October 2009

Smiley Fangs: Three Vampire Comedies

Happy Halloween, readers. While this holiday practically requires scary movies, the truth is that sometimes we like our monsters to have more in common with harmless trick-or-treaters than the beasts who populate our R-rated slashterpieces. This goes double for what is arguably history's favorite monster, the vampire. Blood-sucking creatures of the night can be scary, but they're also fine fodder for humor. The following three fang flicks are some of the most endearing vampire comedies on any rental shelf.

Anvil: A Metal (Love) Story

In the last decade or so, there’s been a spate of fictionalized music bio-pics that have been not only successful in the market place, but also from an artistic standpoint. A few straight documentaries like American Hardcore have been successful in its own way. But there don’t seem to be too many films which garnered the favor of the press like Anvil: The Story of Anvil.

Oddly enough, the film focuses on a band that never really hit it big. Somehow, Anvil was able to perform alongside some of the bigger names in metal, play in Japan and count guys from Metallica and Anthrax as fans. They just never got a proper record deal.

9 Has Room for Much More

All you have to do to get me to watch a movie is to throw these two words at me: Tim Burton.(Or puppets. Or stop motion. Or claymation. OK, there are a few things you could say.) You do that and I’m already sold. I’ve only been disappointed by something with his name on it maybe 5% of the time, if that, and am totally on board to see anything and everything he’s involved with.

When I first saw the trailers for 9, however, I wasn’t all that thrilled about it. I figured we’d wait to see it on DVD. The animation was interesting, sure, but it just felt like something was missing. My husband was more excited to see it than I was, and per our agreement for our recent date day, since we saw my pick—Where the Wild Things Are—we had to see his pick, too, which was, of course, 9.

Where the Wild Things Are Will Blow You Away

If there is one movie that I’m so glad I forked my nine bucks (well, eighteen, considering my husband and I both saw it) over for—and would readily do it again in a heartbeat if we managed to get a babysitter again—it’s Where the Wild Things Are.

Though I’ve been a Spike Jonze fan for years, and was enthralled, delighted and even bemused by both Adaptation and Being John Malkovich, nothing had prepared me for the wonder—and sometimes even a bit of terror—induced by Wild Things. Sure, I love the book; my daughter and I love to “gnash our terrible teeth” and act like the monsters.

But this… boy, this was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. And I’m telling you, as much as I love both fantasy and puppet movies (Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal…hell, anything from Jim Henson Studios), this was a whole new ball of wax (or, pile of monsters, as it was).

Messed-Up Movie Marathon

I'm happy to admit that I have a lifelong love for strange movies. I would rather watch something that can better be described as "disturbing" rather than "gory" and there's something much more entertaining about an incoherent train wreck of a film than one that tries to be traditionally funny. The following movies really ought to be watched in one, long marathon for anyone interested in pushing the limits of what a single person can take over the course of a day.

The Bellboy: Jerry Lewis in Mime

Mimes don’t get a lot of play in today’s culture. Maybe they don’t deserve it and have thusly been relegated to being street performers or oddball attractions at fairs and the like. It is, though, possible that mime is just another lost art. But the classic conception of mime – in my mind at least – traces its way back to France and the Monsieur Hulot films by Jaques Tati.

In each of his films as Hulot, Tati wondered through a modern world, at odds with its perceived civilities and niceties. Struggles with elevators, revolving doors, modern families and woman pervaded each one of the three Hulot films.

Lars and the Real Girl: A Study in Silicon

Firstly, let me explain why I watched this flick – Lars and the Real Girl – at all. I had initially steered clear of the movie seeing as it appeared to be a something not detached from chick-flicks, with just an added aura of slackerdom to it all. I suppose that wasn’t a tremendous mis-reading of the whole thing, although it was a bit surprising to see where the narrative went. But Ryan Gossling is the film’s star. He’s a dude who I can’t really claim to know or care too much about. The actor did, however, recently release a self titled album as one half of the L.A. based Dead Man’s Bones. So, after hearing the disc, watching the film that (almost) made him famous seemed appropriate.

Larry Bishop x Quentin Tarantino = Hell Ride

When I watched Wild in the Streets (1968) last winter, I was as excited about what the music would sound like that accompanied the film as the actual plot. Neither, it turns out, was anything utterly fantastic or beyond some of the other American International Pictures releases of the time. Somehow though, Wild in the Streets was nominated for an Academy Award. Needless to say, it didn’t win, but the film served me as an introduction to Larry Bishop who was the bassist in the films fictitious band. He wasn’t too memorable, but had a face (and character who had a hook) that was.

Woody Allen x Larry David

I purposefully avoided watching Whatever Works for months. It’s been out of the theaters for a while and the hype has abated. So because of this I felt that it was time for a viewing. Going in, I didn’t look into the plot, see who appeared alongside Larry David. Nothing. I went in as a blank slate – well, one that has an unyielding affection for the principal actor as well as the director.

Of late, though, Woody Allen hasn’t quenched my need for twitchy Jews. It’s somehow comforting to see a version of me plastered up there, being accepted and even rooted for. But Allen’s last few films had little to do with the American Jew instead featuring European extravaganzas with writers and the like. That doesn’t mean that those films were bad, just different. None of them failed, but I wasn’t in them.

Sacha Baron Cohen is a Weird Austrian

It’s just short of shocking that Sacha Baron Cohen was able to fool as many people as he did in Brüno. The only thing keeping it all from going over the edge is the fact that for the most part, Baron Cohen is in the presence of a whole buncha morons.

Brüno finds the actor inhabiting the role of a gay, Austrian fashion freak who has a bit of a distorted self image. The onset of the film finds the Brüno character at the heights of his relative powers. He’s backstage at fashion shows in the company of what one should assume to be some famous industry folks, but seeing as fashion seems pretty vacuous, it kinda doesn’t matter – well, alright, the models, not the whole thing. How’s that?

Bagdad Cafe: The Worst Movie I Have Ever Seen

I've seen a lot of bad movies in my short time on planet Earth. I know the unique purgatory of humoring my young niece as she demands to watch the likes of 2007's Underdog and I, like you, have spent lazy Sunday afternoons indulging in the indistinguishable works of Steven Segal. But while these are all truly terrible movies, I can walk away from them with an understanding that they serve some sort of purpose outside of being good cinema. Kid's movies are designed to distract, action movies to indulge the part of the brain that likes watching people get kicked in the head without triggering the part that abhors real-life violence. In fact, most bad movies can be dismissed for one reason or another. That's why watching Percy Adlon's 1987 film Bagdad Cafe was such a unique experience. It was a bad movie in every sense of the word with absolutely no other purpose that might excuse its badness.

Four Rooms (1995)

Four Rooms was released around the time that Quentin Tarantino and Roberto Rodriquez were being lauded from every angle for anything. Even sneezing. The film, split into four distinct sections was written and helmed by individual directors (Allison Anders and Alexandre Rockwell and in addition to the aforementioned gentleman). There’s not an over arching narrative, just Tim Roth as the bellboy to hold it all together.

Frank Zappa's 200 Motels

Everything about Frank Zappa is confusing, surprising and weird. He made music at least tied to psychedelia, but was sober. He was, at heart, a classical musician, but played primarily in a rock setting. Zappa was a perfectionist when it came to his music and performances, putting his sidemen through rigorous tryouts and rehearsals, yet his movie (or attempts at the various unfinished films) seemed thrown together.

And they were.

A Brief History of Time: A (Kinda) Clear Explanation

Recently retiring from his Cambridge chair – once held by Isaac Newton – Stephen Hawking was the next Einstein and even proved some of his elder’s theories to be false. That’s some heady stuff to take care of before reaching the age of forty. Beyond even that, the fact that Hawking was and remains confined to a wheel chair makes all of his accomplishments all the more astounding – although it shouldn’t. That being said, his could also be considered the great democratizer of science. Hawking’s aim in writing the 1988 book A Brief History of Time was to engage the lay person in a scientific discourse relating to where the world and our solar system came from and furthermore, why. Heavy stuff.