Sunday, January 29, 2012

Black Swan Comic Art

One of my favorite movies of recent years is Black Swan. The story is very intriguing, it keeps you on the edge of your seat, and at times it's downright horrific. Although Aronofsky's stories are told much differently than Tarantino, his films share a similar trait in creating memorable scenes and images. On this beautiful piece of artwork, Amanda Rachels brilliantly shows Nina Sayers' transformation from the beautiful White Swan to the terrifying Black Swan.

Inked and colored on 11 x 17, this is really a fun piece of art. Amanda creates a lot detail by illustrating the kinetic energy flowing from Nina's wings, the small feathers emerging from her back, and her piercing red eyes. I've been toying with the idea of commissioning Black Swan artwork and Amanda has once again set the par (see some her fantastic Tarantino Comics covers here). I could only photograph this piece, so I'm sorry you can't see its full beauty and resolution.

I actually got this piece of artwork by pledging for Amanda and Kevin's Clown Town Kickstarter Campaign. They've actually started another Kickstarter for their graphic novel (click here), so definitely check out the site and support their work. If you donate, not only will you receive an awesome story, but you can be awarded some fantastic prizes such as this very commission now hanging on my wall!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Game of Death - Ever Wonder About that Yellow Kill Bill Jumpsuit?

If you saw these outfits, what movie comes to mind?

I believe most of today's generation would say Kill Bill, but this screenshot actually hearkens back to one of Bruce Lee's posthumous films: Game of Death

Billy-Lo (play by Bruce Lee) is a Kung Fu movie star adored by millions. When Billy dismisses the threats of a crime syndicate, they attempt to assassinate him during a film shoot. Although Billy survives a shot to the head, he keeps his survival a secret so he can plan for revenge. After days of gaining reconnaissance and taking down obstacles, Billy must come out of hiding when his girlfriend's life becomes endangered. Forced to undergo grueling fights on a multi-tiered pagoda, can Billy reach the top and stop the crime syndicate's tyrannical actions once and for all?

If you are relying on dialogue and story, this movie is not for you. However, considering the circumstances of how this film was made, the plot is driving and the action is fantastic. Prior to his death in 1973, Bruce Lee had spectacular fight sequences filmed and later archived. Although Game of Death's story changed from it's original plot, Director Robert Clouse successfully pieced together archived footage with newly acted sequences to make a coherent action film. Even though it can be easily dismissed, you can't help but laugh when Lee's onscreen presence is substituted by cardboard cutouts, actors with large sunglasses, and porcelain dummy heads.

Besides the "Kill Bill" lackeys Bruce Lee must face on motorcycles, the final pagoda act is an adrenaline rush of action. Almost like a video game, Bruce Lee fights his way to the final boss, each level a little harder than the last:
  • Level 1: Nunchaku Master
  • Level 2: Judo Master
  • Level 3: The Giant
  • Level 4: The Boss's Right Hand Man
  • Level 5: The Crime Boss
The nunchaku battle was my favorite, even inspiring me to learn the art (I'm quite terrible at it, but luckily I have a pair covered with soft foam). Another favorite is the battle with the giant, or should I say Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Towering over Lee, Abdul-Jabbar's long arms and legs remind me of Dhalsim from Street Fighter. It's truly an eye spectacle as "David takes down Goliath" with his quick agility and prowess. When Lee finally confronts the crime boss, it's a rather anti-climactic scene as Dr. Land (played by Dean Jagger) cowardly runs away and falls to his death. However the journey to the top of the pagoda will be one of the most memorable feats to ever happen in Kung Fu Cinema.

After watching this film, I have an even bigger appreciation for Tarantino's O-Ren Ishii battle. It's a symbolic metaphor of Bruce Lee's final cinematic performance defeating his beginning television roots as Kato. Just as I enjoy rewatching "The Yellow Jumpsuit" battle the Crazy 88, I now have another fighting sequence I will continually revisit.

So on Death List Five, Game of Death ranks #4.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Insidious - Peaks and Valleys of Horror

For the lack of scary movies as of late (at least in theatre), I was sadly disappointed when I missed Insidious in the cinema. It received pretty good reviews and I've been desiring something scary. Luckily, I didn't have to wait long and this fun horror flick is now on video.

Insidious, directed by James Wan, is a horror film with ghosts and possessions. Although the original Splat Pack director didn't have the same bloody disgusting shocks of Saw, Insidious packs a punch with disturbing imagery. The story follows Josh and Renai Lambert (played by Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) who move into a new house. Soon after, their son Dalton (played by Ty Simpkins) puzzlingly falls into a coma. After months of Dalton lying comatose in his bed, Renai experiences strange whispers on the baby monitor, mysterious shadows in the bedroom, and bloody claw marks on Dalton's legs. Convinced the house is haunted, the family packs up and leaves, however, these spooky experiences continue to happen in their new house. After hiring a team of supernatural experts, they discover it's not the house sheltering spirits, but Dalton's body!

In terms of a scary movie, Insidious is like journeying through a mountain terrain: It starts off real strong, kind of gets silly, has a spike of scariness, slopes down into the silliness again, but recovers to level ground. Here's my breakdown with a visual map through the excitement of the film:

I. Strong Start: After shown the eerie face of a scary woman, the movie opens with ear-piercing strings and a title card reminiscent of Suspiria and Drag Me to Hell. With little explanation, the audience becomes sympathetic of the family since harm is being brought upon a little boy. As the audience stays on the edge of their seat while surviving the events of the first house, like the family residing in it, we can't wait to get out.

II. A Quiet Break: After the family moves into their new house, we get some time to relax. There are still hauntings, however they transformed from scary to comedic. Don't get me wrong, ghost children are creepy, but when we see a little lost spirit dancing to Tip Toe Thru' The Tulips With Me by Tiny Tim, you can't help but crack a smile.

III. The Mount Everest of Scare: What seems like a quiet conversation with Josh's mother (played by Barbara Hershey, who also plays a disturbing role in Black Swan), the grandest scare happens during this scene. Without any warning or musical cue, a horrific demon face pops up behind Josh's head. The face may resemble Darth Maul, but it definitely causes you to jump up from your seat.

IV. Back down in the Valley: After the Lambert family hires the paranormal investigation team, we get one more moment of rest before we climb the mountain of terror. The "TAPS team" has quirky characters, guys you would expect to be working at the Buy More from Chuck. The team is armed with gizmos and gadgets on par with the Ghost Busters. This segment also brings some heart-felt moments that gives the audience a chance to breathe. The talk and interplay between characters is a throwback to Poltergeist, where the family reflects and prepares for their son's rescue mission.

V. The Final Climb to Terror: As Patrick enters the world of the dead, the frame rate is very quick and jerky, creating an uncomfortableness in the same vain of how Wan does it in Saw. Patrick meets chilling characters that would burn recognition into your nightmares. When Patrick and Dalton are escaping from "Darth Maul," terror is provoked through a suspenseful chase sequence. Insidious may conclude with a predictable ending to most fans of horror, but if the twist wasn't there, we wouldn't be pleased at all.

So I admit, my mountain expedition analogy through Insidious is pretty stupid, but it's very true! There are lots of elements of horror, but there were moments where I felt the story slowed down quite a bit. In my first viewing of the film, I needed those quiet moments to keep my blood pressure in check. But upon my second viewing, those very same seconds of silence lost my interest and I found myself surfing Safari on my iPhone. However, I must say this is a pretty good haunted house film and I hope James Wan does some more horror films in the future.

So on Death List Five, Insidious ranks #4.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Bad Seed - Children Serial Killers must make Cult Classics

The Bad Seed
is a 1956 psychological horror film directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Starring Nancy Kelly as Christine, she is left alone with her young daughter Rhoda (played by Patty McCormack) as her husband fights in the war. Rhoda seems sweet at first, but after one of her fellow classmates mysteriously drowns, the grounds keeper begins to question the girl's morality. As more people become suspicious of Rhoda, more evidence points to the little girl being a serial killer. As the mother learns secrets from her own past, the more it is unveiled Rhoda is a Bad Seed.

This movie aired a few monthes ago on TCM Underground. Although the horror is not graphic, it is definitely psychological - probably a reason the movie is a cult classic. At the time this movie came out, there were a couple of taboos this movie surpassed:
  • There is discussion of serial killers at the dinner table.
  • Christine learns she was adopted after being born of a serial killer.
  • Although the groundskeeper suspects sweet little Rhoda is the killer, he is not so innocent himself with elements of perversity and pedophilia.
  • When Christine determines her daughter is evil, she attempts to kill herself and her daughter through a drug overdose.
In a similar fashion to Damian in the Omen, there is question of whether Rhoda is the killer. But by the end of the film, Rhoda is truly a Bad Seed. Since this movie came out during the time of the Hays Code, the censors do not let anyone get away with evil - Not even a little girl! So when it looked like Rhoda was going to get away Scott Clean, she was struck by lightening and killed.

There is one last memorable event that puts this movie into a cult status. Done in a similar fashion to a theatrical curtain call, each actor is announced and applauded. But as Patty McCormack is introduced, Nancy Kelly puts the young little girl on her lap and starts spanking her. So remember kids, if you go around murdering people, beware of the consequences - you may get spanked.

Overall, this movie was pretty gripping. Like I said, it relied on off-screen action. However, Eli Roth has shown interest in remaking The Bad Seed. I'm sure it would be just as fun, but it would be told in a completely different manner: Every slice, dice, and blood splatter would be caught on camera.

So on Death List Five, The Bad Seed ranks #3.