Thursday, January 31, 2008

I want this gun...

...but I don't want to be this guy:

He looks like the Star Wars kid trying to stage a shoot-out.

The sound of that gun is amazing, though, isn't it? It's an 1851 Navy, a percussion revolver.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Drawings for Phinehas

These are some t-shirt designs for my friend Glen Gizzi's band, Phinehas.

This design was inspired by a goat character from the fantastic American version of Creature Comforts. Just the eyes, mouth, and face shape. Everything else came into place in my head.

This next design is based off of the nickname their band has, The Filthy Five. The gray-tone in the image would be printed as a half-tone pattern on the shirt. I found the font online, it's called "Eastwood."

Friday, January 25, 2008

Pale Rider (1985)

I first watched Pale Rider years ago when I was trying to plow through all the Clint Eastwood westerns (post Leone), and I remember that it didn't strike me enough to buy it at the time. I didn't remember much else about it, however, and a recent book purchase (Metallic Cartridge Conversions -- excellent book) revived my interest. After all, my first viewing actually took place before my current fervor, when that zeal was merely average interest. So, I thought a second viewing was in order, one with my current Beer Goggles, in order to re-evaluate the movie's merits.

Well, it's decided: it's not a great movie. It does have some great stuff in it, but the great is bogged down by the boring. The concept for the story is great: an unnamed man, who might be a divine force, comes to town to serve defend the weak, inspire the good, and destroy the evil. It's the same concept as High Plains Drifter, only Clint's character comes off as a bit more likable. His costume, name (simply "Preacher"), demeanor (I love the way he deals with trouble), hinted-at back story, and methods make for a very memorable Western icon. One example that appealed particularly to me was his choice of firearm: a Remington New Model Army cartridge conversion. There's even a scene where they show (accurately) Clint reloading the gun by changing out the cylinder (as he calmly walks towards his final adversary -- really cool).

The action scenes were good. The initial confrontation between the Preacher and the boss's usual thugs was good, as was the final showdown between the Preacher and the hired Marshal. There's a great shot where the Preacher's face is finally revealed to the Marshal, and he has these deep black eyes and this chilling expression. He really looks like the Angel of Death.

The music was ok-to-great. Most of the time, the music during the regular scenes is nothing special. I love the score that closes the movie, though. It's a really haunting and ominous piece that plays as the Preacher rides away through the snow, and I wish the composer had used it more.

The bad is everything else. I didn't care about any of the other characters (except for maybe Spider, but the resolution of his story is lame), and none of their stories were compelling. The villain wasn't memorable. The gun-shot sound effects were particularly bad. They used the same stock A-Team pistol shot sound for every single gun, even though we saw a slew of different pistols and a couple rifles being used. (Unfortunately, this is the case for most American action movies made before the mid-to-late 90s. Heat is the earliest example I can think of a movie that had really good, non-stock gunfire sounds.) The high water-mark set by Open Range only underscores the failure.

Not great, but has enough good scenes to warrant a rental.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

More recent movies - Call of Cthulhu, Eastern Promises, Zodiac, Stardust, The Big Sleep

The Call of Cthulhu (2005) - A short film adapting the HP Lovecraft short story. I appreciated that the filmmakers adapted the story with no apparent changes (something only fanboys can/will do). Good gravy, though, there were about 8 levels of flashback nestled within one another like a Russian doll. Starts off with main character, in sanitarium; flashes back to main character with great uncle; flashes back to great uncle's story; flashes back to policeman's story; flashes back to ship captain's story; flashes back to first mate's story. I have no idea if it's like that in the book, but it made for disruptive movie watching. Still, they did an admirable job of keeping the sense of the madness and horror of otherworldly knowledge. Scenes on the mysterious island were stylized as one might dress the set for a play, but it still worked, for the most part. Even the only passably animated titular creature still evoked a feeling of terror when he appeared.

Eastern Promises (2007) - I actually watched most of this with Amy, though we both turned away during the throat slashing scenes. It's pretty good. It's interesting that Cronenberg cast an American, a German, and a Frenchman in the lead roles as Russians. Viggo does a great job, but his accent was still troublesome for me. I think it must be tough to do a Russian accent that sounds authentic. The German and the Frenchman sounded more authentic, but I think that was because they had authentic European accents that came out of their attempted Russian. I wonder how hard it is to take on an accent in a language that isn't your first?

Zodiac (2007) - I watched this one on my own, and I'm glad I did for the first half. The murder at the lake is one of the most disturbing things I've ever seen. The murder at the beginning is pretty bad, too, but it pales in comparison with the stabbing. The movie as a police procedural is quite enthralling, and all the actors carry themselves admirably. Robert Downey Jr. borrows from his A Scanner Darkly performance here.

Stardust (2007) - Pretty fun. All the other reviews I've read have decried the comparisons to A Princess Bride, and I think that's accurate. It's comparable in that it's fantasy with comedy and some dark moments, and a cast of fun characters. Robert DeNiro appears to really enjoy himself. Claire Danes was an enigma, though: sometimes she looked beautiful, and sometimes her bleached-blonde eyebrows blending in with her skin and she looked like a freakish monster. The lead guy was likeable and should go on to bigger stuff (how did a no-name like him get the lead in a movie with Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeifer, and Robert DeNiro, though? And Peter O'Toole!). The dead brothers were pretty funny. Ricky Gervais was funny, though his sort of comedic performance almost seems out of place. It's ultimately not, given the tone of the movie, but it hits a different note than the way the rest of the characters dialogue is written. Not a great movie, but it entertained me.

The Big Sleep (1946) - My first Bogie and Bacall movie. You can easily see why they were paired up repeatedly. The plot was pretty convoluted. It was difficult to keep the characters and their relationships straight. We watched most of the movie with the subtitles on. Bogart's character is awesome. And Bogie's just perfect at it. He may be the coolest character in the history of cinema. He's tough, smart, calm, moral, and girls throw themselves at him. He's James Bond without the cockiness.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Warlock (1959)

[This is a review from exactly one year ago that I only posted on bubbs, for some reason.]

Warlock is really good movie. It features a very unique interpretation of the Wyatt Earp/Doc Holliday relationship. In fact, of all the Wyatt Earp movies, aspects of Warlock are probably the most accurate to the actual historical relationship, according to what I've read on the subject. For example, the idea that Wyatt and Doc were thuggish and often seen as no better than those they fought. Henry Fonda gives a great performance as the Wyatt character, especially in scenes where he demonstrates the origin of his reputation. One of my favorites was the scene with the lynch mob: Fonda has taken two murder suspects into custody, and a mob from the town forms and demands them for a hanging. One big man threatens Fonda: "We'll run you down same as the others, Blaisedell."

"Come here," responds Fonda.

No response.

"Come here."

The big man moves a step forward. "You can't stop all of us."

"Come here."

The man moves one step closer. Fonda knocks him unconscious with his gun.

Now, we've seen this before in movies like Tombstone and Wyatt Earp, but those movies clung to the idea that Wyatt was mostly a sympathetic hero. Warlock says that Wyatt was a strong man, an extraordinary one even, but still a fallen man who has found that his skills and reputation will allow him to get whatever he wants.

And this is to say nothing of Anthony Quinn's excellent Doc Holliday character (that I'd swear Powers Boothe used as the basis for his character and performance in Deadwood), or Richard Widmark's complex Gannon character who becomes the real law in town and truly understands courage (despite starting the film as an outlaw).

Warlock was a very refreshing take on not only the Earp mythos, but the Western genre itself. Scenes like *spoiler alert* Fonda going nuts after killing his best friend, burning down their hotel/casino as a bizarre but appropriate funeral pyre, really stand out from the common sentiments of other 50s Westerns. Also interesting was the idea of law discussed in the film. Generally movies like this will say, "Hey, it's ok to hire gunmen to protect your town if the law won't." Look at The Magnificent Seven. But in Warlock the true hero says, "No, you have to have the law behind your enforcement. The town has to stand on its own feet. Otherwise we trade the tyranny of the lawless for the tyranny of our hired protectors."

Warlock seems to be overlooked or underrated. I'd only just heard of it.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Recent movies - Juno, To Catch A Thief, I Am Legend

Juno (2007) - Fun movie. Pretty funny. Good cast. The dialogue started off a little too deliberately hip and snarky (which is something I was worried about), but it soon settled down and felt more natural. The music screamed "I am Indie, give me cred," but it wasn't bad. Apparently Jason Bateman can only play jerks in movies. "Pork swords" was the rallying cry after the movie. Michael Cera was funny, though barely in the movie. Juno's parents were well-written and well-played. Jennifer Garner was good. The message was mostly good.

To Catch a Thief (1955) - Amy and I are continuing our Hitchcock catch-up. This one isn't one of my favorites, but it's a pretty good one. I called the thief's identity half-way through the movie (Brag Points). Grace Kelly was fine. The insurance rep and Grace's mom were fun characters. The shot of the would-be thief's body in the water was a pretty unique and powerful image. Overall the movie felt a lot lighter than the other recent Hitchcocks we watched (Strangers on a Train and Rear Window).

I Am Legend (2007) - Quite good until the two new characters show up. Then it's a whole different movie. The tension, the isolation, and the terror were really well-done in the first 2/3. I didn't really care about the flashbacks at all. They changed the character in a way that was unnecessary (from the book, I mean -- according to Ian, he was not a brilliant doctor in the book. All his learning came from his time alone with books and practice, which I think makes a more interesting character). Plus (spoilers ahead) if you're going to have your main character die, it has to be in such a way that there was no other alternative. Otherwise the audience will hate you. Will's suicide seemed entirely unnecessary to accomplish his goal. He could just as easily have gotten into the escape hatch, chucking the grenade before closing the door.