Summer Joy: Moonrise Kingdom, Yellow Submarine and My Life as a Zucchini

Ready for some summer joy?

So far, this summer has been perfect: warm days, cool nights, thunderstorms and comparative freedom. (A heat wave is coming, at which point I will hide.) Also perfect is the balance I’ve struck between obsessing over Twin Peaks Season 3 and some lighter, positively joyous, fare. Over the last few weeks I’ve enjoyed Moonrise Kingdom, My Life as a Zucchini and Yellow Submarine. All of them are visual knockouts with charming stories.

The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine is probably lightest on story. Psychedelic animated music videos alternate together with silly puns and tomfoolery as the Fab Four journey to save Pepperland from the Blue Meanies. While John, Paul and George joke, gibe and insult the people around them, superior in their grooviness, Ringo befriends the uncool Nowhere Man. Their friendship is the core of the film. This movie remains beautiful to me every time I see it, and this time I was struck by an early sequence of industrial Liverpool at daybreak. Simply done, but breathtaking.

My Life as a Zucchini (French title Ma Vie de Courgette) tells the story of a little boy called Courgette who suddenly finds himself an orphan. The story and music are lovely, and the visuals are astonishing, quirky, funny and sweet.  All of us have the fears these kids do even if our stories aren’t as extreme as theirs, and they show a lot of heart as they make the most of what they have. I saw this alone, but I imagine kids would love it–and their adults will too.

And last but first is Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.  I love Anderson’s visual worlds and the weird but sincere people who live in them. This story centers on two teen misfits who fall in love and run away. But the course of true love never did run smooth… The stylized compositions, a color palette like a faded Polaroid, maze-like locations and manic chases reminded me of the visuals of The Grand Budapest Hotel. The writing and acting here are similarly terrific. These were first performances for both the kids. Amazing. I especially enjoyed Bruce Willis, cast against type as a forlorn and gentle local lawman. Some people complain that Anderson’s movies try way too hard, but what’s wrong with that when it succeeds like this? I can’t recommend this one highly enough.

Be sure to leave a comment with any joyful, charming films you’ve seen recently. I want more!

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More Forrest


My scanner is down and I’ve been working again after a long lay-off, so I haven’t been posting like I want to. I’m back to drawing every day, though, so that’s the good news. Here are a few drawings from back in December–photos since the scanner is caput–more Forrest Bondurant. I hope all you Tom Hardy fans will enjoy his baggy sweater finery. And yes, with his hands in his pockets, you know he’s getting ready with the brass knuckles. Not that he’s an aggressive guy, but he will protect his rights and his own. Gotta love Forrest.

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Lessons from Forrest Bondurant

You can learn a lot of lessons from Forrest Bondurant, Tom Hardy’s character in Lawless

  • Never surrender.
  • Always hit first (it helps to have brass knuckles in your pocket at all times).
  • It’s not about the violence; it’s about how far you are willing to go.
  • Being gentle is alright (but stay out of trouble).
  • Believe in yourself (including crazy stuff like you’re unkillable).
  • Fear is good. Everyone feels it, just learn to control it.
  • It is wrong to draw a gun on a woman.
  • It ain’t about the money, it’s about the principle of the thing.

And so much more.

Meanwhile, I’ve been busy learning to draw Tom Hardy–and that is its own reward.

Sensational News!–1930s B movies with something special

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Look at these posters…are you feeling the thrills yet?

I’ve found two B-films recently that really excite me; Graft! (1931) and Ladies Crave Excitement (1935). There’s something special about both of them, in spite of the obvious drawbacks in their productions values. Graft! even comes with a built-in exclamation point–you just know it’s going to be good. And it is, in a funny way. A young reporter craves a real story to sink his teeth into and accidentally stumbles into a corruption plot that implicates the mayor. Sure, the chase scene seems to loop the same Santa Monica block about 5 times while supposedly headed in a beeline for “downtown,” and the lead actors laugh their way through their lines like they’re having too much fun to be serious, but it’s got Boris Karloff in a bit part, damn it! Best of all is the intro scene, which outdoes His Girl Friday (1940) for exciting tracking shots through a busy newsroom. I wish I knew who blocked that; maybe the director Christy Cabanne or the DP Jerome Ash. Anyway, it’s exciting and worth seeing if you can find a copy.

The focus of Ladies Crave Excitement is the 1930s newsreel business and a wealthy (and ambitious) young woman whose father won’t let her work in his company, so she teams up with his competitor to present a blockbuster new idea. In both of these movies, there’s something genuinely winning about the aw, shucks expectation that talent and daring will get you ahead. (It helps if the boss’s secretary is only your side as Esther Ralston is in Ladies.) The highlight of this film is the early film and newsreel production footage and a humorous chase scene at the end.

It ain’t art, folks, but it’s fun and it makes you feel good about the chances in life. If only…

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Rustin Cohle: Flat Circle

Rustin Cohle--Flat Circle

Cohle is my favorite character from True Detective (Season 1), so I couldn’t resist drawing him again. Just at this moment, crazy Reggie Ledoux is telling him that all life is a flat circle, which can’t mean much to him–unless he’s a fan of Nietzsche already and he may be. Considering his attention is on Marty’s whereabouts, possible assailants and covering their nutso suspect, it’s amazing that 17 years later, he remembers this. But that’s Cohle for you–he misses nothing.

24 Hours: Glamour and Style with No Substance

2016-07-25 24 Hours

Sketches from the beautiful but dull pre-Code film, 24 Hours, about a bored wealthy couple who beat a murder rap and rekindle their flame-proof romance.

Kay Francis and Clive Brook as the Towners, whose lives are shaken up when the husband’s lover is murdered and he’s the prime suspect. (The wife has a lover, too. It’s pre-Code–fair’s fair.) They live beautifully, drink profusely, dress to the nines, but are so miserable, they can’t muster the energy to even quarrel. The energy comes in with Rosie, the nightclub singer played by Miriam Hopkins, Towner’s squeeze who is strangled by her jealous gangster husband. It was his second killing that night (he had energy, too!). The story is weak, Towner is a downer, but at least it’s beautifully shot. I focused my sketches on Francis and Brook because they looked like beautiful Jazz Age illustrations: all drama, style and glamour. The real study would be Miriam Hopkins–maybe next time. I think I’d need to do gif for her.

Brook was better in von Sternberg’s Underworld (1927), mainly for the earlier part when he was a down-and-out drunk and the end when he shows his boss what integrity is. (Integrity is when you want to steal the boss’s best girl, but you will rescue him from a police shoot-out anyway.) Brook does longing well enough, but he is leaden when it comes to playing a lover. Maybe they thought that was noble back then. I’ll pass.

Francis was beautiful but lugubrious. I haven’t seen her in anything else. I haven’t seen Miriam Hopkins before either, but I’ll be looking for a chance to see more of her work. She seemed very modern in this film.

The DP for 24 Hours was Ernie Haller whose work included Captain Blood, Jezebel, Dark Victory, Gone with the Wind, Mildred Pierce, Rebel Without a Cause, Whatever Happened to baby Jane? and one Star Trek episode (Where No Man Has Gone Before). No wonder it’s beautiful!

True Detective

2016-08-19 True Detective comp

My latest obsession…True Detective (Season 1). The best of writing and acting, atmospheric cinematography, world view… gritty, dirty, hard-core, beautiful. Matthew McConaughey vs. Woody Harrelson. Bitter cynic meets optimistic asshole. Carcosa. The Yellow King. DB on the bayou.The things that break and heal are strongest. Nah. That’s me trying to make sense of something that’s bigger than that. Human instinct. The winning play.

I want to keep drawing this, digging deeper, figure out why it is fucking good…

Identity: 1 + 1

This Week in the Movies…

While reading Jeanine Basinger’s The Star Machine (2007), I’ve been inspired to watch some of the old movies she talks about, along with others that catch my attention. The two from Basinger I chose this week were Taxi! and Theodora Goes Wild. My sister and I watched Love and Friendship, and I added another Melvyn Douglas picture, plus  Greystoke–a favorite back in 1984 when it was released.

  • She Married Her Boss (1935)–Claudette Colbert, Melvyn Douglas
  • Theodora Goes Wild (1936)–Irene Dunn, Melvyn Douglas
  • Love and Friendship (2016)–Kate Beckinsale, Chloë Sevigny, Morffyd Clark
  • Taxi! (1932)–James Cagney, Loretta Young
  • Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan (1984)–Christopher Lambert, Andie McDowell, Ralph Richardson

Greystoke held up pretty well across the intervening decades, though on the small screen it lacks some of the impact it had in the theater. Of all the films, this one most clearly asked questions of identity: Are we our genetic heritage? The accidents of our childhood? Christopher Lambert’s Lord Greystoke chooses to be the crossroads of nature and nurture. And God, the imagery is gorgeous. Including Chistopher Lambert. He carries the theme wordlessly: perfect as a wild creature and equally commanding in his bearing as a gentleman, his eyes always suggesting a searching intelligence.

Last week I saw Irene Dunne and Cary Grant in The Awful Truth and was looking for another of her pictures to watch. Since I’d just seen–and loved–Melvyn Douglas as the cranky all-work boss in She Married Her Boss, I decided to go with Dunne and Douglas in Theodora Goes Wild. It’s odd that I’ve been watching so many screwball comedies, because, constitutionally, I’m ill-equipped to enjoy them. As soon as the obvious pairing starts to get screwed up, my anxiety levels rise and refuse to budge till the final seconds of the film when everything ends well. This was less of a problem in Boss because Colbert was so obviously the master of the situation and it was only a matter of time till Douglas woke up to the fact. That was a fun film with a lot of comic moments, but the ending felt tacked on and abrupt and completely out of character for Douglas. Identity is at issue for this mismatched couple too: the secretary he prided himself on understanding, the woman who thought she had been married for love. I can only guess they’ll be even more confused with each other after the end, but at least they are laughing.

Theodora was another matter entirely. Both Douglas and Dunne take turns ruining each others lives, both instances of which I found hard on the nerves. Jake the Dog though was a bonus in Douglas’s turn at wrecking ball. I also wasn’t convinced that Douglas ever had feelings for Dunne–it was never in his eyes, his voice or his manner–but you could tell she’d gone soft on him long before she admitted it. Identity was rather the point of the secrets in the movie. The best question it asked was whether there was more truth in our quotidian lives or in our imaginations. My favorite bit along those lines is when Dunne first enters Douglas’s apartment to find it the perfect incarnation of a scene in her novel.

Love and Friendship is a Jane Austen adaptation, which I’m always most willing to see, especially one that, while leaving the 18th century dialogue intact, renders it as natural to f the story as the costumes and period sets. Lady Susan, played with glib indifference by Kate Beckinsale, is a piece of work that even a chess grand-master would be challenged to out-maneuver. The only matter of identity here is the issue of the plus-one: who shall one marry? Lady Susan does not believe in being the victim of birth or fortune. She’s a bracing tonic, though not exactly a role model.

Last of all is Taxi! Its’ the story of a pair of young lovers caught up in the taxi wars on 1930s New York. I’m not sure how much of it made sense, though may be historically true, but it’s an excuse for Cagney to exhibit his hair-trigger temper, dance a bit, crack wise and romance the girl. The girl is Loretta Young ad she’s not afraid to dish it back to Cagney. It’s exciting to watch the two of them in their scenes together–they spark like live wires at each other. Hot stuff for a sultry Sunday afternoon. I liked that they were secure enough in each other to really fight, no holds barred; they’re a couple, sure, but they are separate people with their own motivations and ways to work things out.

Mr. Brown

big-combo-still2Mr. Brown

You ever watch a movie, read a book and realize you’re being set up to hate a character…except that you don’t, because to you, he’s the best thing going? It happened to me today. My first time viewing of the gorgeous film noir The Big Combo (1955) and Richard Conte’s wonderful “bad, bad man,” Mr. Brown. Oh, Mr. Brown! The ultimate cool customer, even his smirk is menacing. But exactly why do I like this scheming, murderous, double-crossing bastard? Maybe because he’s all in–whatever he wants, he goes for; he thinks ahead, planning for all contingencies; moves slow, in control; he’s proud and arrogant and doesn’t care a damn for your opinion of him, and he’s got the balls to say so. His business is impersonal and that’s why it works, but his downfall is that the women he loves, he actually loves, and love just don’t always work out so well. Oh, to be a bad, bad man…

Diamond, the only trouble with you is, you’d like to be me. You’d like to have my organization, my influence, my fix. You can’t, it’s impossible. You think it’s money. It’s not. It’s personality. You haven’t got it. You’re a cop. Slow. Steady. Intelligent. With a bad temper and a gun under your arm. With a big yen for a girl you can’t have. First is first and second is nobody.

I’ve seen it twice today–now it’s your turn. You can find a nice, crisp print here. You’re first in my book, Mr. Brown. I’ve got an instinct about these things…

The Force Awakens in Miniature

2016-02-22 Force Awakens thumbnails detail clip2016-02-22 Force Awakens thumbnails clip

I can’t get enough of The Force Awakens.

I’ve seen it three times, read the novelization and watched innumerable YouTube videos full of hints, analysis and theories. And of course, I’ve drawn a few of the characters. Then I thought I’d try a series of minute thumbnails from my favorite trailer. What I thought I’d discover, I don’t know, but I ran out of page before finishing. There were 44 shots in the minute and a half I covered; the cuts were faster toward the end so there may well have been as many in the remaining 50 seconds. The patterns of movement were the most exciting thing, but I made no attempt to capture that. This time. I’ve got a few more ideas to explore–and I’m sure they’ll turn up here when I work them out.

Is this studying or playing? I’m not sure it matters. I love discovering how the images were put together and maybe deciphering what it means.

(media: markers and colored pencil)