Arty, Cross-Medium Double Feature: The Giant Mechanical Man & Shoplifter

I haven’t been blogging too much lately as regular readers can tell. I’m not sure why that is. Sure, I’m busy with a new gig, but I also don’t have the same burning desire to write down my thoughts about everything I see, hear or read. But, I do still love having this page here as my little corner of the internet extolling the virtues of the things I love. It also works as a pretty handy external memory because mine is getting worse and worse and these are some stories I want to remember.

the giant mechanical manA few weeks back I realized that I’ve moved out of my “watching people kill or get killed” phase and wanted to move into some more emotional offerings. I’ll never stop loving action and horror movies and I do feel like they are a great distraction when you’re already feeling incredibly bogged down by real-life emotional matters, but once things equalize a bit, it’s nice to see if the ol’ heart can take on a movie meant to do more than thrill and spill blood.

So, with that feeling in mind, I went looking around the Netflix queue to see what was available and landed on The Giant Mechanical Man. I only knew about this one because I’m a big fan of Jenna Fischer from The Office and saw her tweet about it. The film about a pair of wayward souls who discover each other in Detroit also stars Chris Messina of The Wendy Project fame (another beloved show in our house), Malin Akerman and Topher Grace. Fischer’s husband Lee Kirk wrote and directed the film.

The movie follows Fischer, an awkward adult who doesn’t quite know what she wants to do with her life and Messina’s title character who dresses up in a giant suit, paints on makeup and walks on stilts as a piece of performance art. The two eventually find each other while working at a zoo to make some scratch and develop a genuine relationship in a world seemingly filled with plastic, surface-y characters played by Akerman, Grace and Harry Crane (er, Rich Sommer).

For me, the cast comes together really well to tell this story so concerned with authenticity, Art and honesty. I also really appreciate that the movie was shot in and around Detroit. I grew up less than an hour away from the city and while it wasn’t a regular destination, I have a soft spot in my heart for it, especially when it’s treated as more than just a place where awful things happen. The fact that this true love grew there was a nice part of the story that just struck me. I’m glad I made this one of the first more emotional movies I watched this year.

shoplifter That feeling of opening-up has also spread into my comic reading. The last time I went to the library I found a different section of trades in the sci-fi section (the other two are in YA and kids) and saw that they had Michael Cho’s Shoplifter. I immediately snatched it up because I’ve been following Cho on Twitter for years now, love his style and had been wanting to check this book out since I saw him posting about it.

The graphic novel — a sequential story told all in one volume as opposed to the monthly comic book format everyone’s familiar with — stars Corinna Park, a woman in her mid-to-late 20s working for an advertising agency. But, that’s not what she wants to do with her life. She wants to be a writer. This entry level job wound up taking off, sucking her focus and making her kind of hate her life a little bit, what life there is to hate. The title refers to her not-too-often habit of stealing a magazine while buying other goods at a corner store near her house. After meeting a guy she likes, she starts thinking about making a huge change in her life, though even that doesn’t quite shake out like intended.

I really enjoyed this story. The story itself is not one unlike the kind you see at the heart of a lot of indie movies like Giant Mechanical Man or The Lifeguard, the idea of not knowing what the hell you’re going to do that swirls around creative types in all mediums. Cho literally adds his own style to it by using a visual look that uses black, white and pink (instead of gray). Pink might seem a bit one note for a lot of people, but it works as well during the day as it does at night and adds a kind of frosting quality to what Corrina’s going through. This isn’t real life for her, it’s just the gussied up version she’s living for now until she figures out the real thing she wants to do.

As a wannabe writer myself, I can’t help but instantly fall for Shoplifter like I have so many stories like it in the past. I am super on board for anything else Michael Cho wants to write and draw about. His is a voice I can relate to and appreciate.


UnCaged: Stolen (2012)

Stolen If you’re like me, you love a good Nic Cage movie. The guy just has such a great track record in my head of making ridiculous, over-the-top movies in which he goes crazy to varying degrees. I have an actual spectrum in my mind with things like Season of the Witch and the craziest scenes from Wicker Man at the extreme end and, well, I don’t really have a “nice, normal” section, but he’s less crazy in other things. For me, the really solid midpoint for all this is the National Treasure movies which utilize his inherent bonkers nature while still keeping things this side of the asylum. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Stolen when it recently popped up on Netflix Instant, but I was feeling game and gave it a shot.

As it happens, this movie can be described almost completely in the context of Cage’s previous films. Much like Gone In 60 Seconds, he’s a master criminal, this time a thief/bank robber. Unlike Memphis Raines, though, he gets caught and thrown in jail which makes him akin to Cameron Poe in Con Air. However, he serves his time and gets out to meet his daughter, now a teenager who happens to get kidnapped by a wonderfully crazy Josh Lucas, Cage’s former partner in crime who wants the money Cage supposedly hid before getting busted post-heist. As he says throughout the movie, though, Cage burned the money and doesn’t have it. A far from reasonable man, Lucas still wants his cash, so Cage has to pull another heist with the help of Malin Ackerman, who does a good job in the movie, but couldn’t look more out of place in an early scene where she’s dressed like a longshoreman and doing her best to look like a hardened criminal.

It takes longer than you might expect for them to get to the actual heist, but once it comes it’s actually pretty darn clever and leads right into a meeting between Cage and Lucas at an abandoned amusement park. It doesn’t utilize the location nearly as much as say Shakedown or Zombieland, but it’s still a pretty good scene.

For the most part, I enjoyed the movie. It does force you to buy the fact that Cage is not only a criminal mastermind, but also capable of taking out highly trained FBI agents in an elevator. If you can get on board with that, hopefully you can also get behind the fact that the entire setting of this movie is tailor made to give Cage the most difficult time. The movie’s set in New Orleans…during parades…which are loud and offer the kidnapper all kinds of cover and traffic blockages. It doesn’t necessarily feel like an organic story, but instead one built to offer the maximum amount of trouble. I want to say there’s nothing wrong with that, but when it feels so stage-y it does feel a little wrong, or at least a little obvious.

Still, I’d recommend this movie fro Cage fans. I mean, if you’re a fan of his, you’ve probably already scoped this one out. If you like man against time stories this one should be up your alley too. If you’re more a fan of Cage’s “normal” work, I don’t think you’ll be too put off here. He plays a dad trying to get his kid, so there’s not much weirdness there aside from demanding his crew listen to Creedence Clearwater Revival’s catalog before committing unlawful acts.