Sunday, July 31, 2011

30 Day Film Challenge: Day 29: The Films That Depicts Your Life

I pushed this one to the end of the month.  It's a tough one, and required pretty significant thought.  If you'd asked me this in the fall of 2004, I would have immediately answered with Garden State.  That film has fallen out of favor with a number of its former fans, and while aspects of that still ring true, to really attempt to cobble together an adapted version of my life, one would have to remix roughly 10 films.  As individual wholes, none of these are identical to my split-life, 20-something, over-educated and (partially) underemployed, neurotic, state of perceived arrested development.  While there's no one film that is my life, I have devised an equation that would probably make for a pretty accurate master-mix of emotions, roles, and personality.  Here goes, good luck keeping track of the pluses and minuses:
Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore  (the disappointments that adulthood brings, tents in the living room, fiercely competitive, emotionally withdrawn)  
+  Kicking and Screaming (1995, in which life after college becomes all sitting around talking about the same pretentious things we talked about in college, but more cleverly than before)  
+   Annie Hall (in which I am not so much Annie as Alvy, and everything is killing me)  
+  The Philadelphia Story (in which we close ourselves off and give you the withering glance of the goddess) - three boyfriends at once 
+  The Last Days of Disco (where the dancing itself isn't key, but the figuring things out might be) - the constant clubbing 
+ Wonder Boys (which has already been explained) - the compulsive lying/dog killing + ascension  

+ High Fidelity (because boys aren't the only ones who can feel like Rob Gordon, in one way or another) - the list of exes 
+ Adventureland (I've never worked at a theme park, but sometimes it feels as though I am)  
+ The Science of Sleep (in which I am living in my head and seeing things differently) - the bipolar disorder 
= my life.  There you have it.  

Saturday, July 30, 2011

30 Day Film Challenge: Day 28: The Most Obscure Film You Have Seen

Day 28: The Most Obscure Film You Have Seen:
I find that once I've seen a film I'd considered obscure, the clouds seem to lift and I begin to stumble across that title everywhere.  Suddenly it appears on all sorts of lists, gets mentioned by a critic, is the pick of the week in some alt city newsrag or issue of Nylon, and so on.  With conditions like these, it becomes hard to tell what's actually obscure.  When Urban Outfitters sold a Ciao! Manhattan t-shirt, for example, does that mean other people have actually seen the film (or realize it's a film), or do they just like the sentiment and the picture of Edie Sedgwick's mug?  Or, if TIFF is running parts of Spirits of the Dead, does that signify it is or is not something people watch?  I've actually seen Matthew Barney's Cremaster 3, but is it knocked out by its inclusion in contemporary art theory textbooks?  Sometimes it seems as though the only truly obscure films are the forgotten pieces of B-movie detritus that never saw a theatrical release.  Thankskilling, for example, might be obscure.  Since a good portion of the readers of this particular site have film blogs of their own, I'm quite sure anything I mention won't be considered truly obscure.  I could say Last of England and suspect that a number of you might respond with "really, Derek Jarman?"  Salo, Sweet Movie, The Color of Pomegranates, The Fireman's Ball?  I honestly don't know anymore, my views are all slanted, when I talk I generally tend to assume people know what I'm talking about instead of the opposite.  So, let's just throw it all away and say that one of the most obscure bits of nonsense I've seen is probably Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam AKA: Turkish Star Wars, so called because it's cobbled together out of stolen footage and music from our Lucasfilm favorites.  This 1982 b-flick is about as dumb as they come, but it has one hell of an epic training montage.  The best thing about it?  You too can view it...right now.

Friday, July 29, 2011

30 Day Film Challenge: Day 27: Your Favorite Film Starring Your Least Favorite Actor/Actress

Day 27: Your Favorite Film Starring Your Least Favorite Actor/Actress
I made up this question.  The original was yet another prompt asking me to pick a film from my childhood.  Since I feel I've summarized that extensively, I've waved my fingers over the keyboard and played presto change-o with Day 27.

Now...look at that doofus. Yes, I've used doofus because I'm trying to restrain myself and be as polite as possible.  Why?  Because I can't stand Matthew McConaughey for reasons that are really just so overwhelmingly superficial that they'd be juvenile to list (but I feel a few coming anyhow).  McConaughey is just one of those people who irks me.  I don't like his face, I don't like his accent, I don't like most of his movies.  Supposedly, he's one of the sexiest dudes alive.  This is false.  Patently false.  One of the most annoying people alive? Sure.  On any given day possibly the most baked person alive?  Eh, maybe?  Sexiest?  Please.  Anyhow, his presence is enough to make me completely disinterested in a film.  I'm not sure I can watch The Lincoln Lawyer, guys, because the fact that he's in it is too much for me.  When we look over his oh-so-impressive filmography, there are exactly two times I've not had a problem with our drawling beachy Texan friend.  The first was in Contact.  I loved Contact when I was in middle school because I suffered from X-philia, and here was a charming little romantic drama centered around the discovery of life on other planets.  Contact gets a pass, though I haven't seen it in years, as the one moment where Matthew McConaughey does not seem at all like Matthew McConaughey (if memory serves).  The other film I will accept trace presences of McConaughey in is Tropic Thunder.  He's in that.  You might have forgotten.  That's what makes his presence acceptable: absence.  

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Double Fantasy (The Double Feature Blog-A-Thon)

Obviously, Chicago is nowhere near Los Angeles.  That, however, doesn't stop me from occasionally looking to see what sort of double feature programming is playing at the New Beverly.  So, when I noticed that the Hatter over at Dark of the Matinee indulged in Go, See, Talk's Double Feature Blog-A-Thon, I thought it might be fun to put together a week of my own dream programming, you know, since we're so meme-crazy this month (and since we have to do something to feel productive during two hours of Project Runway).  There are a million and a half clever Jeopardy!-esque title pairings, thematic twins, and so on (have you see TIFF's Fellini duos?) I'd love to do...but I decided to stick with the basics.  Know how to pack in the crowds?  Sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll.  Well, that and camp, kitsch, cult, leather, sequins, mesh, and velvet.

We call it "The Kids Are Alright: The Rise and Fall of Rock and Roll pt. 1."
Monday: I'm With the Band
Almost Famous / Sid & Nancy
In which we begin by breaking in to the inner circle and grabbing that backstage pass.  We're in hotel rooms, on buses, and behind the scene.  One blonde groupie for another, one teenage dream and one relationship turned rotten.  
Tuesday: Crash and Burn Girl
Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains / The Runaways
In which girls will rock, because this isn't about women's lib, it's about women's libido.
Wednesday: Sell Out
Josie and the Pussycats / Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
In which we are sold out by a Svengali, our future is uncertain, and orange is always the new pink. 
Thursday: We are the Boys
Velvet Goldmine / Purple Rain
In which baby, we are stars.  We are pop idols.
Friday: Love Will Tear Us Apart
24-Hour Party People / Control
In which Manchester is the place, and we are struggling.
Saturday: In the American Idiom
Starstruck / Hedwig and the Angry Inch
In which the invasion is not always British, and to be free, we must give up a little part of ourselves.
Sunday: Behind the Music
This is Spinal Tap / Dig!
In which we go up to eleven, and things are not always what they seem. 

30 Day Film Challenge: Day 26: Your Favorite Horror Film

Day 26: Your Favorite Horror Film: Suspiria (1977)

The first time I saw Suspiria, I remember being a tad disappointed.  See, I'd been looking for a gore film, or, at least, something that might actually manage to scare me.  I didn't find it here, and consequently chalked the whole thing up as a little overrated.  Somehow, though, I found myself giving Dario Argento's film another shot.  The second time I saw Suspiria I found something haunting instead of overtly "scary."  What's more, I'd forgotten how beautiful the film's set pieces and colors truly are.  Suspiria is something of a horror fairy tale.  It's a girl in a strange and enchanted land, a place that should be a dream but is instead corrupted and turned black (or in this case: bright reds, yellows, blues, greens, and pinks) by a darker element.  It's entrancing and, if it does frighten, it does so perhaps in part because it disarms.  Of course, I have other favorites in this genre (one I've come to have a great appreciation for).  For more, page back through the Love & Squalor '31 Days of Halloween' feature by clicking the lipstick bloodied head below...

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Yes, Really with Wilde.Dash #20: Ghost (1990)

The usual caveat: Believe it or not, for someone totally obsessed with movies, I do a lot of selective editing, snubbing, and ignoring. That is to say: there are a whole lot of well-known movies I've actually never bothered to watch. I've spent a lot of time hunting down obscurities and not quite as much time seeing the movies you've probably been watching since you were 10 years old. Because of this, in conversation I frequently have this interaction. Me: "I've never actually seen that movie" You: "What? I've seen a movie you haven't?" Me: "Yes" You: "How have you not seen that movie?" Me: "I never wanted to" You: "Really?" Me: "Yes, really." Thus: Yes, Really with Wilde.Dash a feature in which I fill in my pop culture education, watch all the boring basics, and let you know whether or not I decided they were worth my time. Get it? Got it? Good.

Last month I ran a poll asking you to help select the order for the subjects of this little feature.  This month, I’m regretting putting Ghost on there.  I hate myself for that, but I definitely hate all the people who voted to make it the NUMBER ONE MOVIE I MUST WATCH even more.  You people are sadistic.  That was malicious, obviously, because Ghost is like 100% pure nonsense where the only good points are Whoopi Goldberg’s facial expressions.  I’m befuddled, people, as to how this movie has remained in our pop culture vocabulary, because seriously?  Casper was a better movie about ghoulish crushes.

First, I was bored. Then, I was like, really?  Following this: my face became Whoopi Goldberg’s face because it was experiencing a constant state of “oh no they didn’t” and “you’ve got to be kidding me.”  There are at least four different movies going on at once and the only thing holding them together is, essentially, Patrick Swayze talking to himself.  Here’s my count:  1. Love story (between Molly and Sam) 2. Undead comedy buddy movie (between Sam and Oda Mae) 3. Corporate crime thriller thing (between that crazed man and everyone) 4. Supernatural self-discovery film (between Sam and himself...deep).  Note to Hollywood: mixing any two of these puts you on exceptionally unstable ground.  Mixing all of them?  Are you a mad man?  This movie is like putting together a Frankensteined chimera: you absolutely should not let it happen.  It’s amazing any viewer fell in line with this because where Swayze's Sam may be a character, Demi Moore is just a prop. Molly isn’t fully developed.  Instead, she's a mechanism with a pulse and a trendy haircut who occasionally says something to a more developed character which thus allows the plot to move forward.  Any of these, for example:  “She knew things about me.” “What was that woman’s name?”  “Does this have anything to do with the woman at the bank?”  Those are paraphrased, but that’s really it.  In essence, this is a love story between a dead man and a vacant woman.  There's nothing there.  I'll ask again: how is this one of the most culturally recognized romances of the 90’s? 
Oh yeah, because of that “Unchained Melody” scene, which was the biggest cinematic surprise I’ve had since I learned that Patton’s speech in front of the flag was that film’s opener.  Here was what I always thought Ghost was (and the poster really supports this theory): a movie about a lady getting it on with a ghost.  I’ve lived my life sure of this because the pottery scene out of context seems like something she could totally be imagining…with a ghost.   When I discovered that the "sexy time pottery scene" was in the first ten minutes of the film, and that Patrick Swayze’s character Sam was still alive for its duration, I was pretty disappointed. I knew everything would be downhill from there because this clearly was not a movie actually about paranormal passions and would thus have to have some other narrative elements apart from “sometimes there’s this ghost who visits me and we get it on.”  I’m not sure if the movie I described would be better or worse, but it would definitely be slightly more hilarious.

Instead, the only reason I kept watching this movie was because Whoopi Goldberg was comedically compelling in it.  I like to think that Whoopi was fully aware that she was saving this movie by playing it like the comedy it should have been. Much like Johnny Depp in The Tourist, Whoopi appears to have received a different script.  Whoopi's character is engaged in post-modern folly and she's the only person who seems to be aware that Ghost is ludicrous.  Whoopi acts the way I want to act as I watch the film.  She is there to tell Patrick Swayze he's full of it.  I to want to be able to yell at the movie's characters, to run around going “would you leave me alone already?” at the air.   Even so, I’m kind of amazed Whoopi won an Oscar for playing Oda Mae Brown in this though, because it’s pretty much identical to her performance in Sister Act, except just not as fun.  My only theory on this is that the Academy was confused and they were just so sucked in by Swayze playing dead that they considered Whoopi's channeling significantly more complicated than the average performance.  You know, because in 1990 they were very befuddled by the advanced special effects that allowed Sam to walk through a door and completely forgot that Whoopi was actually talking to a real person, in the same room as her.  Which, as you can see, makes it significantly more challenging than any other role ever.  Obviously.  Sarcasm.
The biggest shocker, though?  Um, that would be that not only is the ghost/lady interaction not a thing that happens, but when it gets close to happening, it becomes incredibly creepy.  I’m amazed people’s moms were so easily sold on this idea because apparently if Molly wants to get it on with a ghost she actually has to get it on with Oda Mae...which might be the very definition of the exact opposite of “romantic night with your dead husband,” but which definitely is exactly what’s going on at a climactic point in the movie.  Seriously, people, if you just thought Sam’s ghost was taking over Oda Mae’s body to make sweet love to his lady and that was all peachy keen, please imagine how awkward that scene actually is. If you’re not getting this, let me run through the details: 

Point: Oda Mae may be possessed by Sam, but Molly is still consciously making love to a psychic con woman who showed up screaming at her window the other day. An earlier scene of possession indicates that all Molly would see would be Oda Mae looking constipated as she attempted to ape Sam's manner of speech.  

Point: Oda Mae does not have the right equipment for this exchange. IE: male genitalia.

Point: I don’t think this is how spiritual exorcism works. I'm also not sure sex via third party qualifies as unfinished business.  Bust the crime, don't waste the time.

Point: even if you believed someone was hearing the voice of your dead boyfriend, would you really be cool when they were suddenly like “hey, I’m going to let him inhabit my body now, so, if you want to make out, that’s fine”?   Think about this.  Think about it really hard.  That’s a leap of logical faith that makes the whole movie one big steaming heap of collective insanity.  

In summary, Ghost is a movie about a tragic loss that ends with the dude’s wife running the bases with a con woman’s unconscious body.  The musical cues suggest we're supposed to swoon at this, but I’m quite positive that in some states, even though Oda Mae claims she’s cool with Sam moving in, what’s going on here is textbook rape.  Let's consult the state law on this, shall we?  Oh wait, we don't have to, because letting a ghost inhabit your body so that the two of them can have a talk about murder plots is not consent for that ghost to let his girlfriend get all up on a body that isn't his.  

Lesson of the day, kids.  Demi Moore=supernatural rapist.  I’m worried about this movie’s fan base
Stay tuned.  Next time, I take on the Bill Murray summer camp flick Meatballs. 

30 Day Film Challenge: Day 25: Your Favorite Western

Day 25: Your Favorite Western (Hays Code Era Edition):
Originally, this prompt read "favorite independent film," but once again, I called foul.  The lines between independent and studio film have blurred a bit at the edges, and I like too many indies to pull one out and declare it better than its kinfolk.  So, message to you: there's a surplus of little films out there waiting to be watched.  Seek them out.  In the meantime, I will continue the genre breakdown and discuss a category that was curiously absent from the challenge: the western.  Specifically, the old Hollywood notion of the western in existence during John Wayne's lifetime.  For this, There Will Be Blood does not factor, nor does Rango.  For this, I will state for the record that I am no great fan.  Something about westerns has always bugged me, I find them tiresome, and I have to admit that I've yet to find anything appealing about the Duke.  High Noon is a classic, but not a favorite.  For this, I choose three films.  These are the films that make me completely forget I've ever hated the western.

1. The Furies (1950):  Anthony Mann's over the top western melodrama is a feast of rage, passion, and Freudian psychology.  Barbara Stanwyck takes her tough talk to the ranch, and it works so very well.

2. Johnny Guitar (1954):  I'm not entirely sure whether it's the movie that I like, or just Joan Crawford's tough as nails role.  This movie puts the genre gender divide in flux and gives us a lady villain and a lady keeper of the peace in opposition.  Johnny himself is almost an afterthought...

3. Yojimbo (1961): Akira Kurosawa was certainly inspired by the American western, and while Seven Samurai has influenced a great many directors in Hollywood, Yojimbo is Kurosawa's rather direct homage to the films of John Ford.  While its setting is a village that's something other than the ghost towns of American myth, Yojimbo's high noon stand-offs and nomadic hero make for a better western film than a fair percentage of titles produced by Hollywood.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

30 Day Film Challenge: Day 24: Your Favorite Foreign Language Film

 Day 24: Your Favorite Foreign Language Film (Where the Whole Thing Feels Alien):
Again: your favorite foreign language film might be a decent prompt for someone who's seen all of three French films or martial arts epics, or a person who's about fourteen years old, but when your cinema diet consists of regular consumption of film from all countries, the question feels a little too broad.  I've already listed a slew of foreign films in my 30 Day sentence, so for this one I'll choose my favorite non-English bit of celluloid that feels as though it's speaking a different conceptual language in addition to its subtitled dialogue.  Enter stage left: Alejandro Jodorowsky and his un-Holy Mountain.  Here's a film that made me understand the colloquialism "that blew my mind," because, wait, what?  Did they just?  Did that happen?  Look at those colors!  Lizards with hats!  The film mixes Spanish and English, but its true language is a hodgepodge of religions, hippie dippie astrology, and cultures.

In truth, my absolute favorite thing about The Holy Mountain is watching it with others.  For some reason, it's a fantastic social experience (and experiment).  There's nothing quite like watching the faces of others as they watch Jodorowsky for the first time.  A bit of disgust, shock, awe, confusion, and a whole lot of me sort of giggling in the corner.

Monday, July 25, 2011

30 Day Film Challenge: Day 23: Your Favorite Mystery/Thriller Film

Day 23: Your Favorite Mystery/Thriller Film: Fight Club
While I've never really considered Fight Club a mystery or a thriller per se, I suppose it qualifies as a little of both. There's suspense, underground organizations, identity issues, to-the-minute judgment calls, and a string of unanswered questions running through its duration.  It's become a tad cliche to express affection for Fight Club.  I've certainly met people who've come to associate the film with some prolonged teenage rebellion or a newly developed interest in cinema.  In some ways, it's a sort of "poser" phenomenon in which those of us around since the beginning are now "over it" when we hear the unnamed space monkeys wax anti-establishment with their Hot Topic pants.  We have learned that we do not talk about Fight Club.  Well, Haters be damned.  Yes, I was one of those rare (at least at the time) female high schoolers who was positively thrilled when Fight Club's cult popularity took off.  Yes, there was a Project Mayhem pin on the strap of my messenger bag and yes, for years the film's poster decorated my bedroom.  Yet, in spite of all of this, while I've gone through long periods of not watching David Fincher's adaptation, I've never overdosed on the film itself.  An astonishing 12 years after the fact, Fight Club holds up.  With each revisit, it seems to change ever so slightly.  While some may have issues with plot elements or message, the fact is that this is a tremendously solid piece of filmmaking with electrifying performances, dazzling cinematography, and the sort of dialogue that's immediately quotable.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Love: Captain America: The First Avenger

While I generally don’t open up the reviews until long after the fact, I do, like many others, make a habit of checking out the cumulative grades of newly released movies on Rotten Tomatoes. Most of the time I only cite the scores as a means of convincing other people to join me on my movie watching quests, but this week I suffered a weird case of geek rage. I have absolutely no idea why it is that the mediocre Levi’s ad Thor and the passably entertaining but oft silly X-Men: First Class have both topped Captain America in terms of critical consensus. Seriously. What are you people drinking? There’s no doubt all three films are enjoyable action flicks, but for my money there’s only one that really seems to be reaching towards some organic summer movie experience apart from tying up loose ends or mandatory introduction. Captain America may be a lead in to The Avengers, but its framework allows this origin story to feel self-contained without the rushed moments or forced character introductions that made Thor problematic. This is more than just another superhero blockbuster, in fact, it’s barely that. There are effects, sure, but they’re not the focus. Instead, Captain America is a surprisingly solid, frankly old-fashioned adventure story. In my opinion, this is the best thing to come from Marvel since the first go at Iron Man, and it saves Chris Evans from his lamentable turn in those god awful Fantastic Four bombs.
Where the film delivers the goods expected from a traditional comic book film, its strengths are not derived from action. In a way, the story seems custom built to match our hero’s traits: it feels untainted and sincere. Contrary to popular belief, the good Captain is not some sort of Marvel excuse for Superman. The movie opens on Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a shrimp of a kid from Brooklyn who desperately wants to be able to join up and serve his country in the fight against Hitler. So much so that he’s tried to enlist on multiple occasions, under multiple pseudonyms, and been turned away each and every time. Enter Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci), a German ex-pat who sees potential in Rogers’ earnestness and opens up a military loophole that allows young Steve to suit up for boot camp and have his mettle tested by a smart-mouthed, exhausted Colonel (Tommy Lee Jones). One thing leads to another, Rogers proves he’s got soul and guts, and soon he’s strapped into one of those magical, mystical machines of comic science being vita-lasered until he’s pumped from 90-pound weakling into a super-soldier prototype. Even in the wake of his mutated abilities, however, no one has faith in his powers. They use him as an Uncle Sam symbol, a patriotic puppet to sell government bonds. The key to the character’s success, which Dr. Erskine points out early on, is that Rogers has heart. Here’s a hero who was not born into privilege or physical strength, but who acquires it in part because of his strength of character. Evans is a perfect choice for the character. Where we’re used to seeing him in roles as cocky hotheads, in this film he’s immediately likable as a warm, smart, All-American boy next door. His character’s innocence registers in his eyes, and here Evans comes off as alarmingly genuine, he believes in his convictions, is loyal to those he cares for, and unflinchingly self-sacrificing even when confronted with the most dire of world-threatening situations.
So, the film is not made of razzmatazz but of the meat and potatoes of retro adventure. Captain America at its best feels like a radio play gone rogue; done up for the big screen and made into a cinema spectacle.  At its worst, it feels like a bit of a rerun. There’s nothing especially new here, of course. The story offers fairly obvious twists and turns and pulls from numerous other tales of wartime adventure, but when you’ve got a solid hero and the best types of villain (watch as Hugo Weaving tries out his oddly inflected German accent as Red Skull, one nasty Nazi mad scientist), it’s hard to veer too far off track. This film does what other contemporary comic book adaptations have not been able to do: it plays with the superhero mythos as originally intended, mixing in real societal yearning and patriotism with an odd, self-aware, satirical quality. Captain America is a hero without conflict because his aim is true and his targets are those we know to be really and truly evil. He’s in the right, and somehow this certainty triggers an odd nostalgia in the illusion of black and white battles. At its core, the film is a period piece with beautiful touches from the art directors that keep it somewhere between picking up where Indiana Jones left off and drifting too far towards what Sky Captain attempted. We can feel good about it, even as Captain Rogers’ story turns bittersweet. These factors are amongst the reasons why this character may perhaps be the most interesting one mixed into The Avengers. He’s lost everything of the life he knew, frozen (as we learn in the opening scene) for 70 years and reborn in a world where nothing is black and white, where America is under attack, and where the type of bright-eyed patriotism he embodies no longer exists. I look forward to seeing how this character adapts and struggles. If they can’t fit that subplot into The Avengers, I can only hope Captain America gets the sequel he deserves.

30 Day Film Challenge: Day 22: Your Favorite Documentary Film

A Favorite Documentary Film (One That You Actually Don’t Mind Watching Again):  The Films of Jean Painleve
I watch a fair amount of docs, but that world of filmmaking is not exactly my focus, if you know what I mean.  So, a favorite documentary has to be one I don’t mind watching again (that isn’t the rain forest portion of Planet Earth or youtube videos on the fascinating display created by mating on it, it's amazing.  You'll thank me).  While my first impulse was to put down Dig!, what I really like to see in a documentary is a curious, museum-like quality.  The films of Jean Painleve are exactly that.  Painleve’s shorts (collected beautifully in the Criterion Collection's Science is Fiction set) are hypnotic perhaps because they’re so simple that they become art as well as artifact.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

30 Day Film Challenge: Day 21: Your Favorite Animated Film

(A) Favorite Animated Film (Non-Disney*): Princess Mononoke
When I was in my freshman year of high school I begged my parents to drive me downtown to see Princess Mononoke.  At that point, it was just an animated import from Japan (2 years after the fact) that the critics were going wild about and that I didn't know how to pronounce.  I can’t recall how I caught wind of the buzz at that age, but I had, and the movie was playing at approximately one location: a three-screen cinema that, from the outside, looked more like a windowless brick factory complex than a theater.  This was the now defunct McClurg Court, which is now nothing but (if I’m not mistaken) a luxury apartment complex just off Michigan Avenue.  At the time, Princess Mononoke may have been my first real theatrical experience with foreign cinema, though the version we saw was the dubbed Miramax offering that was the only one around (not bad, as dub-jobs go).  All of this, I suspect, contributed to my immediate obsession with the film.  It was new, shiny, unlike anything I’d ever seen before, and completely untainted by the existence of any preconceived notions on American Manga/Anime culture (in 1999, this was fringe stuff for a newly hatched teenager).   Hayao Miyazaki’s film spoke to me at that point in my life and Mononoke has remained my favorite even in the wake of further imports like Spirited Away.  This one was dark, environmental and mythological; magical without being saccharine.  While I’d grown up believing that animation wasn’t just for kids, this was perhaps the film that really proved it to me.   For a kid who spent ages 6-10 telling teachers she wanted to grow up to be an animator, Princess Mononoke was proof of life after the Mouse. 

*Miyazaki films now distributed by Disney or affiliates (Miramax, then) do not factor as Disney or Disney/Pixar offerings.

Friday, July 22, 2011

30 Day Film Challenge: Day 20: Your Favorite Sci-Fi/Fantasy Film

A Favorite (Movie that is Both Sci-Fi and Fantasy): Black Moon
There are simply too many films I like in both of these categories (though sci-fi wins) for me to possibly choose from them.  That said, I’ve decided to narrow the options by replacing that slash (as though all ‘geek’ genres were created equal) and subbing in an ‘and.’    Because considering Blade Runner’s dream unicorns as fantasy elements would be cheating, let’s talk about Black Moon!  As filmmakers go, Louis Malle is a truly eclectic one.  His resume spans continents, languages, and topics.  He’s responsible for the darling Nouvelle Vague comedy Zazie dans le Metro, the oh-so-serious wartime flick you watched three times in high school French class (Au Revoir, Les Enfants), and two hours of watching the Grand Nagus (that’s Wallace Shawn, for those who don’t speak Trek) talk about his life.  Somewhere in between these films is the absolutely oddball Black Moon, which can be broken down and oversimplified thusly: future dystopian/post-apocalyptic Alice in Wonderland.  The film evokes a certain level of discomfort.  It’s hard to get comfortable in a world that teeters between the innocent and the perverse.  In one moment, our teenage protagonist Lily (Cathryn Harrison) is having a conversation with a unicorn in a garden, in the next, she’s watching what appears to be a battle of the sexes in which the genders (in gas masks) slaughter each other mercilessly, in another, she’s watching one half on a pair of incestuous siblings feed an elderly woman from her breast.   It’s surrealist, disconcerting, and never attempts to explain itself with superfluous dialogue or exposition of any sort.  Malle called it his “mythological fairy tale taking place in the near future,”  and luckily for you: if you’re interested in a strange little journey, the Criterion Collection recently made this available in DVD and Blu-Ray.    

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Late Night Trailers: The Amazing Spider-Man

Don't you just love watching trailers knowing you'll have to wait an entire year for the actual movie?  After ignoring the Dark Knight Rises trailer last week (let's be real, it was mostly old footage and narration), we get a pretty intriguing offering from Marvel in the form of a teaser for The Amazing Spider-Man.  Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 were good films, but Spidey just isn't my favorite, and I was among those who tired of Sam Raimi's brightly colored world quickly.  If teaming up with Disney means we get a darkly shaded reboot from Marvel, I'm all for it.  Andrew Garfield appears to fit the bill and I'm pleased to see that while the origins remain the same, the movie looks like it's capable of breathing new life into the character.  Now...the waiting.  Next July, kids.

30 Day Film Challenge: Day 19: Your Favorite Romantic Film

Day 19: (A) Favorite Romantic Film (In the Byronic Sense):  A Single Man
Blame the English degrees, but when I hear 'romantic' I have to veer away from hearts and flowers.  I don't want to talk about my teenage infatuations with Moulin Rouge! or Amelie, but would rather give you a love story that's romantic in a manner closer to what those 18th century writers were thinking when they waxed poetic.  A Single Man is a tale of love lost, and becomes the odd romance of a misanthrope.  Colin Firth evokes a tremendous amount of surprisingly raw emotion as George, a man isolated, trapped in the past, brave in his surrender, and more deserving of an Oscar than another bloody king (though that movie was quite good as well).  He's the classic misunderstood loner, only this time he's a partially closeted gay man coping with issues no one seems equipped to help him grapple with.  The film is one devoted to art direction, perfection, and scenery via cinematography.  It's not romantic in the sense that he's gifted a happy ending or because we feel warm and fuzzy and saptastic, but because its cinematic DNA is truly beautiful and moving dangerously close to the undefinable sublime.  There's an appreciation for nature and a happiness in landscape, too, though mostly the landscapes it celebrates aren't quite what those noble poets were contemplating when the Industrial Revolution came rolling into town.  I mean, Tom Ford does wonders with a 1960's Los Angeles parking lot...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

30 Day Film Challenge: Day 18: Your Favorite Action Film

Day 18: (A) Favorite Action Film (Raw Power Variety): Die Hard
As we continue to narrow down these broad categories with specifics, I've chosen to define the action film option with the most basic pop cultural definition of the genre: a hero, a villain, a lot of guns, a lot of explosions.  When you cut out the superheroes, the sci-fi bent, and anything leaning more cerebral than straight, no-holds barred raw power pummeling, the choices are narrowed significantly and my favorite immediately becomes the original Die Hard.  While I couldn't care less for the sequels, that first outing with John McClane was, for lack of a better word, awesome.  I believe this is in large part thanks to Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber, who takes the movie to the next level the way only a great villain can (Cate Blanchett proved this recently in Hanna).
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