Drool on the Frog

Friday, October 27, 2006

Halloween Pics

As I said when I started adding movie reviews to this site, I am not a horror movie fan. I've read quite a few horror novels but I don't enjoy the movies. That's not to say that I don't have a few, very tame favorites for this time of year.

The Corpse Bride is not actually classified as horror (told you these were tame) but it's fun. The artistic quality alone makes it worth seeing at least once. I really appreicate Tim Burton believing in the craft of stop-motion animation enough to pursue this project. You have to check out the extras on this DVD, especially The Animators.

Tim Burton makes wonderfully imaginative and colorfully artistic films. Beetle Juice and Sleepy Hollow are also good selections.

My Geek said that I couldn't put Shaun of the Dead on my list because it was a comedy. IMDB lists it as a Comedy/Horror. The movie's tag line is "A romantic comedy. With zombies." The gross factor alone qualifies it as a horror for me. Shaun is having a really bad day. His girlfriend dumped him because he has no real ambition and hangs out at the pub all the time. He gets no respect at work or from his family. Then zombies start taking over London! Shaun and his best mate try to rise to the occasion and save their friends and family from these flesh eaters. Funny and gross. See our dilemma?

Tremors is one of those films that didn't get much fan fair on release but has a significant cult following. The best part of this film is that it doesn't take itself too seriously. The characters are small town folk who find themselves breakfast, lunch and dinner for giant underground worms who track vibrations made on the surface. The worms are not complicated or super smart which makes it all the more entertaining to see these simple folk try to out smart them and survive. There are plenty of laughs and scary moments.

Identity is the closest I get on this list to a modern day slasher. It's scary, creepy and gross but the plot line is typical. Several strangers end up stranded together at a roadside motel during a torrential rain storm. One-by-one they are murdered. While trying to figure out what is going on, they discover they have one very strange thing in common. As easily frightened as I get, I was able to make it through this film because it stars John Cusack, one of my favorite actors (and also by watching through the holes in my afghan.)

Nosferatu is the 1922 German black and white vampire classic based on the Dracula story. What I love is the idea that Count Orlok is so evil that death, famine and hoplessness consumes the entire town of Bremen simply from his presence.

There was also a good film in 2000, Shadow of the Vampire, that is a fictional account of the making of Nosferatu . It plays on a rumor that the actor who played Count Orlok was actually a vampire who was promised the leading lady at the end of filming if he would make the movie.

If you're interested in truer Halloween fair, try one of My Geek's selections:
Halloween II, 1981
American Werewolf in London, 1981
Fright Night, 1985
Lost Boys, 1987
Near Dark, 1987
Session 9, 2001

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Willa's Flic Pic: The Machinist * * *

The MachinistThe Machinist
2004, Brad Anderson
* * *

Stevie: Are you okay?
Trevor Reznik: Don't I look okay?
Stevie: If you were any thinner, you wouldn't exist.

For Halloween I thought I would recommend a thriller since I'm not an outright fan of horror movies. The Machinist is like The Sixth Sense. You can't tell too much about it or it will ruin it for anyone who hasn't seen it.

Trevor Reznik (Chrisitan Bale) is a lathe-operator. We enter his story when all the issues in his life are coming to a climax and he appears to be cracking up. Physically, he is emaciated and hasn't slept in a year. Emotionally he's numb, edgy and unpredictable. Mentally, he's hallucinating and loosing large gaps of time.

The mood of the film is dark and dream like even though Trevor never sleeps. Since we're following the story from his point of view, we aren't sure if what we're seeing is real or imagined. He finds post-it notes on his refrigerator on which someone is playing hangman. He's seeing someone at work that no one else ever sees. What does he want and is he the one leaving the post-its? Whoever it is, it appears they know a secret about Trevor that he's terrified of.

The Machinist isn't particularly pleasant to watch. It's eerie, grimy and everyone seems suspicious. The images of Trevor's skeletal body are disturbing. I was trying to figure out how they made Bale look so emaciated. They didn't. He actually lost all of that weight for the role. Kudos to him for such a great level of commitment to his work. It adds immensely to the fascination of this film.

What I like is that the catalyst for Trevor's problems isn't a ghost, demon or psycho. It's suspenseful if a little predictable. It's a dark subject and it's dealt with in a dark style which I admire artistically. Figuring out what is happening, what is real and what isn't is part of the enjoyment.

If you would like a film with more of a Halloween flavor, you might try one of this director's other films, Session 9. My Geek talked me into seeing this film and I give it a four which means that I lost four nights of sleep after seeing it. I get creeped out just thinking about it. It's a very smart film with a great perspective and is well made. I didn't choose to review it because I don't feel qualified to judge horror. My Geek has a somewhat finer tuned eye for this genre and recommends it highly.


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Free Stock Photos - Respect Copyright

from GeekPhilosopher.comI agree with Napolean Dynamite's brother, Kip, "I love technology." The majority of my work, play and volunteer work is done using a computer.

One of the things I need to hunt down frequently are photos. Typically since these are for my own personal use or for a charitable organization, I need to find things that are free. But just because it's on the internet DOES NOT MEAN IT'S FREE.

I am a big respector of copyright so I've done a lot of research to find true, free stock photography. Finding them can be confusing because there's also Royalty-free photography. Very simplistically, there have three levels of obtaining photography:

Rights managed has the tightest restrictions. The purchase agreement is very specific about how many times you can use the photo, what size it can be, etc. Basically, you pay for every instance you use the photo. For example, you can purchase the photo of a girl eating ice cream to use on the cover of your newsletter but you can't turn around and also use it in your logo, on your letterhead and on your web site unless you paid for those uses.

Royalty-free photos must be purchased but there are typically no restrictions on how many times you can use it. This means that you can use the same image in newsletters, brochures, business cards, letterhead, web sites, etc.

Free photos are free of charge but that does not mean they are free of use restrictions. Some don't allow use in mass produced marketing mailers, others restrict you to personal uses only.

No matter which you use, each stock company has their own use policy. Some want credit in your publication. Almost all of them restrict the images from being used in political material or in an offensive way. None of them allow you to resell the images. Be sure to read the fine print. It's tedious but it's your responsibility to respect other's work.

In the right hand margin I have added a list of links to Free photo stock sites. If you have any favorites, PLEASE, send me your links.

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Willa's Flic Pic: Man On Fire * * * *

Man On FireMan On Fire
2004, Tony Scott
* * * *

Creasy: The gunshot holds no fear, say it.
Pita: The gunshot holds no fear.
Creasy: You welcome the sound. In fact it's the sound that sets you free. You are a prisoner on this block until that sound sets you free.

This film got low to average ratings when it was released. I admit that the trailers were unmemorable to me and I didn't give it a second thought. But it has turned out to be one of my favorites and the one that made me a Denzel Washington fan.

John Creasy (Denzel Washington) is burned out. His life has been a career of unspeakable crimes and it is now asking a toll which he currently pays with large quantities of Jack Daniels. He wanders aimlessly into Mexico to hook up with a former partner, Rayburn (Christopher Walken).

Kidnapping has become a growth industry in Mexico and more and more families are buying kidnap insurance and hiring bodyguards. Rayburn thinks Creasy needs something productive to do so he gets him a bodyguard position protecting the nine-year-old daughter, Pita Ramos (Dakota Fanning), of a prominent family. (Taking this job is like asking a brain surgeon to be the elementary school nurse.) Creasy doesn't care about himself much less anyone else, but, despite himself, he becomes friends with Pita. Predictably, Pita is kidnapped and Creasy has a mission that more aptly fits his skills.

I find it interesting that a critiqe of this film is that it's an endless blood bath with a thin underlying plot. The plot does take a couple of fairly predictable twists but they are handled very well. Although this is a very violent movie where lots of people are shot, beaten up, blown up and cut up, it is more of a character study of Creasy and a story of redemption.

Creasy is presented as the worst of the worst – at least in his own estimate. Pita represents complete innocence. As the adults make their choices, she is still under their control. She is a victim of their greed. Her parents control even the activities in which she's allowed to participate. All of Pita's potential mistakes or contributions to society still lay in front of her. Creasy chose death and destruction and he believes that none of that can be undone.

Creasy: Do you think God'll forgive us for what we've done?
Rayburn: No.

While Creasy doesn't believe he can be redeemed he still looks for it. While drinking and holding a gun, contemplating suicide, he also reads scripture. Pita doesn't see him as a lost cause and accepts him unconditionally; all he has to do is accept.

Pita: There are some good things in this world.
Creasy: Oh yeah, like what?
Pita: Like meeting me.

I wonder if part of the problem critics have with this film is the religious undertones. Creasy quotes scripture once and wonders if he can be redeemed. There is a lot of religious symbolism. It's a great issue to contemplate – can you go too far to be redeemed? What is redemption and where does it come from. Although "thou shalt not kill" is not applied by Creasy, I do believe he gets his redemption message from Jesus and applies it the only way he knows how. In the end he becomes a redeemer himself.

This film has all my favorite things. Good action/adventure, a great character, one against many and Christopher Walken (every film should have a little Christopher Walken)


Friday, October 06, 2006

Willa's Flic Pic: Two Days in the Valley * * ½

Two Days in the ValleyTwo Days in the Valley
1996, John Herzfeld
* * ½

Allan Hopper: You know, I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I was raised in a trailer park. My father abandoned us, and my mother couldn't even afford to send us to college. Now, I may be an asshole, but I've worked hard to become one.

Two Days in the ValleyEvery morning I listen to 2GuysNamedChris on Rock92. On Fridays they have movie reviews with local critic. The show had interview Jeff Daniels once and they asked the critic his favorite Daniels movie. He mentioned Two Days in the Valley and The Purple Rose of Cairo. Since I like Jeff Daniels I rented and enjoyed both of these. One of my favorites is Blood Work. You might be familiar with him from Terms of Endearment, Arachnophobia and Dumb and Dumber.

Two Days in the ValleyTwo Days in the Valley integrates several plot lines to tell the sordid story of the interconnecting lives of several people living in LA in a 48-hour period. The film opens with the murder of Becky's ex-husband, Roy, by a cold blooded assassin and his has-been assistant. The murder takes place in Becky's bed – while she's in it! What makes this film interesting to me is that, instead of the crime driving the story, it's the relationships – how they are connected and what effect they have.

Two Days in the ValleyWhat is most notable about this film is the skill at which so many plot lines are integrated without any one character dominating the film. With one exception, each character is played out no more and no less than is needed to depict their 48-hour experience. This kepts the characters interesting and the plot from getting too weighed down with useless details. I cared very much for the Alvin Strayer character, played by Jeff Daniels, a burned out cop ready to snap. His story had an abrupt end that left me wanting more and wondering, if they weren't going any further, why develop him as much as they did.

Two Days in the ValleyI also appreciate that the film doesn't take itself too seriously. The subtle dark humor ebbs and flows well with the carnage. It's humor in the everyday things, like a toupee, and the not-so-everyday things, like a catfight.

I had no idea what year the film was made but I guessed it was the late '80s. Turns out, it's only ten years old. I think I would blame this mostly on costuming and hairstyles although the whole mood and feel of the film seems dated. There's no indication that it's suppose to be set at any other time except the present. This is an unusual problem for a movie to have.

Two Days in the ValleyThis is not a super great film but it is entertaining and very interesting to watch.


Thursday, October 05, 2006

Where Am I and the The Black Dahlia

BocSorry it's been such a long hiatus. Things have been crazy around here and I haven't even had time to say, "boo".

Because my social calendar has been busier, I haven't watched very many movies. I've also been spending more time with the TV premier season. (Check the sidebar for my list.) I have caught a couple of movies. One I will review for Friday.

Last weekend we went to see The Black Dahlia. The four of us have very different tastes and opinions on movies so it's a notable occasion when we all agree. The Minx almost feel asleep and Valet Boy was uncharacteristically silent (a sure sign of boredom). I really don't think this warrants a full review but a warning.

Brian De Palma directed the film. He's done films of great story and style like Scarface and The Untouchables. The Black Dahlia can be credited with having style but the story is a chopped up, convoluted mess. You can probably blame Josh Friedman's screenplay since his previous credits, War of the Worlds and Chair Reaction don't bring a lot to the table. I haven't read James Ellroy's novel so I don't know if that's where the mess began or not.

There's an all-star cast but I have to blame their melodrama accompanied by equally melodramatic music to the director. Sometimes the music was so over the top it actually produced titters.

I don't want to spend a lot more time on this. It is one of the worst movies I've seen in a long time. (The worst is probably "The New World".) If I hadn't of been with friends, I would have walked out on it.