Sunday, July 31, 2011

Crazy, Stupid Love

Crazy, Stupid Love is a dramatic comedy that focuses in on the relationships of 3 men and 3 women.  The film is not something I would or could recommend.  The film has a few positives and a few weaknesses, many times overlapping with one another:

        1.            The premise of fighting for the one you love is still a powerful idea.  The characters moved towards this idea, working uphill the entire time, yet end with a resolve that if something is worth fighting for, you never stop.  Although it’s a powerful, even admirable premise, it’s also overly used and cliché in film and literature, but for the purpose here I’m going to include this fight as one of the films positives.

2.            Steve Carell, does a great job playing Cal Weaver, a man who has just found out his wife wants a divorce.  But not only does she drop that bomb on him, she tells him she’s been unfaithful as well.  Steve is a great comedic actor.  He plays this sullen, underappreciated, innocent character extremely well.  The problem though has nothing to do with his performance, which very good, it has to do with the script.  There are obvious moments our mind is telling us, “this is a joke, pretty funny too,” yet it just doesn’t seem mood appropriate to the scene, to actually be a joke.  Perhaps this was something they were shooting for, if that’s the case then they succeeded, but for the most part it led to an awkward, uncomfortable feel for the audience.

3.            Ryan Gosling, who played Jacob, nailed his role down pat.  He plays a womanizer who’s exceptional in the art of picking up women.  He feels sorry for Cal and decides he’s going to make Cal’s renovation a personal project for himself.  The project goes remarkably better than could have been expected; in fact it almost looked like a complete and utter waste of time at one point.  Gosling, I never thought of as an actor that could play a wide range of characters, and perhaps this isn’t a film to point out his acting skills, but while watching Crazy, Stupid Love, his performance stood out as a top-notch effort to me.

4.            The major weakness for me is not the clichés, or the awkwardness of mood but in fact was the story itself.  What I mean is the length of story.  The film has a decent storyline that even includes a couple of twists and surprises.  The story had this looming Shakespearean feel to it, where triangles and miscommunication and unforeseen circumstances appear throughout.  But the film was too long.  The entire story could have been completed in, I’d guesstimate, around 45 minutes to an hour, instead of the 118-minute running time that it has.  It’s not even so much the padding that bothered me though, as this occurrence doesn’t typically bother me much.   It’s the repetitive “woe is me” moments early and the drawn out reconciliation at the end.  Sure by cutting the sections back you may exclude a nice or funny moment, but you’d also be streamlining the finished product and eliminating much of the boredom that weighs the film down, thus increasing the entertainment value for the viewer.  Sometimes less can be more.

5.            This last point is a positive, a negative as well as an observation/commentary.  Emma Stone lights the screen up, she’s, in my opinion, the up and coming actress many have been waiting for, combining a charm and a wit along with her look and of course her voice.  The film underused her tremendously. The scenes where she was bantering with her friend about relationships and sex were great.  The scenes, albeit only a few, with Gosling were some of the more touching.  Anyhow it just appeared they could have noticed as such, and perhaps done a little more with it, with her.  This isn’t always possible and I completely understand that, yet I hope at least they attempted to do as such. 

My commentary has to do with Stone yet again.  I wonder if she has incorporated a Nathaniel Hawthorne or more specifically a Scarlet Letter clause in her contract, as her last two major roles here and in Easy A, have both included major references to the Hawthorne classic.  I realize this must have been a coincidence, but she must have had a laugh or two at the unlikelihood of proximal repetition and thought it a good point to mention and conclude this overview.

In summation I can’t say it was the worst film, not anywhere close to the best film.  It wasn’t horrible, so if your significant other really wants to see this film, you could certainly do worse.  But if you have a choice in the matter I’d hold off until the film hits DVD, unless of course you’re a huge Stone or Gosling fan, in which case you probably already saw the film.  If you’re the biggest Carell fan though, I’d certainly hold off, despite his putting in a good performance, this was not his fault, but it’s not the type of film you’d expect him to be in either, especially not one that also stars Julianne Moore, Kevin Bacon, Gosling, Stone and Marisa Tomei.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Cowboys and Aliens

Cowboys & Aliens

Cowboys and Aliens, the new film from Jon Favreau, is a fun mix of contrasting genres as aliens invade the old west.  The “demons” scour the terrain in search of gold.  On their scouting mission they destroy the towns and conduct experiments upon the townsfolk that their drones had abducted.

The film opens with Jake, played by Daniel Craig, as he awakens in the middle of a vast wasteland.  Startled and confused, without any recollection to whom he is, how he arrived where he was and what in the world this immovable metal bracelet attached to his left wrist could possibly be, he’s met by a group of outlaws.  We can see that Jake doesn’t want a conflict but is more than able to take care of himself when it comes to fighting.

Cowboys and Aliens, on the surface, is a classic tale of Invasion & rescue.  A deadly invader threatens normalcy, the deck appears stacked in the predator’s favor, until a mysterious stranger appears, initiating a two-fold mission, rescue those taken captive and completely destroy the enemy forces.  However, it’s beneath the surface, on the character level, where the true story is found.

Cowboys and Aliens is really a story about finding identity and redemption.  The entire film is framed within these parameters.  Briefly I’ll go through a number of examples:

1.            Jake Lonergan (Craig) 
Suffering from a memory wipe, his journey is both a literal and a figurative search for identity.  The majority of the film we consistently hear Jake reply, “I can’t remember,” when posed questions pertaining to his past.  But for Jake the theme of redemption is conjoined to his identity quest.

We find out that Jake was not a good person.  In his “prior” life he ran a gang of thieves and miscreants, unafraid and unrepentant of whatever bloodshed their actions may cause.  Throughout the story we see bits and pieces come back to him.  These moments draw nice contrasts between the Jake we see and the person Jake was before. 

Along the road to redemption we see individual plot points that push the theme and story forward.  We see, on a few occasions, Jake leave the others, casting the impression that he’s abandoned them; that he’s reverted to his old habits.  Yet quickly we see that not only does he return, he comes back regrouped and reinforced.  The preacher sums up what I believe to be the prevailing theme, when he says, “God’s not concerned about who you were, he only cares about who you are.”   Jake’s transformation and redemption is complete when he acts selflessly, forgoing personal safety in order to save the abducted and defeat the enemy.

2.            Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford)
Woodrow is shown as a relentless businessman with no tolerance for error.  We see a perfect illustration early, when a ranch hand is in the process of being drawn & quartered over some missing cattle.  The scene is brilliant, in that we see the brutality of Dolarhyde, then get a brief glimpse of his compassionate side, as he cuts free the rope from the workers hands, even gaining a “thank you” from the ranchman, only to, seconds later, revert to his ruthlessness again, as he strikes the behind of the horse that the worker is still connected to, thus taking the ranch hand for a painful ride.

His son Percy acts out improperly in order to gain his father’s approval.  In this, we gain insight into their relationship and into the type of father Dolarhyde is.

After his son is abducted though we see desperation and regret surface; we see a father who has not only lost his child, but a man who is aware of his parental shortcomings.  Throughout his arc we see a transformation: from a tough, overbearing “master of the universe” character to one that finds out what it means to be a father and a friend; From a man with an ever-present rough exterior to one that acknowledges that it’s okay to be weak from time to time.  We also see a man that was as stubborn as he was overbearing turn into a man that is able to put bias and preconception aside and be able to rely upon, as well as assist, others in times of need.

3.            Doc (Sam Rockwell)
Doc’s character is seen as a man filled with shame and low self-opinion.  As the story progresses we see him work on his problems, as he eventually stands up for himself and take action under dire circumstances, empowering himself with pride and confidence in the process.

4.            Ella Swenson (Wilde)
Like most of the characters in the film, Ella is not who we initially believe her to be. Her redemptive arc plays a key role in the film’s overall plot.  For this reason, I don’t want to spoil anything for those considering seeing the film, but do feel that it’s necessary to mention in this discussion.

Cowboys and Aliens is getting some subpar reviews, 2.5 stars here locally.  I feel these reviews are unjust, as the film delivered on what it set out to do, adapt a graphic novel that places aliens in the old west to the big screen, in a unique and clever manner.  Favreau is one of my favorite people in the business, rarely does he put forth a lackluster effort, and I wasn’t disappointed with the one on display in Cowboys and Aliens either.  The acting was fine, probably a bit better than what should be expected in this type of film.  The cinematography was breathtaking at times. While the action was not overpowering, it certainly packed a punch throughout, being strong when it needed to produce.

I recommend Cowboys and Aliens, as it’s a fun film to get caught up in on a hot summer afternoon.  A film where contrasting genres, are persistently at odds yet seemingly so willing to meld with one another. 

Friday, July 29, 2011

Contrasting Scenes of Waves & Shore

I would like to thank Mister Paint for a few of his sticker sprays I used in part on each of these paintings.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


In some
Secret facility
Nestled between the dark corners
And the lush vines
Some creatures
Furry as they are benign
Live alone
Amidst the barbs and chains they know
With no one to understand
No one to care who or what they are
Left in place
until another thought bronzes
the scientist
The next thought they'll get right
and realize the captives are no threat to life
Are just others

Monday, July 25, 2011

Wordplay Exercise

I thought I would share a wordplay exercise I use from time to time.  I use this exercise whenever I am looking for a connection of an organic or internal sense.  I only use logical rationale for the composition of each new word.  I typically begin with a single word, in this case I started with relate.  From there I start moving as far as I can without changing the "DNA" of the initial word.  Once I run out of room, no more prefixes, suffixes etc.. I start to see if I can break a word into two or more separate words that still make sense as one when put together.  In this case I took Relate and made it into Real late, Real elate and so forth, playing around with it for a while while trying to remain as true to the original composition of the starter word as possible.  Then when I feel I'm done I look at all the changes I made and kind of mark down a VS. system, in this case it turned out to be Real Vs. Reel.  I've added two more, well one more and the last one is basically an offshoot of the second exercise, you'll see when you scroll down that far.  

Once the exercise is complete I usually am able to find something I can use creatively.  Most of the time it's used for poetical purposes but I have found numerous ideas for sketches and designs in the past and paintings more recently.  If nothing comes from it, well, I still find it a pretty fun game to play, but I'm like that though, I love wordplay and word games in general.  Have fun with it, you never know what will strike you and in what way it could:)

Real elations
Real elation
Really elate
Reel elation
Reel elations
Reel elate
Reel elating
Real elating
Real late
Reel late
Real Vs. Reel

For agers
For ager
For aging
For age
For edge
For edging
For edger
Fore edger
For rest
For resting
For fester
For arrest
For arresting
Four rest
Four resting
Four arrest
Four arresting
For arrester
Fore arrester
Fore arrest
For Vs. Fore Vs. Four

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Captain America

Captain America - Marvel Movie Poster (Advance) (Size: 24" x 36")Captain America - Movie Poster (Shield) (Size: 24" x 36")

Captain America was never my favorite comic book super-hero.  He was always the one I thought was just okay.  I tend to enjoy the characters that have a bit more of a darkened side to them.  While I understand that there are the occasional times when this type of illustration & shading does occur, but he just never resonated with me, the way a wolverine, punisher or batman had.  This all said, I’ve always been a big fan of the Avengers series though and have been eagerly looking forward for all the pieces to be put into place, leading up to the Avengers launch. 

I read a lot about this film before it was released and that information all sounded pretty good.  I’ve seen numerous trailers for the film as well, where each time I wanted to see this film a little more.  So I did have a bit of anticipation for this film.  After finally seeing it, I can honestly say that it didn’t disappoint.

All the films in the Avengers franchise seem to take the origination story approach, which I ‘m fine with.   As someone who likes to see adaptations, providing I’ve read the book/comic prior, because they put a motion picture twist upon the stories our minds have painted for us.  Sure you can say comics are already visual, which you’d be correct, but there is a major difference watching something in live action, on the theater screen, which in part, is one of the major attractions for many with film in general. I also understand the rationale for beginning with an origin story angle, it’s not only logical, but it also attracts a wider audience, enabling those newer fans or those unfamiliar with the history and/legacy of the hero. 

I really enjoyed all the films in the Avenger franchise family, but I do have to say that this film happens to be my favorite of the lot, just barely topping the original Iron Man. 

Holding with the pattern I’ve established for my reviews, I won’t reveal the plot for this film.  You can easily find it if you want to though, articles on Capt. America are everywhere, and have been for some time.  I’m not going to discuss the acting, outside saying I thought it was fitting for the genre and for the type of film it is.  What I’m going to discuss here are the reasons why I really enjoyed this film.

First off I’m going to tell you that Red Skull/ Johan Schmidt was about as good as it gets for a rogue super-villain, vicious, megalomaniacal, formidable, seemingly invincible and appearance-wise evil.  Perhaps some of these played a part as to why Red Skull was voted on as one of the top comic book super-villains of all time. 
The entire scenario revolving around Hydra takes me back to the Nick Fury: Agent of Shield comics, which I always enjoyed.  The blind, almost brainwashed cult of Hydra followers is brilliantly displayed.  The film just shows you, without making too big of a deal about it how powerful Hydra is and can be.  Yet, it is a big deal, which is the case anytime world domination is a foreseeable consequence if the hero fails his/her journey.  

Hydras presence as a formidable, almost unbeatable opponent can be seen alluded to each time their catch phrase, “cut off one head, two take its place,” is repeated throughout the film, each time accelerating the stakes for our hero.   The connection and subsequent separation of Hydra with Nazi Germany is also well defined.  We first hear how Hydra is a special scientific division of the Nazis and by the time we reach the climax, the Nazis are no longer being discussed, as we’ve seen that Hydra has grown larger and stronger than the party itself.   This element increases the threat that these villains possess, by taking a very real historical enemy power and illustrating a force more deadly we not only see the hero’s stakes increase but also we see an increase in the emotional aspect of the audience.

My next point revolves around costumes and setting.  The dress of the citizens, the uniforms of the soldiers were appropriate for the time period, while Hydras’ soldiers draw a stark contrast, to not only the then present-day style, but also in relation to the battle between good and evil, in their futuristic attire, looking more like revamped storm-troopers than they do soldiers from 1942. 

Captain Americas costume in particular, was extremely well done.  Instead of wearing a modernistic suit he wears one appropriate to the era.  As it turns out these historically appropriate costumes assist the film’s believability by remaining true to the realistic vision of the filmmakers, where being historically accurate was equal, if not more-so, in importance then cinematic splash. 

This vision led to some incredibly constructed historical landscaping; some great attentive detailing of 1940’s New York City, where current events are combined with a language appropriate for this era.  Anyhow I can’t say enough about how impressed I was regarding this aspect of the film.     

My last point is how the writers and directors did a tremendous job foreshadowing the cohesion and connection of this film to the other Avenger storylines.  This film is chock full of intertwining threads, here are just a few:

The Cosmic Cube

While I don’t recall this cube having any connection to Zeus in either mythology or in the Thor comics, I do like the fact that they took this liberty, by facilitating a prop that effectively connects Capt. America, Iron Man and Thor.
The cube not only adds a supernatural element to the Red Skull’s ability, but it also linked the Capt. America franchise to the Thor Franchise.  Howard Stark, father to Tony, aka Iron Man, is a key player in Capt. America’s reason for being, as he helps create Steve Rogers transformational procedure.  This involvement is an obvious yet key connection between Capt. America and Iron Man.   In a quick scene, near the film’s end, we see the cube being discovered by Howard thus linking the Iron Man franchise to the Thor franchise.

Without going too much further in detail, the conclusion of Capt. America breeds an obvious connection with shield, therein laying the groundwork for the Avengers films yet to come.

But there is one more thing I’d like to mention here, that being the manner of Red Skull’s defeat.  Without spoiling, Schmidt’s defeat is not in question, yet the possibility of a return remains alive, a la Loki in Thor.   I mention this, not only for the obvious potential for a Red Skull vs. Capt. America rematch, but also because, if my memory serves me correctly, he also had some epic conflicts with Spiderman, which could lead to a potential crossover event, as Spiderman has also crossed over on different occasions with each of the Avenger characters, whether it be as a friend or as a foe.  This idea is purely speculative on my part, but I thought it would be fun and interesting connection to make in this regards.

To close out this review, I’ll simply say go see the film.  You will like this if you enjoyed the comic book, are a fan of comic book to screen films or even a fan of wartime dramas.   I left the film greatly impressed, in what they tried to do, and for the most part how they accomplished it.   Capt. America can stand alone, but the real fun is watching the film with an open eye, looking for the various teasers as they relate to the upcoming Avengers franchise. 

Friends With Benefits

Friends with Benefits Poster - 2011 Movie Promo Flyer 11 X 17 - Justin Timberlake Mila Kunis M

Friends With Benefits is the new romantic comedy starring Justin Timberlake as Dylan, an emotionally challenged Californian that is brought to New York by headhunting recruiter Jamie (Mila Kunis) for an interview at GQ magazine.  Dylan gets the job and makes the transition to life in the Big Apple.  Not knowing anyone the two become close friends, a relationship that spins into a friends with benefits sexual relationship.

This film was not terrible, however it was overly predictable and not as funny as I would have liked it to be.  Before I continue I feel I must say that I didn’t expect many people to be at the theater for this one.  Perhaps it was due to the fourth consecutive day of ninety-degree humidity but nevertheless the theater was packed on a Saturday mid-afternoon.  While I didn’t experience any laugh-out-loud moments personally many of those who shared the viewing with me did, as there were frequent periods of loud continuous laughter.

I looked around during these moments and had to contemplate, what’s wrong with me, why am I not finding these scenes overtly funny?  Sure, I could understand why some people would find the humor in some of the exchanges, in some of the dialog, but none of which could I ever see myself bellowing in uncontrollable laughter like those who surround me in the darkness. So, where lays the disconnection, between my sense of humor, which I happen to think is fairly good, and that of my movie-going companions? 

I paid particular attention to those exiting the cinema and found that most were in their early to mid twenties, primarily in couples.  There were a few much older than myself, of which I’m in my mid-thirties.  I’d guesstimate that approximately 75% of the theater population were couples, the others, to which I fall into statistically, were by themselves. While I had no way to properly investigate, because of theater positioning, line of sight and the darkness, I would say the brief visual polling I did, combined with the viewing of the film itself, I feel safe in saying that this film was made for the younger, twentyish crowd, to which it appears, at least with my showing, that the filmmakers succeeded in their marketing efforts.

The fact so many seemed to really enjoy this film will not, nor does not skew or filter my take on FWB.  The film is predictable in its very essence.  Girl loses boy, boy loses girl, boy and girl meet, boy and girl become friends then become more than friends, problem takes place, boy loses girl, girl loses boy, boy has a moment of clarity and realizes all is lost, which is followed by a dramatic cinematic moment of apology, girl forgives boy, all is well in romcom land.

Okay, that may sound trite, but it’s fairly accurate.  What’s not included is what makes the film work. 

The film constantly takes jabs and digs at so many things that it takes some time to think through and properly digest.  Is this film trying to be serious, or is it really but a spoof of itself?  I can’t say for sure, but in any case this vague betrayal of form worked very well.  Some examples:

1.   John Mayer is our generations Sheryl Crow, spoken by Emma Stone in her brief cameo.
2.   Jamie pulls out an Ipad.  Using her Bible app, she has Dylan swear to her that he only wants her for sex, that emotions will not be involved whatsoever.  But the joke here is how the Ipad’s positioning is ultra-difficult to coordinate with the two, taking a jab at Apple but also a clever tool that foreshadows much of what has yet to come

3.   There’s this movie within the movie.  Jason Segal plays a guy named flapjack, which has it’s own urban connotation itself, who is in love with Rashida Jones.  This movie within a movie is ultra sappy and purposefully brutal in terms of acting and setting.  It appears a few times throughout the film and almost becomes the antithesis of what FWB is about, yet perhaps the romantic sloppiness in this Segel short is really what the characters in FWB are striving for in their own relationships, providing an interesting idea to dwell upon.   We see a very nice use of props (inner movie itself) where a completely fake Grand Central Station, which then plays into FWB’s callback finale scene.

4.   Cliché’s are everywhere in this film.  From the girl who wants a fairy tale romance and movie-like experience to the repetition of genre clichés.  It’s as if the writers purposely implanted as many clichés as they could find.  The best illustration of this was when Dylan has his first staff meeting at GQ, where he tells everyone that his door is always open, and then proceeds to bring the door, already removed from its hinges, out into the main floor.  The way the clichés were strewn throughout this film actually made them fresh again and enjoyable to watch.

There are many other ribs on dating, relationships, entertainment, food, you name it and the writers took their shots, which make the film worthwhile viewing.  I’d love to go over a bunch more here, but seeing how these cultural jabs are what I find most interesting about FWB, I’ll refrain and let you experience them for yourself.

I thought the acting was decent, but I don’t think it was intended to be anything more than this.  Kunis hits her roll perfectly, as does her mother, played by Patricia Clarkson.  Timberlake seems to have the shy and reserved, almost underwhelming character type down pat, as it’s a role we’ve seen him play in various films now.  He does a good job with it once again.  Woody Harrelson does a pretty funny job as a gay sports writer and Jenna Elfman and Richard Jenkins perform nicely as Dylan’s father and sister. 

The overall premise of the film is unethical in some circles.  Yet they kind of make a point of doing this bit of off-colored humor throughout the entire film, from graphic homosexual banter to quick inappropriate web-page snippets to some tactless airplane humor and more.  But what I didn’t like was the direct humor that used an Alzheimer patient’s suffering as a source for joke material.  There really isn’t anything funny about it, and it wasn’t until the end of the film, where the father makes a joke himself, than follows up by saying what else does he have, that the distastefulness is seen in perspective, alleviating the unsettling feeling I had.  That said it just wasn’t really needed, they could have made him an overworked businessman and come to the same conclusion, that life is short, carpe diem and so forth. 

There’s one other minor thing I didn’t really care for.  I’ve mentioned props a few times in this review, as I have in some of my other ones.  I’m a big proponent in the theory that when a prop is initialized or introduced early in a film, you, as the writer, must pay it off later, otherwise there’s no point of using the prop at all. 

The writers paid off almost all of the props they used, which assists the storytelling experience: the Ipad and the movie within a movie are two that I’d mentioned previously, yet there are many others, from an Kinect gaming control to an artist’s painting, from a speedboat to a magician’s sawing box.  But for whatever reason the writers chose to leave Dylan’s socks unpaid, a prop that ties into his emotional insecurity.  Early on he tells Jamie that he keeps his socks on during intimacy, this is followed up with a scene in where he’s in the shower, still wearing then.   Near film’s end, he takes his pants, yet another prop, off after his father already had taken his off at the airport diner.  As he sits down to eat, his socks are still on, which would have been a perfect moment for them to come off.  Perhaps I missed something, but if not, that certainly was a missed opportunity in my opinion.   

As I’ve mentioned I’m not in love with this film.  I don’t dislike it, but I’m closer to dislike than I am to love.  I enjoyed many parts of the movie, but as I’ve stated the comedy didn’t make me break out in laughter nor did the romance evoke emotional release, often feeling boring and stale.  However the off type and subtle comedic nuance, featuring jabs and passing attacks make the film worth seeing, and if you like this sort of thing I’d strongly recommend Friends With Benefits to you.  

Friday, July 22, 2011

Wallpaper Design

Have to thank Mr. Stencil from the Artrage forum's for the stencil's on this piece.  Thanks so much for creating all the neat stencils and cool brushes and frames.  They add some neat touches to an artist's expressions.

Crop Circles Over Feather Dusters