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LONG LIVE BOWIE

Indeed,

-Shady

Ponyo (Walt Disney Pictures)

"Ponyo"

1. First, I have to be honest here: I’m not a fan of much anime. Anime’s usual standard for drawing humans just isn’t something I find to be aesthetically pleasing. I don’t dig the wide eyes, the tiny-or-enormous mouths, or the Michael Jackson-esque non-noses each and every character has. Like bald white guys with dark-rimmed glasses, to me, they all look the same. So take that into consideration as you read the rest of this review.

2. The story of “Ponyo” is this: David Bowie (as Ziggy Stardust) lives under the ocean and, after mating with Mother Ocean, becomes the father of a potato with eyes. Said potato essentially runs away from home, gets her head stuck in a jar, and is saved by a young boy. They fall in love (because, you know, kids know everything about romance at the age of eight) and live happily ever after. You with me so far? Good, because I’m not even sure if I’m with me.

3. If you’ve managed to read this far, I assume you’re putting it together that I wasn’t a huge fan of “Ponyo.” It’s long, drawn out, and the dialogue is awkward and stilted. Of course, that probably has a lot to do with the fact that they’re overdubbing the original Japanese dialogue with English-speaking actors (Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, Matt Damon, etc.). I honestly think I would have liked “Ponyo” more had they just left the original dialogue in and given the audience some subtitles. I’m not stupid, you know. I can read!

4. For me, the only saving grace of the film were moments of its animation. Written and directed by animation legend Hayao Miyazaki (click here to see a portrait of Miyazaki that my good friend Marla Campbell did for “Variety”), “Ponyo” definitely had its moments of beautiful imagery. A scene with enormous fish jumping through the water, for example, is reminiscent of Asian woodblock printmaking. The film also has a fun use of water, depicting it as angry dark blobs with eyes. These subtle accents tell a story all their own with brilliant imagery. I just wish the film had more of those moments.

5. And lastly, sigh… the end credits song. I know it’s not an integral part of a film, but the sugar-pop bubble gum soundtrack was grating at best. And the worst part is that it then segues into an even worse techno remix of the same song. Maybe kids will love it, but if you’re over the age of ten be prepared to cover your ears once the credits roll.

Matt Damon,

-Shady

"Inglourious Basterds"

1. I used to love Quentin Tarantino… fifteen years ago. Since then, I have to be honest, I’ve been pretty bored with everything he’s put out. “Jackie Brown” was painful, the “Kill Bill” movies were way too long and masturbatory, and, let’s admit it, his segments in both “Four Rooms” and “Grindhouse” were the worst of the batch. So I approached “Inglourious Basterds” with some hesitation because, well, his track record as of late hasn’t been the best. But with that being said, I can excitedly and honestly now say this: Tarantino is back with his best film since 1994’s “Pulp Fiction.” And the best part is that he’s back doing what he does best: Weaving individual story lines of interesting characters together, with hilarious and brilliant dialogue serving as the glue. Oh, and he’s killing every motherfucker in the room with hyper-violence.

2. My only two gripes:

1) Mike Myers (yes, that Mike Myers) plays a small role in the film as a Brit. He’s in full makeup (including what I’m assuming is a fake nose) and talks with a bad British accent. But while I do like Myers in a handful of movies (“So I Married An Ax Murderer,” “Wayne’s World”), the whole thing just reeks of a clichéd Myers character creation from “Austin Powers.” His placement is awkward, his performance laughable, and not in a good way.

2) Most of the score feels at home in the film, but in one specific scene (don’t worry, I’m not giving spoilers here) David Bowie’s “Cat People (Putting Out The Fire)” is used. Because, you know, nothing says 1940’s World War II-era Germany like a David Bowie tune from 1982. Like Myers cameo, the song sticks out as feeling both out of place and unnecessary.

3. While parts of the movie are wonderfully violent, Tarantino picks and chooses when to show the violence and when not to. The movie’s first scene is extremely tense, and you have a fairly good idea that something is going happen. But in the end, the climax is handled in a way that isn’t typical for Tarantino. Because of decisions like this, the acts of intense violence have much more of an impact.

4. The cast is fantastic. Outside of Brad Pitt and B.J. Novak from “The Office” (and appearance-less cameos from Harvey Keitel and Samuel L. Jackson), the rest of the cast has either done very little acting or appeared mostly in foreign films. Because of this, their performances are extremely believable. We’re not seeing an actor’s interpretation of, say, Joseph Goebbels. We’re seeing Joseph Goebbels. And, man, is he a cocksucker. Whoever handled the casting on this movie should be given some kind of a casting award. Not sure if that actually exists or not, but if it does, they should get it.

5. The ending is amazing. I spent the last five minutes of the movie laughing outloud with giddy pleasure… even though it wasn’t really appropriate. After it was over, I literally whispered to myself with a giggle, “Holy fuck.”

My verdict? Outside of “Up,” this is the best film of the year so far.

The Bear Jew,

-Shady

Jim Henson's 1986 film "Labyrinth"

My girlfriend is pretty awesome. Don’t tell her I said that because then she’ll get all high and mighty and shit. Still, it’s true.

Last weekend she surprised me with tickets to a screening of Jim Henson’s “Labyrinth.” The Silent Movie Theater here in town is hosting screenings of a slew of Henson’s work every Friday and Saturday night in July. It’s the type of shit Muppet nerds like myself drool over.

After some of Henson’s fairy tale-inspired shorts and commercial work, the audience was treated to a screening of “Labyrinth.”

Now, my dad took me to see this in theaters when it was released in 1986. Since then, I’ve probably seen it two or three more times, but always in VHS quality on a small-screen television. Also, it’s probably been ten to fifteen years since I saw it last in any way, shape or form.

That means it had been twenty-three years since I saw it on the big screen. And, wow, seeing it again after all these years has opened my eyes to quite a few details I missed before:

1. Ludo is artist Ron Mueck – Mueck, an Australian artist, is primarily known for his hyper-realistic (and oddly sized) sculptures of humans. Here are a few of his pieces:

Ron Mueck

Ron Mueck

Ron Mueck

But Mueck got his start in model making and puppeteering with Henson. Thing is, I knew Mueck was involved in “Labyrinth,” but I always thought he performed the voice of the dwarf-goblin character Hoggle. (This was actually done by Jim’s son, Brian.) In actuality, Mueck handled the voice work and the puppeteering for both Ludo and a Firey. This means it was Mueck who said, “Smell bad!” about a thousand times while standing in the Bog of Eternal Stench.

Which brings me to my next discovery:

2. The Bog of Eternal Stench is full of assholes – Yeah, I knew it always made fart noises and that stinky sludge would bubble up from the depths of… wherever. But seeing those “holes” on a big screen made me realize that they really look like assholes! It’s not just brown water bubbling up from a hose, folks! This means that someone had to actually physically make these things! I can see this guy’s boss now: “Hey, Ralph! How are those Bog of Eternal Stench assholes coming?”

3. David Bowie’s wiener could be tiny – I used to mistake his huge cod piece as a bulging package. But that’s misleading because, in reality, he could have the tiniest wiener on Earth. You know, like placing a diamond ring in a television box.

4. The labyrinth is covered in glitter – Literally. I kept thinking of that scene in “Little Shop of Horrors” when Audrey uses spray glue on a floral arrangement, and then haphazardly throws a handful of glitter over the whole mess. Oddly enough, “Little Shop” also came out in 1986. Must have been a big year for the glitter industry.

5. Jennifer Connelly was young I remember being young and thinking that she was too old to be playing with dolls. And now I’m old and think that she’s too young to not be playing with them.

6. Elmo is a Firey – One of the Fireys is voiced by puppeteer Kevin Clash, who also does the voice of Elmo on “Sesame Street.” If you listen closely, though, you’ll notice that it’s Elmo’s voice being used long before he was even created.

7. The baby, Troy, is actually artist Brian Froud’s son – Which is good, because dancing with David Bowie in tights would surely make a serial killer out of any normal child.

8. The Henson Company’s puppeteering is at its peak – This might seriously be the zenith for the Henson team when it comes to how they handle their puppeteering. Matched only by what they accomplished in 1982’s “The Dark Crystal,” this is the company’s work at its finest.

9. The best scene is when Sarah falls down a hole and has a conversation with the Helping Hands – Seriously. Check it out for yourself:

10. It’s honestly a good film – Yeah, parts of it are cheesy, and a lot of it is steeped heavily in the now-laughable decade of the eighties, but it still holds up as great storytelling with interesting characters and amazing visuals. A lot of the crap made today could learn something from the structure of “Labyrinth.”

Dance, magic dance,

-Shady

PS: A funny side note: During the opening credits, people in the audience would clap as each contributor’s name popped up onscreen: Jim Henson, followed by clapping; Brian Froud, followed by clapping; etc. Then George Lucas’ name popped up. One guy booed loudly, and the rest of the audience supported his cause by bursting into laughter. Awesome.

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Old Poop!