Saturday, November 20, 2010

Four Westerns

There are some weird Westerns that have been (or are soon to be) released lately. And most of them are not "American" Westerns.  I'll go chronologically.

First up is The Good The Bad The Weird, a Korean "Kimchi" Western (as opposed to an Italian "Spaghetti" Western) that came out in 2008, but was just released here this year.

This one just came up on Netflix Instant, though I've been trying to rent the Blu-Ray from Netflix for months now. (They weren't kidding about "Very Long Wait." Buy more than 1, would you guys?) I loved it! While it borrows a few elements from its namesake inspiration, such as three characters vying for the same buried treasure, the execution is entirely its own.  Kang-ho Song, who plays The Weird, is a very gifted comedic actor, and is really the only one of the three main characters worth watching.  The Good and The Bad are fine, but would be boring if they didn't have The Weird on-screen with them.  Fortunately, The Weird is the main character, and the entire movie is focused on everyone else hunting him down to retrieve the treasure map.

The action is really well-staged and inventive.  I laughed or exclaimed out loud many many times while watching by myself, and it takes something really special to do that.  The fights usually involve tons of different characters and range all over the stage.  There is very little CG work involved as well, which really heightens the intensity and excitement for each battle.  The sound design, too, is unique; the gun-shots sound natural and appropriate.  A nice change of pace from the usual Hollywood stock effects.

While the story is nothing special, it's absolutely worth watching for the comedy and action.


The next movie is a Canadian production that came out this year called Gunless.  The trailer sold me immediately, but unfortunately this thing is still only available in Canada, and importing the DVD or Blu-Ray costs about $40 USD.  Guess I'll have to be patient.  But enjoy this trailer:

Looks fantastic. Good job, Canadians! Bring your movie stateside!


The last one is The Warrior's Way, and it looks like absolute garbage. Whatever The Good The Bad The Weird and Gunless did well, this looks to replicate poorly. Action? CGed out. Comedy? I guess Kate Bosworth's accent is laughably bad. Ninjas versus cowboys SOUNDS like it could be good campy fun, the the trailer does so little for me I doubt I'll even rent it (and considering I'm going to rent Jonah Hex, that's saying something).


Finally, a truly American production (starring a Brit): Cowboys & Aliens.  Dumb title, but I'll be gosh-danged if the trailer doesn't look good.

Looks like Harrison Ford might have his first watchable role in years!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Recent sports - lacrosse and flag football

I'm writing this down for posterity because I have a terrible memory when it comes to sports.

 A couple weeks ago a bunch of us alumni lacrosse guys got together in Orange County and played in a little lacrosse tournament.  It was 7 on 7, and we were supposed to play 4 games, 2 on Saturday and 2 on Sunday.  I guess not enough teams signed up, because we only ended up scheduled for 2 on Saturday.  The games were only 20 minutes long, running clock, on a much shorter field.  It was nice and hot out.  My brother Ben played (Josh was in a surf contest), friend Sean and his brother Kevin played (Buck was there as "coach"), and Tanner, Beef, Bonilla, Tim, Whitey, Joe Lee, and Acker.  The first team we played was high schoolers, so we were nearly twice their age.  That doesn't necessarily put us at an advantage; there are a lot of really good high school teams in the OC (don't call it that).  But we beat these guys 4 zip, I think.  I scored one goal, but it was a pretty crappy little goal.  No hard zinger, just a light little close up toss.  Felt good to score, but I don't know if I've ever had a good rip.

The second game was against an alumni team, but these were high school alumni, so we were still 10 years older than all these guys.  We apparently tied 2-2 (but I still think it was 3-2).  No goals for me that game.  After that game, some of the guys from that team invited us to play with them a little later, so Tanner, Ben and I stuck around.  We played one of the really good high school teams that time, and got beat 4-7.  Ben scored a great goal that game.  I scored none, and got beat three times on defense, so technically we lost because of me.  But it was still fun.  Alumni game coming up at Biola in a few weeks!


I'm playing intramural flag football at Biola right now, on a team called "Might Men of Valor."  It's an old team, made up of old guys (and a few young ones), and they're all great dudes.  I knew a few of them from before, but most are new to me, and it's a pleasure to play with them.  Solid athletes and competitors, but really generous and helpful with a complete football idiot like me.

We just had our fifth game of the season, and were 2-2 before tonight's game. We're a good team, but we played two really tough teams in our last two, so we were really hoping for a win tonight.  I'm playing defensive end, mostly, which means my job is simple: rush in and try and sack the quarterback.  That's a position I'm mentally capable of handling, even though there is strategy and technique to it.  I've had a couple sacks so far this year, but I'm just a middle of the road player.  I always go into games hoping I don't pull a major screw-up (and I've had a few -- fortunately, none that cost us the game, but I've done some bonehead stuff out of ignorance of certain calls and plays).  I'm a bit of a pessimist when it comes to my own athletic performance.

So tonight I was in at defensive end again, and in the first half, on the third down, I got inside and sacked the QB!  Then the very next play, the other defensive end, Levi, sacked the QB.  That felt awesome.  My aspirations at that point were for no screw-ups and maybe another sack.

We were up 12-8 in the second half, and the other team had had a good march down the field.  They didn't have very far to go for a touchdown.  The play started, I was rushing on the left side, my offensive lineman was doing fine at keeping me out.  Then a low pass went out to the left of me, and Mac, a linebacker and one of our defensive strategists, blocked the ball!  It popped up right in front of me, and I decided to grab it.  I'm so glad I didn't just stop there, because for a split second I wasn't sure if the ball was dead or not.  I'm just not a fast thinker in the middle of a play.  I was just catching the ball because it was there.  Fortunately, as it dropped into my hands, I had the tiniest voice in my head (followed by loud voices of my teammates) that said "Go you idiot!"  (My teammates did not include the 'idiot' part.)  So I started running!  At first to the left side, but I was already close to the sidelines and there was an opponent that way, so I dodged and shifted right.  There were a few more guys that I got through.  Behind me and to the side my guys were throwing blocks and yelling encouragement.  I couldn't see what they did, but the only opponent that I ran into was this giant of a man (who apparently was practicing with the 49ers recently!  No joke!), and he was the last guy to get through before the end zone.  My legs were already feeling like lead, even though I hadn't run very far at all, and the big dude got a hand on my shirt, which jerked me quite a bit.  Fortunately, I either pulled free or one of my guys hit him, because I heard a "rip!" and was free and tried to just stay on my feet to the end zone.  Teammate Lance was behind me the whole way, shouting "Go go go!"  My legs felt like rubber, like they were going to fall out from underneath me, but I made it!  Touch down!  My teammates then swarmed me and I could barely eek out a smile I was so exhausted.  I don't know why that tired me out so much, but I was light-headed for a few minutes after that.  I also noticed a big tear in my shirt where the big guy had grabbed me.  Boy I'm lucky the shirt gave.

We went on to win the game, but it was close.  For the rest of the game I thought, don't choke don't choke don't choke don't be the goat and, fortunately, it didn't happen.  So that will probably go down as the greatest play I will ever make in my football career, and it was just luck and the support of my team.  And I had to write it down or lose it forever.  I'd remember the end result on my own, but not the details, and I like remembering the details.

Monday, October 25, 2010

That Thomas Kinkade movie...

Jeri and Jon: remember, years ago in the movies folder on bubbs, discussing Peter O'Toole being in a Thomas Kinkade movie?  Well it exists.  It is real.  It is out on Blu-Ray.  And the craziest thing is, the review actually kind of sells it.  It still says it's full of sentimental syrup, but it also says it's got some genuinely good moments, in both writing and performance.

Read the full review here.

Last of the Mohicans (1992)

The last time I saw this one must have either been on a tiny TV or on VHS (or both).  At the time it didn't do much for me at all.  I didn't care about the love story, and the action didn't grab me either.  Last night Amy and I revisited the movie on Blu-Ray and a 40" hi-def TV, and it's remarkable what a difference that makes.

Last of the Mohicans was directed by Michael Mann, who knows how to make a good movie and frame an interesting action scene.  I like Heat and Collateral all around; Miami Vice sucked so hard the back of its head caved in, and Public Enemies was a big disappointment, though they both have great action scenes.  Mann makes great use of location shooting, and I love him for it.  In fact, now that I think of it, his locations and photography pull a lot of weight in the effectiveness of each of his films.  In stark contrast to the urban jungle of LA, Mohicans opens with some beautiful mountain-top views of the dense forests of North Carolina.  It then cuts to the dense and lush forest floor, as three characters charge through on a hunt.  As the movie continues we are treated again and again to beautiful unique real locations.  The fort is the only rather visually boring location; it's ugly and full of the "blossoming romance" scenes which still don't really grab me (though a generation of women from 1992 would like to fight me here, I'm sure).  But once the story gets back to the forest we're subjected to more natural beauty.

Then there's the action.  It's hard to make musket fights exciting, because "aim, fire, reload for 60 seconds" doesn't make for thrilling cinema.  Fortunately, the Indians all fight with clubs, knifes, and tomahawks in addition to muskets, and Mann's people choreographed some pretty cool fights that I'm going to revisit as I draw my book.  Mann also adds a unique sense of horror to these fights.  It's not just a choreographed "hack-block-hack," they usually open in a startling way.  The earlier battle when Magua betrays the party he's leading by calmly walking to the back of the column and clubbing a guy over the head is still a shocking moment.  Later, the entourage from the fort is making their way through a narrow valley and a Huron warrior suddenly bursts from the woods and performs a similar execution, and it's equally terrifying.  During the ensuing fight there's a first person shot of Hawkeye braining a Huron who was threatening his girlfriend.  The set-up shot shows the Huron reaching the woman, the next shows Hawkeye seeing this from a short ways away, cut to Huron preparing to execute woman but turning towards the camera, cut to HAWKEYE CLUBBING THE CAMERA IN THE LENS.  Great stuff.

When I watched it for the first time I was warned that it had some gruesome moments.  I'd forgotten all about that warning until we were in the middle of the movie last night, and marveled that the 18 years that have passed haven't really dulled the brutality at all.  It was especially noticeable because my general perception was that the movie was a love story that chicks went ga-ga over.  There are scalpings and hearts cut out and axes to the back and, most memorably, Magua's final fight with Chingachgook on the cliff, where bones are broken and stomachs torn out.

And of course there is the cast.  Daniel Day-Lewis is the big name.  Here's the thing: his performance is fine.  Great, even.  He embodies the character well.  But it's hard to compare with his later roles in In the Name of the Father, Gangs of New York or There Will Be Blood.  I think it's because those later characters had accents, eccentricities, and other unique performance-based quirks, whereas Hawkeye is simply a stoic and resolute hero with a basic American accent.  He's not quirky and he's not a scene-chewer.  I tried viewing his Mohican's performance with a more careful eye, tried to consider certain choices and deliveries, but it's tougher when the role is much subtler than the others I've mentioned.  There's a making-of documentary that's new to the Blu-Ray and gets into Lewis' prep for the role.  I tell you what, it looked like a ton of fun.  Days and days of learning survival skills, hunting, tracking and the like.  Even stuff like learning how to reload a black-powder musket on the run!  (When watching the scene, I too cried "baloney!", but the documentary reveals that Lewis thought the same thing until they found a guy who could do it.)

I appreciate the movie much more now, having seen it on Blu-Ray.  The locations are more stunning, the score more vibrant, the framing and colors more painterly.  I'm enjoying taking new looks at films on the format, because it is often like seeing them for the first time.  You lose a lot watching movies like this 4:3 on a 32" TV.  Even DVD doesn't come very close to replicating the true colors and detail of a period piece like this.  Mohicans didn't suddenly rise to the top of my list of favorites, but it certainly rose quite a few steps from the obscure "who cares?" section it previously occupied.

One last note: bonus points for featuring a few seconds of original American Indian lacrosse!  Only movie ever to depict it, and probably will remain so.

(Screenshot swiped from

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Last Rites of Ransom Pride (2009)

Quirky Western with an impressive cast?  I'm in!

It's also done with a "hyper-kinetic" directing style reminiscent of Tony Scott's worst impulses?  Kill me now!

Yes, The Last Rites of Ransom Pride, from writer/director/cinematic-criminal Tiller Russell, was a total let-down.  The cast list is the only impressive thing about it: Lizzy Caplan (Mean Girls), Dwight Yoakam, Kris Kristofferson, Peter Dinklage, and W. Earl Brown ("Deadwood").  Dwight Yoakam is just a darn good actor.  I haven't seen him in many movies (Sling Blade and Panic Room are it, I think) but he's got a delivery style that's very believable.  His performances aren't wildly different, but they're solid.  Lizzy Caplan, whom I liked in Mean Girls and the one episode of "Party Down" I saw, doesn't bring much to her character.  She doesn't sell the southern accent, and her character and performance otherwise aren't interesting.  (Tiller shares equal blame with Caplan for these problems.)  Kris Kristofferson does his thing, which is fine for what it is but never a surprise.  W. Earl Brown, whom I've never seen outside of "Deadwood," is exactly like his "Deadwood" character.  He's great at it, but no change.  Peter Dinklage isn't in it much, but he carried two sawed-off shotguns and looked crazy, so there's that.

Story-wise, this thing failed to captivate me at all.  I watched the first 20 minutes or so, then started skipping around, desperate for an entertaining scene.  Ransom Pride, a name I assume was intended to be loaded with meaning and depth, or at least "coolness," is a jerk who gets shot in Mexico.  His lover, Juliette Flowers (Caplan), who was not with him, goes to collect his body.  Apparently she's a bad seed too.  She brings the news to Ransom's father (Yoakam) and brother.  Ransom's father is a preacher!  DEEP.  Used to be a bad dude.  NEW.  And Kris's character's name is Shepherd Graves, another name I assume is supposed to be meaningful but just comes off as pretentious or hipster cool.

So now there's the style to discuss.  First off, the movie seems packed with ugliness and disgusting stuff just for the sake of it.  No meaning attached, just "look how edgy I am can you guess what color my shirt is?"  Like using onanism to introduce a character.  Nice!  Classy.  I get it.  You can show gross stuff because you're dark and edgy.  Then there's the editing/directing style.  Lots of weird sped-up or slowed-down shots of skulls and crows and dark things.  Characters speaking Spanish have their translations written in a sketchy script.  Shots of dark cloudy skies rumbling past sped up.  Black and white flashes to a character's dark past, accompanied by whooshy sound effects.  The color has been tweaked, drained of color, contrast upped, made to look harsh and bleak.  Set pictures I've seen online, with their natural color, looked a lot better.  Now, I hate Tony Scott's style, but at least he sometimes has decent movies underneath.  Everything in Last Rites just smacked of empty and artless self-indulgence.  I wondered if, at the first screening, the more discerning members of the cast thought, "Oh geez I didn't know it was gonna be like this."

So, hey, not that you've ever heard of the movie, but avoid it like the plague!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Recent movies - Withnail, How to Get Ahead, Cop Land, State of the Union

Boy, sorry for the "less than one per month" posting schedule.  I don't feel as bad, since my blogging friends are doing the same or worse, but I still have a little guilt.  On to movies.

Withnail and I (1987), How to Get Ahead in Advertising (1989) - (Both by the same writer and director; a spiritual pair, if you will.)  These had been in my queue for long enough where I couldn't remember why I'd put them there, but they were both Criterion releases at one point, and they were described as cult comedies, so that seems like enough of a reason.  Richard Grant is one crazy dude, and I'm surprised I haven't seen him in anything else.  Those eyes were made to play a manic misanthrope, so I'd bet director/writer Bruce Robinson wrote those parts with him in mind.

Withnail is about two actors (read: layabouts, good-for-nothings) who go on a horrible vacation in the country.  The plot is barely there; it's all about the characters.  Marwood (the titular "I") is played by Paul McGann, whom I recognized from his role in the excellent "Horatio Hornblower" miniseries.  Completely different character, so the revelation didn't hit me for a while.  More easily recognized is Richard Griffiths as Uncle Monty, now most well-known as Uncle Dursley from the Harry Potter movies.

Withnail didn't grab me like it has so many other people.  It's got a lot of funny lines that I could see people latching on to, though.

How to Get Ahead in Advertising had a similar effect on me.  This is the one where the ad exec's boil grows a face and starts talking to him.  Felt like a Gilliam movie, especially because it was coupled with some sort of anti-advertising message, though it didn't feel as simple as that.  Weird movie.

Cop Land (1997) - I don't know how this one flew under my radar for so long.  I remember seeing it for rent at the library years ago, but I never got around to picking it up, and it wasn't until my friend Hugh recommended it highly that I finally gave it a go.  Written and directed by James Mangold, Cop Land is about a local cop (Sly Stallone) who walks the beat in a Jersey neighborhood populated almost entirely with city cops (i.e. "Cop Land").  The city cops work in New York but live on this island.  They're also all corrupt.  Sly has wanted to be a city cop for years but has a health issue that prevents it.  So, he polices a city with no overt crime, and is not considered a "real" cop.

The cast list is very impressive.  Aside from Stallone, you've got Robert DeNiro as an Internal Affairs officer, Harvey Keitel as the leader of the city cops, Ray Liotta, Robert Patrick, and Michael Rappaport.  Plus, Janeane Garafalala for a few minutes.  Each cast member brings a lot to the movie, though DeNiro's actually not in it all that much, and Janeane's character doesn't have much to her.

The screenplay is very well-crafted, and I loved Stallone's hang-dog under-stated performance.  It made for a very sympathetic hero.

State of the Union (1948) - This might be my first Tracy & Hepburn movie.  Another Capra flick.  Loved it.  Great husband and wife story about a businessman (Tracy) hand-picked to run for a presidential bid by a ruthless newspaper owner (played by a young Angela Lansbury!).  He and his wife (Hepburn) are distant, and there are all sorts of rumors about he and Lansbury being an item.  It's more of the same great Capra sentimentalism, with some fun and surprising scenes thrown in (most memorably an aerial contest involving Tracy).  Watching Tracy and Hepburn together it was easy to see why they were considered such a great screen couple.  Both are superb actors, and they have a chemistry that comes off as completely genuine.

Side note: supposedly my grandfather Stamper was an extra in this, though we haven't been able to confirm which scene.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Coupla recent movies

Cemetery Junction (2010) - I rented this because it was written and directed by Gervais and Merchant, and for the time being I'll watch anything they do (despite the disappointment that was The Invention of Lying).

This movie is like a good cover song. The words and melody are very familiar, but it brings enough of its own style and little flourishes to make it enjoyable. And if the original song was good, then a good cover should be able to live off that goodness. Cemetery Junction has a wholly unoriginal story, and you can tell the arc of the main character as soon as the movie is set up. But the performances, dialogue, humor, and heart of the story are good enough to make it a worthwhile ride.

The story is about three friends at a crossroads of life in 70s England. None of them have major ambitions, though they all know they don't want to work menial jobs forever. The movie begins with the main character, played by Christian Cooke, getting a job selling life insurance for a cold Ralph Fiennes. Fiennes has an adorable daughter (played by Felicity Jones) who was childhood friends with Cooke, but is now engaged to a jerk working for Fiennes. (Can you figure out where this is going? If you guessed, "Cooke realizes he loves Jones and doesn't want to sell insurance and be a sleaze like Fiennes and his underling," well . . . I don't want to spoil it.) (But that's where it goes.)

As I mentioned, the actors carry the movie. The three friends have a great brotherhood, and made me wish I could spend an evening with them at the pub; Jones, with her delightful buck teeth, is almost too cute for words; Fiennes is an a-hole par excellence; Gervais shows up as Cooke's dad; Emily Watson has a small role as Fiennes ignored wife (nice to see her again -- she'd disappeared from my radar for years).

The 70s setting provides an excuse to have a great rock soundtrack and a brownish faded filter over the photography, and nothing else.

Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010) - This one gets my respect for no other reason than it completely avoided the "if you do this, you're no better than he is" speech that any other movie would have included in the end.

This is an unusual animated feature because it utilizes none of the fan-favorite voice actors from the 90s animated series. The casting choices all work (though it could be argued that it's only because they sound so much like their 90s casting counterparts). Bruce Greenwood, of recent Star Trek fame, is a great Batman choice. I read one reviewer complaining about John Di Maggio (Bender from "Futurama," in addition to million other roles) doing the Joker, but aside from reminding me of Mark Hamill's Joker, it worked just fine.

The story is nothing special until the very end. It opens with the murder of Jason Todd at the hands of the Joker. Several years later, a new villain has appeared calling himself the Red Hood. Anyone who doesn't guess that Jason Todd is the Red Hood from the moment he appears must have never watched a movie. Sure enough, it's revealed about 1/2 way in, though fortunately doesn't kid itself by selling it like the end of the Sixth Sense ("Is your mind BLOWN???"). The Red Hood is taking over all the drug trade in Gotham and eliminating competition. He has no problem killing criminals, though he never harms the innocent (hint). He also seems to have a problem with Batman (hint) and has a pretty amazing set of acrobat skills (hint hint).


By the end we see that Red Hood's whole plan was to get at the Joker and confront Batman about why he's never killed the Joker. Now this is interesting! I thought the movie was going to be a pat exercise in revenge, a simple "don't you see, Jason? You're no better than him!" But thank God the writers decided to get into that age-old moral question first posed (to my knowledge) in 1985's The Dark Knight Returns.

Jason Todd: Ignoring what he's done in the past. Blindly, stupid, disregarding the entire graveyards he's filled, the thousands of who have suffered, the friends he's crippled. You know, I thought... I thought I'd be the last person you'd ever let him hurt. If it had been you that he beat to a bloody pulp, if he had taken you from this world, I would've done nothing but search the planet for this pathetic pile of evil death-worshiping garbage and sent him off to hell.
Batman: You don't understand. I don't think you'd ever understood.
Jason Todd: What? What, your moral code just won't allow for that? It's too hard to cross that line?
Batman: No. God Almighty, no. It'd be too damned easy. All I've ever wanted to do is kill him. A day doesn't go by I don't think about subjecting him to every horrendous torture he's dealt out to others and them end him.
Joker: Aw. So you do think about me.
Batman: But if I do that, if I allow myself to go down into that place, I'll never come back.
Jason Todd: Why? I'm not talking about killing Penguin or Scarecrow or Dent. I'm talking about him. Just him. And doing it because... Because he took me away from you.
Batman: I can't. I'm sorry.
Good stuff! Interesting dialogue and questions! Can we get more of this in our movies, please? Especially our super-hero stuff?

**end spoilers**

Also included on the disc is a Jonah Hex animated short, which was the entire reason I rented the thing in the first place. Unfortunately, it's just OK.

I have some of my usual gun complaints. The way the revolvers are illustrated and animated is weird. Pay attention when there's a close-up of a hammer being cocked. Watch the cylinder. There's all kinds of movement on screen, but none of it is logical or connected. And the hammer is a weird shape and lacks a firing pin. Later, a woman shoots a Derringer three times without reloading. A Derringer is a tiny two-barreled gun that obviously only holds two shots.

Aside from those, the story is fine, typical of one you'd find in the current series, but it's nothing particularly interesting. The animation is "good" modern-style anime-ish animation. Not my cup of tea, but not bad. The action is pretty good.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Red Dead Redemption soundtrack making-of

The Red Dead Redemption website has released a ton of great videos, but this one in particular was worthy of sharing here (because I think it will interest more than just me). This one is about the guys behind the wonderful music. One particularly interesting bit is about how they wrote different stems of music with the same beats-per-minute so that they could layer the soundtrack and customize it depending on what's going on in the game!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Juggalo Western

I know, I know, "easy targets," "been done," and all that. But given my predilection for anything Western, I had to report on this.

Coming soon to home video is a movie entitled "Big Money Rustlas." It "stars" members of the "Insane Clown Posse."

Mind the salty language in the trailer.

You should also definitely read the 5-star review on Amazon.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Guest Axe Cop comic!

Hey all*. Sorry it's been a once-a-month update schedule lately. But things are happening in real life!

First off, we just got back from Comic Con late last night (lousy I-5 decided to add an extra hour to our normal commute -- at 10pm on a Sunday). It was a lot of fun and we had a great time seeing friends. Hopefully I'll talk more about it later.

One of the more exciting things for me was that my friend Ethan asked if I'd do a guest comic for Axe Cop while he was down at the convention. So I did one! And it was really fun to make, and people seemed to like it. You can see it up here. I know, I know: "Monkeys aren't funny." It's kinda funny seeing them killed, though, right?

*Mom and Google Bot.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Fun weekend

Starting Friday with a half-day, last weekend was awesome.

After work on Friday, Jeri, Amy and I went to the La Brea Tarpits, which I'd never been to. I've been to LACMA several times for class, so I've seen the pond with the mammoths, but never inside the museum. So that was rad. Woolly mammoths, mastodons, sabre-toothed cats, short-nosed bears, dire wolves, giant ground sloths, American lions. It was funny reading the descriptions of each of these animals, because they all sounded like they were written by a personified Past trying to one-up the present. "You like lions? African lions? Your lions SUCK. American lions were bigger and more muscle-y!" "How about bears. You think your grizzly bears are pretty big? Our short-nosed bears could kick a grizzly's loser BUTT. Taller and beefier." It seems that every animal from ancient LA were bigger, cooler versions of today's animals. Even their storks were a foot taller! The child in me was delighted by the whole thing. I remember the awe and fascination when we visited the natural history museum when I was a kid. Even today, seeing these very real skeletons of wondrous monsters is like catching a glimpse into another reality. These things existed! They walked around where I walk! (Dinosaurs are even more of a trip because at least these mammals pulled from the tar resemble animals that exist today.) It was neat seeing the active excavation sites with bones protruding from the black puddles.

After La Brea we went over to Chris Faris' house for a movie night with Nobody. Good food and company.

Saturday I got to play some co-op Red Dead Redemption with my buddy Will in Idaho. Saturday night was Brendoman's birthday, which we celebrated at a Chuck E. Cheese in disguise in Buena Park.

Sunday I skipped church (shhhh!) to attend my first ever Cowboy Action Shooting event. (Quick primer on CAS -- it's a club where everyone shows up in period-authentic clothing and competes in various shooting events. Check these websites for more information.) I'd heard about it online and from Andy over at Walker '47. I was originally going to go just to observe, but Andy recommended I join the "New Shooters" class. I'm so glad I did. For just $13 I got about 6 hours of practice/advice/training.

I showed up at about 8:45am at Raahauge's Range in Corona to register. Just walking up to registration was a thrill, because there were already many men and women there in full cowboy get-ups, hauling around their cowboy carts loaded with pistols, rifles, and shotguns. At 9am everyone gathered under the awning for announcements from a guy who could be my friend Ric in 20 years. Looked a lot like him, had a very similar sense of humor, and even his vocal inflections were the same! Anyhow, this set the mood for the day: friendly and fun. Right off the bat all the cowboys (and girls) were ribbing each other with all kinds of inside jokes.

After announcements, several experienced members rounded up the newbs and took us all over to one of the ranges. There they brought out about 10 different revolvers for us to look at and handle so we could get an idea of what we liked and what we didn't. They were mostly Rugers and Peacemaker clones, but there was an 1872 Open Top and a Peacemaker with a Birds Head grip. After looking them over, we each got to put five rounds through them. I chose the Open Top with the 7.5" barrel, much longer than all the others. I put all five shots on target (and fairly quickly too, if I may say so), but they were only about 10'-15' away, so that wasn't too hard. They showed us the proper technique for the fastest two-handed shooting, which is firing the pistol with your right hand while thumbing the hammer with your left. Tricky to get at first, but definitely faster than one hand once you've got it.

Next the cowboys brought out the rifles! Mostly Marlins, but there were a few Uberti 1873s, an 1866 "Yellow Boy," and an 1892. We were each given six rounds to let off. They put away the '73s, so I chose the Yellow Boy. Again, all six on target. The rifle targets were roughly double the distance of the pistol targets, but again, not very far. Very easy to hit if you take any time at all. The matches are designed for speed, though, so merely hitting these targets isn't the difficulty.

Last out were the shotguns. Several double barrels, one with external hammers, several 1897 pump actions (seen in No Country for Old Men and The Wild Bunch), and one 1887 Lever Action. Guess which one I picked? Terminator 2 all the way. This was a Chinese-made copy of the original Winchester, and the cowboys said these guns were very finicky, which is disappointing. The certainly have the most satisfying action in my opinion. The shotgun targets seemed to be about midway between the rifle and pistol targets. Again, not difficult to hit if you're not going for speed.

Next came lunch, and then our first timed attempts! The set-up was this: 5 shots from the pistol, 9 from the rifle, and 2 from the shotgun. We got to pick our favorite gun from each category. Our instructions were to place 2 on the left, 1 in the middle, and 2 on the right for the pistol; then 1-2-3 repeated 2x for the rifle; then knock over both shotgun targets. They have a special timer that stops the clock after the last shot. You start with your three guns on the table in front of you, your hands in the air. When you hear the buzzer, you go for your pistol and start shooting. You're penalized for missed shots (5 second penalty), procedural violations (shooting the targets out of order - 10 seconds), and safety violations (leaving the actions closed - 10 seconds). The first few guys who went all forgot to leave their levers open on their rifles, and they shot the pistol targets out of order. A friend I made that day, Steve, was the only one out of the 18 of us who shot a completely clean round, no violations, though his time was about 45 seconds. I shot towards the end of the group. I missed one of the pistol targets and one of the shotgun, but my time was about 25 seconds, so my final time of about 35 brought me in at 3rd place for the class! I was milliseconds away from the second place shooter, too. We were supposed to get to shoot a second round, but with such a large group we didn't have time, unfortunately.

After thanking the very kind and generous instructors, I headed home. It was a really fun day, and at $13 I recommend it to anyone who likes shooting at all. I'd have paid much more easily.

Here's a demonstration and overview of Cowboy Action Shooting:

That night Amy and I finished the weekend by seeing Toy Story 3 with some friends.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Invention of Lying (2009)

When I first heard about the movie I was very excited. I'm a big fan of Ricky Gervais' television shows "The Office" and "Extras" (and am really looking forward to his new show with Warwick Davis called "Life's Too Short"!). The premise sounded like it could be high-concept gold in his hands: in a world in which no one lies, and Gervais discovers how.

Then the movie was released to middling reviews, and my friend Frankie in particular said it devolved into an anti-religion diatribe half-way through, so I skipped it until video. And it turns out Frankie was right, though the concept requires further discussion.

The setting: an alternate earth exactly like our own, save for the fact that lies do not exist. This apparently also means that people are compelled to spit out the truth. Rather than simply refraining from saying certain things, in this world if you have a thought or opinion, you say it, no matter how hurtful. People are apparently unaware of the pain this causes, and of their own shame, because they don't hesitate or cringe when uttering these things. Gervais' character, Mark Bellison, seems like the only one who gets hurt by other people's comments, which is sort of odd, because if you're aware of your own pain, you're probably be aware of others' as well. But I suppose you can't get too nit-picky with movies like this; I just can't help it sometimes.

After Mark suffers a series of humiliations and losses, he discovers the idea of lying. And he uses this power for his own gain, at first. It's the same arc you see across any of these high-concept movies like Click or Groundhog Day. They use their power for evil at first, but eventually learn that what's really important can't be acquired using this power, so they try and stop it or use it for good.

Mark's mother is dying, and on her deathbed she tells him how terrified she is of death and the idea that there is nothing beyond death. Mark uses his power to invent Heaven, which comforts her, and also the hospital staff. Word of this new "fact" spreads, and soon everyone in the world wants to hear about this new information. So Mark creates God, and rules for getting into Heaven. And everyone is comforted by this lie, though it creates problems when the people demand clearer rules about how you get into Heaven, and what constitutes a bad deed.

And then all of this is abandoned in favor of the love story at the end.

Gervais is an atheist, and he has used his stand-up routine to make fun of Christianity in particular before. He's taking the same kind of shots here. The thing is, I don't know quite what to make of it. On the one hand, religion is obviously a lie designed to comfort people and get them to act well. But it's a lie! Lies are bad; we should only believe the truth. Yet these lies comforted many people, including his own mother in a genuinely tender scene. So what is he saying? "It's definitely a lie, and it'll cause problems, but it's OK for dumber people to believe them if it makes them happy or better people"? He creates a world without lies, that is also a world without religion. Clearly he believes in nothing supernatural whatsoever. And in terms of the film's story, the lies should be seen as bad, because even though he uses them to comfort his mother, he acknowledges at the end that it wouldn't be right to lie to the girl he loves. What? I don't get it. And the whole "creation of religion" thing is never concluded. He never comes out at the end and tells everyone, "I made it all up. It's false. But the principles are true, so don't do bad things." His message seems to be, "Lies are bad, though sometimes they're good, and also religion is a giant lie created to control people."

I think the movie fails both in structure and in worldview. By failing to address the big implications of creating religion, the story has a giant hole. Beyond that, it's also not as funny as it should have been. Gervais put loads of funny recognizable people into the movie, but none of them amount to anything more than cameos that make you go, "Hey, it's them!" Jennifer Garner does deliver a charming performance, however, and Ricky is still a very good comedic actor.

Another disappointment once the movie was over was the lack of a director's commentary for the disc. I was desperate to hear Gervais address his ideas in the movie, but the extra features were all concerned with abusing Karl Pilkington and "corpsing." Not a single bit to address the ideas in the film.

It is clear that Gervais is a master of uncomfortable comedy, which makes me glad that he's returning to television for his next project. I hope he knows the ways he failed in The Invention of Lying and takes them to heart for any future film projects.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Two plays: "Diversions" and "Portrait of a Madonna"

The two one-act plays that I'm a part of are showing this week! "Diversions," a comedy by Christopher Durang, will be playing at 8pm this Thursday (May 6th), and "Portrait of a Madonna," a drama by Tennessee Williams, will be playing at 8pm this Friday (May 7th). Tickets are only $5 for either night, and there will be three plays each night. Thursday is all Durang comedies, Friday is all Williams dramas. These are all being directed by senior students at Biola.

I drew this last night for the insert in the program for the comedy.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Movie Round Up

I need to do another giant-size movie round up. Here we go!

How To Train Your Dragon (2010) - Loved it. Kudos for the writers/directors for spending time building up the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless. I feel like I've seen a lot of recent movies where such a relationship is implied but not actually earned. In HTTYD, we see the trust and friendship build believably. The training aspect was also believable. Rather than showing the problem in one scene, the brilliant solution being built in the next, and the solution working after that, we see development, trial, and error, and it adds to the believability of Hiccup as an actual engineer. Having both of these things develop side-by-side is a natural and effective construction, too.

I enjoyed the idea of different dragons and their respective strengths and weaknesses. As a kid, I would have eaten that up even more, going home to invent my own dragon, or arguing with my brothers over which one we'd choose for ourselves.

The ending had a great emotional pay-off, and tied Hiccup and Toothless even closer together in a unique way. (It reminded me of the end of Earthboy Jacobus, too.)

My only complaints are minor ones that I have with a lot of other animated movies: too much "modern talk" (stop using the phrase "not so much" -- in any movie, now that I think about it), pointless celebrity casting, pointless "realistic" hair and water (everything else is stylized and cartoony, why does hair and water and eyeballs have to look as real as possible?), overuse of Scottish accents (though I admit I don't have a good solution for the problem of making Vikings sound "different"). My other complaint is less minor but also possibly less valid: I was bored by the conflict between Hiccup and his father. The dynamic of the "Dad who doesn't get me and his love is dependent on my performance" is universal and time-tested, but I've seen it in way too many movies, and HTTYD didn't do enough different with it to make me interested. It's a very predictable road to travel. On the other hand, it was nice to see it resolve without the father being the villain.

Sherlock Holmes (2009) - Just what I expected: a fun flick with two likeable leads that isn't necessarily a "great film." High on adventure, liked the characterizations a lot, was bored by the "mystery" and villain. Moratorium declared: no more "this world will end" scenarios, please. There's absolutely no danger felt in such a threat. Everyone and their grandmother knows the world isn't going to end in these films. Make the threat more believable! Pick something that you think the filmmakers might actually allow to happen, so that there is tension and danger! While we know the heroes will usually defeat the villains, with a more believable threat the movie has a better chance of creating genuine tension. Anytime your villain threatens the entire world, I yawn and know he will fail to even cause much damage to his immediate location. (Terminator 3 is the only movie I can think of that actually follows through on its threat.)

Tom Horn (1980) - Decent Western with enough originality to make it worthwhile. This was Steve McQueen's final film, and he was around 50 years old when he made it. I've never seen him looking quite so old and worn out. Tom Horn is the true story of one of the West's final legends who was hung for murder in 1903. The movie concerns his final year, when he is already notorious for his past exploits.

The director uses slow motion to great effect during several death scenes. That probably brings to mind Michael Bay cliches, but they're actually much closer to Kurosawa's shots in Seven Samurai. There is no music in these scenes; their purpose is not melodrama, but the true violence of death.

The action is also pretty unique. One particular scene has Tom riding up to a guy in his cabin and confronting him about stolen cattle. The man is watching him from his kitchen table through a large open window. The man suddenly fires on Horn with his Colt Walker, killing Tom's horse, and as Tom is falling he gets off a shot that strikes the man right in the head. It's a great stunt and scene, edited very well. (Interesting side-note: one of the design requirements by Sam Walker for the Colt Walker was that it would be powerful enough to take down a horse. Kudos to the armorer for picking a pistol that could actually do the job.)

Tom's primary weapon is a Winchester 1876 chambered in the large .45-60 round, a weapon and configuration rarely (if ever) seen in Westerns. His prowess with an unusual long-range rifle reminded me of Quigley Down Under. One aspect that hurts the movie for me is that, like Pale Rider, the sound designer used canned A-Team sound effects for the gunfire. For such a unique weapon, you really do need to design a unique and powerful sound effect.

The movie is edited in an odd way. It makes very fast jumps from scene to scene, some of these cuts span days or weeks, and we're dropped into flashbacks with no warning.

The movie seems to stick to the facts of Tom Horn's life fairly closely. It's an interesting story.

Zombieland (2009) - Decent movie, some laughs to be had, but it didn't kill me (no pun intended), and it didn't come close to replacing Shaun of the Dead as the ZomCom to beat. I think Jesse Eisenberg is a talented actor, but I couldn't help picturing Michael Cera throughout the movie. They seem like two sides of the same double-headed coin. They're slightly different, but nearly interchangeable. I know they probably hate hearing that, but I couldn't help thinking it.

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) - Boy am I a sucker for these Capra movies. I love them. The good and innocent people in his movies, and the battle to remain so, gets me every time.

Gremlins (1984) - I don't get why this is so popular. Aside from the fun puppet effects, this is a weird movie that doesn't have enough of a hook to keep me around. And it takes FOREVER to get going. It was something like 40 minutes before the gremlins even appeared! Bad script. Bad!

Black Dynamite (2008) - Hilarious. Loved it. Terrific send-up of the genre, and watching the behind-the-scenes stuff helped me appreciate all the little subtle jokes even more. Michael Jai White is perfect as Black Dynamite. Turns out he has a black-belt in, like, a billion fighting styles, so the fight scenes are actually awesome.

Ponyo (2009) - Very similar to My Neighbor Totoro in terms of structure. There is a goal for the characters, but there's never really any danger or conflict. You just get to enjoy watching them get there. Ponyo is about the cutest thing I've ever seen. I loved watching her run around with that big grin on her face, and interact with others.

Lonely Are the Brave (1962) - (some spoilers to follow) I wish I had more to write about this one. It's great all over the place. It's my favorite role of Kirk Douglas'. There have been many Westerns about the Last Cowboy, but Kirk's character and the era he's in may make him the definitive Last Cowboy.

You start with the famous opening shot of a cowboy sleeping on the prairie, horse by his side, campfire smoldering. The year could be 1880. Then a jet flies over.

Kirk is making his way back to a town where his buddy has been thrown in jail. In a funny bit of contrast, it's a tiny town, but it seems like Manhattan compared with the prairie he's just come in from. Kirk is planning on breaking in to jail so he can bust his friend out. He just needs a good reason to get thrown in jail. In another bit of irony, he visits a bar, planning to get drunk, and ends up in a fight with a tough-as-nails one-armed man with a giant chip on his shoulder, despite doing everything he can to avoid the fight. Then, when it turns out that even this won't get him into jail, he slugs the police officer who is letting him go. Then, he gets in to jail, only his friend doesn't want to leave!

This is all the first half of the movie, and it could stand up on it's own as a great film. But from here, he busts out and is making a break for the mountains, with police chief Walter Matthau on his trail. This second half is, again, a whole other story that would be compelling on its own.

Interspersed with all this is Carroll O'Connor driving a big rig full of toilets somewhere. From the moment you first see him, you know how the movie is going to end. But a movie like this couldn't end any way else anyhow, so knowing isn't a detriment to enjoying the film.

TenNapel Art Acquisition

I can now check off "Doug TenNapel" on my Original Comic Page acquisition sheet.

This weekend I joined my friends Ethan Nicolle (of Chumble Spuzz and Axe Cop fame) and Doug TenNapel (not famous) at the Wizard World convention in Anaheim. It was very different from the San Diego Comic Con in that you could actually walk freely around the halls.

Doug was selling more original art, and this time he actually included Solomon Fix pages (from Flight Volume 2)! I've been after these things for years. It's my favorite art of his. Unlike his later books, which have good art but are more concerned with telling the story, these have a lot more time put into the design of the page. They're also more cartoony and creature-based, which is my favorite work of his.

I bought these two pages (the best pages of the book, I think).

These pages join the ranks with my Rob Schrab Scud page and Steve Purcell Sam & Max page.

There are still many other artists I'd like to collect, but I think I have a pretty bitchen collection so far.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Boring and empty movie. It seemed as though Burton desperately wanted to do his own version of the visuals for the world, so he snatched up the first Alice script he could find without bothering to find a compelling story.

Alice returns to Wonderland, though she has forgotten her earlier adventures there (which is never explained), and for some reason must kill a dragon? The dragon sort of works for the Red Queen, who is I guess evil? And only Alice can do it because there's a scroll that says so? What a mess of a script. Characters are undefined, relationships are simply assumed, emotions instructed. The story is never intriguing, the danger never apparent, the tension non-existent. There is never any doubt that she is "The Alice" and that, for some reason, she will eventually kill a Jabberwocky (thus embracing her true potential).

Why is the Red Queen bad? What does Crispin Glover's character want (and who is he)? Why is the White Queen good? What does The Hatter want? Am I supposed to care about his character? What has actually happened since the first adventure? Hook may not be considered a great movie, but as a story that is very similar to Burton's Alice, at least the plot and characters were clear. I understood it perfectly as a child. As an adult seeing Alice, I either didn't understand or I didn't care.

So what was good? Well, it's Burton, so you've got visuals, right? I guess they were ok. It was fun seeing Matt Lucas (of "Little Britain") as Tweedledee/dum. Helena Bonham was a very funny Red Queen.

But without a story the movie falls completely flat. There's really nothing for me to recommend it. Even with a few good performances you'd be better off spending your time elsewhere. The best thing I can say about it is that it made me want to watch the animated Disney version.

(Got to see this one for free in 3D thanks to Shane!)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ugly Dogs vs. Handsome Dogs

I'd like to set the record straight on this dog issue. I see too many people out there with ugly dogs. You can expect teenage girls, the elderly, and women in matching track suits to have ugly dogs. This isn't an excuse, but at least it's a reason. If you are a person with one of the following dogs, shame on you.

By the way, you don't get a special pass for being good looking:

Nor do you get a special pass for being not-good-looking (I apologize for subjecting you to this photo):

Some general rules for ugly dogs: curly hair, super tiny, really long hair.

Handsome dogs (if you own one of these, be proud -- you have a real dog):

There are many more options on both sides, but this should serve as a good primer.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Frak + Ryan Game

Justin and I played this game in class years ago. I introduced it to Frankie at the Curtis' Superbowl Party and he's already posted the ones from his sketchbook. Here are mine!

(The "rules": draw a picture and leave the word balloons blank. Trade with friend.)

Round 1: drawn by Ryan, written by Frankie

Round 2: drawn by Frankie, written by Ryan

Norma Stamper: 1929 - 2009

I've been meaning to write this for a while. My grandmother, my mom's mom, died on December 10, just five days shy of her 80th birthday. Her husband, my grandfather, died a few years back.

I loved my Nana Norma and I miss her. For whatever difficulties and pain she caused our family in the past, she also brought joy and genuine love. My earliest memories are of her gifts, and her giving spirit. She loved giving gifts! Even though some of them were odd, she was thinking of you specifically when she got it.

She was quite a character. Very opinionated about grammar, never failed to correct me when I said something like "me and Josh went to the park." But it was because she knew we were capable of better. She loved John Wayne and classic movies. I still remember her reciting a famous line from Patton, doing her best to mimic George C. Scott. "Rommel, you magnificent bastard, I read your book!" (I can't remember if she actually said "bastard," but that's how the memory plays in my mind.)

The night before she died most of the family was able to visit her. She was slipping in and out of consciousness, but when she saw you, she smiled broadly and squeezed your hand. My cousin Christopher was able to give her the news that he and his wife had just discovered that they were pregnant with a boy. Christopher is the only Stamper grandson, so his forthcoming son will be the first to carry on the Stamper name. She was really excited by this, raising her arms and smiling and saying, "Oh gosh! Oh golly! Gee whiz!" It was a truly joyful moment, and I like to think that the next day she was up in Heaven telling Baba Bill the news.

My grandmother loved the Lord later in her life. And she loved us. I thank God for her and the chance to see her again one day.

Monday, March 01, 2010


Yesterday morning I got to go paintballing with my friends Doug and Hugh, and a couple of Doug's friends. We went to a place called Warped way up by Magic Mountain.

Short version: it was fun, we saw Tom Hanks, I got shot in the back by a teammate at one point.

Long version: it's been 10 years since I last went paintballing. I used to be really into it in high school and early college. Here's a picture of my gun that I dug out of an old website I used to have.

I still have the body somewhere, but I've sold all the parts.

So, with that in mind, it was odd being one of the "new guys" using the crappy rental equipment on a field full of little kids and middle-aged men with $500-$1000 electric guns and gear. We were all armed with Tippmann Model 98s, which came out right around the time I got out of the game. We had smeary, scratchy masks that were difficult to see through. One thing I remember from when I used to play is that any bit of dirt or grime on a paintball affects it's accuracy greatly, so with our rental guns that had dirt and wet paint in the barrel, wet paint in the hopper, and wet paint and dirt in the refill pods, our shots beyond 30 feet were all over the place.

But it was still pretty fun. Our first game took place in The Town, which felt closer in size to a large living room. Two teams start on opposite sides and rush to fill in the little wooden closets. You run all of 10 feet before you have to stop and set up because you're coming under fire. Well, I went left to try and get at their flank, but got nailed right in the mask when I turned a corner. Out in about a minute.

Second game took place in the Spool Field. Our team started at the bottom of the hill. Once again, as the game begins, I run up the left flank and BAM hit by a lucky shot to the mask by someone way up the hill raining pellets on us. Again, out in a minute. As for the rest of our team, Hugh had showed up by this point, and even though it was his first game ever, he and another guy ended up winning the game for our side!

Third game, I think, here we go, gonna be careful this time! We switched sides on the Spool Field, and, again, I take the left side. (I didn't really realize until now that I did this every game.) So I get really far down the left flank, get a good position behind a large spool, and am waiting for an enemy to advance too far and expose himself. Then THAP. What the? I get hit in the back! I'm very confused for a moment. No one could have advanced far enough to hit me in the back without getting shot by the rest of my team. THAP THAP. More shots come. They're bouncing off of me, not breaking, so I'm not calling "out" yet. I look behind me and realize they must be coming from someone on our team! I wave and yell, "I'm on your side! Knock it off!" Then I settle back down and scan the opposing side for enemies. THAP THAP THAP. I'm hit, and they've broken. I call out and move outside of the field. Shot out by some idiot on my own team! I think it was one of these little kids who was playing, but come on. If you can see me clearly and you haven't moved from the back-most cover, I'm on your team. There isn't really an excuse other than stupidity.

So that sucked. Three games in, I hadn't eliminated a single player, and I'd been one of the first people out each time.

After that game we took a break and refilled. It was at this point that I saw Tom Hanks walk past me with a bunch of kids on their way to a private party game. So that was neat. I didn't say anything or stare, but I confess I wanted to hear him give out orders to his team in his Capt. Miller voice.

Next up we tried one of the Speed Ball fields, which are my least favorite since the guys with 15-ball-per-second electronic triggers tend to dominate and it's really close quarters. Ironically, I did my best on this field, getting two guys out in one game.

Later we tried The Graveyard, where I really noticed that our guns sucked at long-range. I did get to watch Doug take a guy out while I was on the sidelines. It was great, this guy was peaking over the edge of his trench, and Doug nailed him right on the hand or the top of his head, and paint went spewing out behind him like an exit wound.

The field I really wanted to try, the field I would have been most comfortable on, was Afghanistan. And it's the one we didn't do. It's a long woodsy field, the kind I grew up playing on. Oh well. Next time we'll insist on it.

Fun day. We may go again in a few months. And I want to at least get a decent pair of goggles before next time so I can see.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Illustration remakes for Fred, part 2

Here are a couple more commissions I finished this week.

This is a redo of this piece.

Here's a widescreen take on "Looner," which in turn was inspired by this one.

And finally, a new version of "describe it to me!". This time, the writing should mean "monkey."

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Illustration remakes for Fred

A friend commissioned me to create some originals for him based on past work. (These are all potential t-shirt ideas.)

First up is another re-do of "flee!" (which you'll also recall from this post and this post). Pretty fun to draw, and I like the way the "monster" turned out. His body is a nice size and proportion.

Next up is my first ever re-do of "hug?". I still like the original a lot, but I was very happy with this one as well.

Finally, we've got my third rendition of "lost tooth." (Original here, second version here.)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Giant Size Movie Round-Up: Pt. 2

On to a second part.

Little Shop of Horrors (1986) - I rented this one after seeing a trailer at Movies On The Fox and discovering that Bill Murray and Steve Martin were in it. As a kid I was always aware of this movie's existence because of the giant talking plant image (don't know where I saw it, though). So the movie is a musical, and was apparently a stage play first, which would have been something to see. Overall, I didn't really care for it. I loved the puppetry (really impressive!), Bill Murray's scene was great, John Candy too, and it was fun seeing Christopher Guest, but the plot didn't do anything for me, and Ellen Greene's voice was excruciating. I've only seen Greene in this and "Pushing Daisies," but she has the same wilting voice and speech impediment in both. Is that just how she speaks? Or is it a deliberate character choice? As a choice, it's terrible. I had to fast-forward through all of her scenes after the first few, because it was like a mite burrowing into my brain.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009) - It's ok. Has a couple of very funny moments. The inverted mohawk on Mr. T's character made me chuckle. There were some fun animation moments. The story is nothing special, so the best you can hope for are some good moments, and Cloudy delivers on that front.

Junebug (2005) - I didn't realize why this was rated R and watched it with my family, which, due to the numerous sex scenes, was a mistake. I only remembered that I had read a blog by John-Mark Reynolds a while back where he recommended it. I found that post (after some digging - Scriptorium doesn't have a friendly archive) after we'd finished it, and noted that Reynolds did caution about the sex; I just hadn't remembered that.

Anyhow, to the movie: the basic story is that a young couple is returning to the husband's hometown in North Carolina so that the wife can secure a weird and reclusive painter's work for her Chicago art gallery. The wife is an elite cosmopolitan woman with a British accent, very much out of her element in North Carolina. The husband's family includes a slacker younger brother and his pregnant wife (Amy Adams).

Adams is indeed as radiant and charming as I'd heard. I was also really impressed with Benjamin McKenzie's performance as the younger brother. Beyond the actors, the movie deserves praise for an even-handed portrayal of the people of the Carolinian community (is that the right term?). The young pastor character in the church basement was perhaps the best modern characterization of a religious figure I've ever seen in a movie. He's authentic and genuine. Every other pastor I've seen sounds really artificial; they sound like they were written by someone who'd never spent any time in a Protestant church. Like if I were to write a rabbi, or a Catholic priest.

Also worth noting is the contrast between the Southern folk and the gallery owner. Reynolds keenly observes that only a New York elite would seek out the deranged paintings for display in a high art gallery. My favorite moment came when the sister of the artist, who at first comes off as meddling and greedy, gives the art dealer a sincerely tearful and heartfelt condolence for a family loss. Not the sort of treatment you usually get in a Hollywood movie of a character with a Southern accent.

Fun note: Embeth Davidtz, who plays the gallery owner, was the princess in Army of Darkness! Despite knowing this, I cannot reconcile the fact in my mind when I picture both characters.

Overall, it's a good movie that says good things. But the sex made for a very uncomfortable viewing experience.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Axe Cop!

So my buddy Ethan posted these comics on TenNapel's forum around Christmas. They were called "Axe Cop," and he'd done them with his five-year-old brother Malachai while home visiting his family. He made them as a lark, but now it's the newest, biggest, and best thing on the internet, so I thought I'd share it with you in case you hadn't stumbled across them yet. The comics feature Ethan's excellent and hilarious drawings, and are written entirely by Malachai's brilliant child's mind. An idea so simple you wish you'd thought of it (and were as funny as the Nicolles).

Giant Size Movie Round-Up: Pt. 1

It's only been a MILLION YEARS since my last review went up, so I'm going to gather a bunch and give (probably short) thoughts on them.

Avatar (2009) - I enjoyed the spectacle and the 3-D, but the story had nothing new whatsoever, and the ham-fisted moralizing made me roll my eyes quite a bit. Even though Stephen Lang (who was Ike Clanton in Tombstone, by the way!) is great in his role as cartoon military man, every line he had was mind-numbingly bad. This guy sums it up all the problems I had, and is funnier to boot. (See also his seven-part series on The Phantom Menace. It's very insightful.) And now a Best Picture nod?? Come on!

The Big Country (1958) - This one was great. It's really really good all the way up to the final scene, where it falls a bit short. A genuinely unique Western. You've got Gregory Peck as a former ships captain who has come out west to marry the daughter of a big-time rancher. He discovers that a war has been brewing between his future father-in-law and another rancher (played by Burl Ives).

So what's unique about it? For one thing, the sea-captain angle. For another, Peck never uses a gun. Ever. (As I watched, I wanted to be Peck. He's just the coolest guy. Always in control, always knows exactly what he wants and what he's capable of, never lets himself be manipulated by anyone else.) Then you've got the rest of the supporting cast. You immediately fall in love with Jean Simmons. Burl Ives utters all the lines you always wondered about in the "Happy Happy Joy Joy" song from Ren & Stimpy. Chuck Connors plays a great sleazy weasel. And Chuck Heston is in there too! He and Peck get into a fight in the middle of the night on a dusty prairie. It lasts forever, and there's no music during the scene. And it ends in a draw. There's also the love story, which doesn't go where you'd expect. And that really goes for the rest of the movie. It's unexpected. It surprised me, and most of the time I honestly did not know where it was going to end up. Compare that to Avatar, where I called out each and every plot point before stepping into the theater. Also deserving a shout-out is Alfonso Bedoya, Peck's best buddy on the ranch. He's a great character, and it's always good to see an actual Mexican rather than Jack Palance performing such a role in an old movie.

The only weak points are the music and the final confrontation. The music is generally very good, but there are a few scenes where it is ill-suited to the mood. The final confrontation between the two barons is a bit of a let-down, mostly because it plays out exactly as you expect it to. Given everything else that has come before, I was left with a "that's it?" feeling. It's logical and serves the story, but I was hoping for one last surprise.

Final note: this needs a Blu-Ray release. I didn't at all mention the fabulous titular setting. The DVD is decent, but you could definitely see where a bit of work and a hi-definition transfer would bring the movie back to glorious new heights in a home theater setting.

Ichi (2008) - A fun take on the Zatoichi world, this time with a captivating young girl as the new blind swordsman. Not a great movie, but certainly decent. I liked the guy who couldn't draw his sword, though I found the explanation for his condition wanting. The action scenes are well-done, though they aren't in traditional Zatoichi fashion. Zatoichi's scenes were always in real-time, but Ichi slows it down. You get to enjoy the choreography a bit more, I suppose, but there's something to be said for the long single-take action shots in the originals.

Moon (2009) - A really good little sci-fi movie. Sam Rockwell gives several great performances. The movie really makes you care about him, too, which doesn't sound significant, but I suppose that because of the ethical subject matter of the movie it hit me a bit deeper. Definitely worth watching.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) - Great movie. Boy, I've been on a Capra kick lately. As you'll see below, I finally saw It's A Wonderful Life for the first time. (I know.) And I love his sentiment and morals. It's done so well.

It's A Wonderful Life (1946) - I can't believe I've been missing this my whole life. It really is one of the best movies I've seen. Such a great story, great characters, great message. This is up there on my list now.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Blog post count

Dang, 2009 was a real drop in numbers compared to the last couple of years.

2007 - 72
2008 - 95
2009 - 44

Sorry about that (unless you're grateful). We'll see how 2010 goes. I do have a huge backlog of movies to comment about.

Anyhow, happy New Year!

New Year's Eve Shooting

I was invited on a shooting trip over Christmas break by a guy from work, but since it turned out to be a three day trip I decided not to go. But I still wanted to go shooting! So I found a place in Ramona (way out, past the Wild Animal Park) called Orosco Ridge that allowed recreational shooting.

After a long drive up a winding dirt road, we came to the spot. There was no official looking designation; it was merely a rounded ridge without vegetation, sloping down into some bushes and a ravine, with another hill leading up the other side. There were several trucks at the beginning of the range, firing off all sorts of pistols, rifles, and shotguns, so we made our way to the far left side that had only one occupant. (We observed that we were the only non-truck on the ridge that day.)

Our neighbor turned out to be shooting two old cap-and-ball revolvers! He had a Starr revolver and a LeMat, both unusual guns. (See below: Starr from Unforgiven, LeMat from The Quick and the Dead.) The LeMat has a nine shot cylinder and shotgun barrel underneath the main barrel! Damon let me fire off a shot from it at the end of the day. Very cool.

We had been told at the ranger station that we were only allowed to shoot paper targets or clay pigeons, but at the ridge we found all sorts of junk. We set up some wood planks and boards that had been left there, and found a bunch of unbroken clay pigeons that we decided to chuck for each other.

The guns: my 1851 Colt Navy (videos coming soon -- they're on my brother's camera), my double-barreled shotgun, and Ian's pump shotgun. Unfortunately, like an idiot, I forgot my bag of lead balls for my Navys, so I only had the seven shots that I had left in the case. We each only got two shots. But, I did get to load up all six cylinders for the first time, which was cool.

After those shots were up, we spent the rest of the time using up all our shotgun ammunition, which was fun enough. And I took video with my Flip! The shooters: friend Ian, brother Ben, and me. You may notice I am sporting my Clint hat and new bandoleer.