screen time they received.  In fact, they were featured so prominently that I actually became desensitized to them.  You know how if someone enters the room, and you need to pause your movie while they’re talking to you?  And, you usually wait for a neutral frame to come up so there isn’t a lurid picture on screen while you’re chatting?  Well that happened to me, but I actually got so used to seeing Eva Green’s rack that I paused the movie on a full naked shot without another though.  I knew there must be a reason why peoples’ eyes kept darting to the screen.
But, of course there is a lot more to this movie than just some nude, chiaroscuro romps.  Yes, most of the story does revolve around strippers, prostitutes, and gold-diggers.  It is Sin City after all.  It’s the second movie in the franchise, and I had actually been waiting for this one for quite a while.  I loved that dark, graphic novel aesthetic, and the almost-cheesy, hard-boiled dialogue from the first film.  It’s very stylized, and very sexy, even for how violent the film is.  But, I was a little confused about the timeline.  The events seem to take place after those in the first film.  But, it features several characters that I was sure had died in that first movie.  Oh well.  Maybe the stories are supposed to overlap?  But, this story is definitely much simpler than the original.
I almost wish that the plot had been a little more intricate.  There was so much going on in the first film that I had to watch it several times just to figure out what was going on.  It was very difficult to keep the different story lines straight.  But there really was just one main plot line and one peripheral story in this one.  The little side story is about a man who just can’t lose at gambling (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).  Of course, this little trick of his gets him into a world of trouble in a world where crime bosses like to keep close tabs on all their card rooms.  And, the main story is about Eva Green—the “dame to kill for”—and her irresistible feminine wiles.  And believe me, she’s using them for all they’re worth.  You won’t be dissatisfied.

This movie definitely isn’t as good as the first, but that’s no reason to skip it.  There’s still plenty going on here to enjoy.  The acting is captivating, and the aesthetic is dramatic.  There’s lots of bare flesh to gawk at.  And, at the very least, it’s another visit to that dark, intoxicating world we came to know in the original.  Just don’t watch it with anyone who would get too jealous.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Stripped - Inside Your Favorite Sunday Morning Comic Strips

Movie: Stripped
My Rating: 4 stars

I think everyone has memories of that childhood glee they felt upon unfolding the big, colorful sheets of the Sunday comics.  That seems like a pretty universal experience.  So, even though newspaper comic strips have become pretty cheesy and are relatively light on actual humor, we all have a soft spot in our hearts for them because of that nostalgia.  So, because of this feeling, I was really interested in watching this documentary about classic comic strip artists.  It’s actually a movie I help fun on Kickstarter.
The film crew managed to get an impressive amount of different artists to participate in the project.  They lured in some of the old, classic guys, like the talent behind strips like Peanuts, Garfield, and For Better or For Worse.  And, then they talk with some of the new generation of artists who are releasing most of their panels on the internet, like the creator of The Oatmeal.  This crew even managed to snare an (audio only) interview with the infamously reclusive Bill Waterson.  That’s quite a feat!  The documentary follows the whole timeline of newspaper comics.  It takes us through the heyday, when every town had a local newspaper, and artists were raking in syndication money.  And, then it scans the landscape today, now that most news reporting has moved online, and physical newspaper companies are shutting their doors.  But, the tone of this documentary isn’t defeatist or pessimistic.  While it recognizes the ending of an era, and respects the mourning of the elder artists, it is ultimately embraces change as the natural progression of society and technology.
I really liked all the personal touches in this film.  The tone is so warm and friendly because the filmmakers captured so much candid and relaxed conversation with all the artists.  They talk about how they first got into comics, their process, and their early careers.  And, they discuss the current state of the industry.  There aren’t big gatekeepers anymore, so many more people can offer their contributions to the world.  But, the internet is such a big place, that it’s really hard to get anyone to notice you.  But, none of these guys feel too bitter about it.  Or, they don’t let it show on camera, at least.

I really liked this documentary.  But, even though the experience of enjoying newspaper comics is a pretty universal one, I do recognize that this film is only for a very niche audience.  It’s for people who like to nerd out about comics, and who absolutely must know about all the work and personalities behind their favorite strips.  So, I think your casual fan might be a little bored.  But, I found the film very worthwhile watching, so if it piques your interest even a little, go for it.