19 December 2010

Tron: Legacy

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I went into this expecting to be disappointed. Almost every review I’ve read has been pretty disheartening, pointing derisively at the lifeless dialogue, soulless performances, and lack of a good conclusion. Still, also in almost every review there was praise for the visuals and sound. That’s all that was really being hyped to begin with so there wasn’t much surprise there. It was enough to get me into the theater. I think lowering my expectations was the best thing I could have done.

Tron: Legacy, once horribly titled TR2N, is a sequel to a movie that came out almost thirty years ago, which was a box office failure in its time. It’s become a cult-classic since, mostly among computer nerds such as myself, although I didn’t see it until six years ago and didn’t think very much of it then. The technology was revolutionary for its time but not mine. Now, for some reason Disney thought it would be a good/profitable idea to bring it back to life with state-of-the-art 3D CGI. The nerds rallied to the call. Of course they weren’t really Disney’s target audience anymore, so it couldn’t really be all that we wanted it to be. Still, getting Jeff Bridges to reprise his role was definitely a good move, and grabbing Olivia Wilde, one of the hottest hotties around, didn’t hurt at all.

I don’t remember much about the first movie aside from Flynn (Bridges) getting transported into the digital world and battling it out a little. There was a bit of a refresher in this one, but I think most of the events described occurred in the intervening years. We learn that he’s been trapped in The Grid and his digital doppelgänger has become Hitler. His son Sam, having not known of his father’s plight for so many years, has assumed that he was abandoned, but doesn’t really show the usual symptoms of that kind of complex, instead roguishly following in his father’s footsteps to make software free for everyone. Well, not really footsteps, more like badass motorcycle tracks and semi-parkour moves. Gotta keep the action going! So he gets beamed into the Grid, meets the evil Flynn (Clu), his dad, and Olivia (Qorra). He then figures he can save the day and goes at it. There are lots of awesome disc-battles and light-cycle chases, even a flight combat scene reminiscent of the “Don’t get cocky” scene from Star Wars. There’s also some dialogue I guess. Stuff happens. Big finish. Strangely illogical conclusion. It’s over.

As expected, it really was just an effects fest basically. It’s a very stylized movie, and with updated technology it’s just simply gorgeous (almost as much as Olivia). The Daft Punk score is extremely enjoyable, and their cameo is kinda cool too. There were a few nerdy bits here and there, like using actual UNIX commands in an old terminal (although it shouldn’t have been a touch-screen). Jeff Bridges got to be The Dude every once in a while which always got a laugh out of me. The guy in the lead was alright I guess. Olivia didn’t have much of a role aside from being incredibly beautiful, and I’m perfectly happy with that. The biggest problem was probably the digital Bridges when depicting Flynn; I can handle him as Clu, because Clu is a program, but the valley was very uncanny otherwise. All in all though it wasn’t as bad as the critics are making it out to be, and the pros outweighed the cons, I think. Good show.

14 December 2010

Black Swan

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Darren Aranofsky makes weird movies. Not always the same kind of weird, but always something abnormal. Black Swan is like The Fly crossed with American Psycho and Gia. Yeah, I said Gia. That aspect of the film was one of the big pulls for me honestly.

So it’s about Natalie Portman, the virginal, naive ballet dancer who wants really bad to dance the main part in Swan Lake, and ends up getting the part. The problem is that it’s really two parts, the White Swan and the Black Swan. She’s perfect for the white one, an outwardly spotless picture of technical beauty. The Black Swan is supposed to be more relaxed and sexualized, and she seems to have no concept of this. Her director pushes her beyond her limits, and her mother keeps holding her back in her child-world; this breeds a rather violent conflict in her mind, which is given a physical target in Mila Kunis’ character, Lilly. Lilly seems to be the embodiment of the Black Swan. Nina (Portman) processes this as any psychotically determined person would, and then crazy crap starts happening.

Actually, it starts even before Lilly shows up. Nina has a scratching problem. She has weird rashes on her shoulders and her fingernails often bleed from over-zealous clipping. There are some pretty emotionally intense scenes involving said clipping that were actually harder for me to watch than that scene in 127 Hours. It seems a lot of the affects of her self-abuse are in her head, although we the viewers never really know the true extent of it. There are times when it’s obvious that her transformations are mental, and those are some of the most beautifully disturbing scenes in the movie. My mention of The Fly shouldn’t be taken completely at face value; it never gets that brutal, and it’s anything but sci-fi.

I might throw in an Inception comparison, but I think American Psycho is still more apt. It’s just not ever entirely certain whether what you’re seeing is actually happening or not. I had actually been hoping for more of a sci-fi twist, but it works well enough. I would also probably have enjoyed it more if I cared about ballet at all, but I really don’t; I suppose I have a bit more appreciation for the work the dancers have to go through to do what they do, but stage performance arts just go right past me. Natalie’s performance could be the best I’ve seen from her though. I wouldn’t be surprised if she nabs Best Actress.

So yeah, Aranofsky’s next move is called Wolverine. I have a feeling it’s going to turn the comic-book movie scene upside-down.

12 December 2010

Boardwalk Empire – Season 1

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Steve Buscemi. Omar. Ladies. Guns. Gangs. 20s. Boardwalk Empire.

I don’t really need to write anymore, but I guess I will. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but I normally have a strange problem with gang fiction. I’m still not entirely sure why. Classics like The Godfather and Goodfellas largely bored me. The first season of The Sopranos seemed like a chore. Reservoir Dogs I’ve grown to like, but the first time I don’t think I’d yet acclimated to that level of gore. Now, Boardwalk Empire comes along with all its insane pedigree, the above mentioned people/things and Martin Scorsese, it had better well knock my socks off. Oh look, there they are lying on the floor.

This may be because the gang aspect is a bit different from those other stories; Steve Buscemi plays a so-called elected official, Treasurer Enoch “Nucky” Thompson. He’s not the head of the family, he’s just the guy that runs everything. Not everyone respects him. They only really respect what they might be able to get out of him in exchange for money, so-called allegiance, or political favors. Again, I don’t really know why, but it seems I like this sort of character more than Marlon Brando’s. It may be because he’s less of an asshole than Tony Soprano. Anyway, Steve Buscemi is always great as a character actor, and here he plays the lead equally well.

Nucky is the Treasurer of Atlantic City, New Jersey. AC runs on alcohol and gambling, and now with Prohibition in effect, even more money is to be made. People will spend more on stuff if it’s illegal. As such, he who controls the liquor controls the city, and Nucky Thompson is that man, though he doesn’t appear that way to his adoring public; he gives seemingly heartfelt speeches to the temperance groups supporting Prohibition, and courts a women who admires him for his moral standing. This woman, Margaret Schroeder played by Kelly Macdonald, starts off as the faultless housewife and slowly becomes that which she hates while realizing her admiration for Nucky was ill-founded. Most of the other characters are in on it from the start, like Jimmy Darmody, the son of the previous show-runner who’s been out to war and has returned with spiritual scars. Nucky is like a father to him, but that doesn’t keep the old man from using him as a gun.

Jimmy starts out partnering with a young Al Capone. Al proves to be an unreliable jokester, which eventually drives the two apart, and Jimmy finds a new partner in Richard Harrow (Jack Huston), the chilling phantom-masked war veteran who shares a sort of brotherhood with Jimmy’s battlescars, although his are both unseen and dramatically visible. He’s probably the most interesting character on the show. Shame he didn’t have a bigger role. Another actor who should have had more screen time is Michael Kenneth Williams as Chalky White, who only gets a couple chances to show his acting prowess; but when he does, you know Omar’s still dangerous.

Not everyone is Nucky’s friend of course. He has plenty enemies, both in the dark underground and the pious government. The most intriguing one of these, for me at least, was Federal Agent Nelson Van Alden, played by Michael Shannon. Here’s a man who takes his trade all too seriously while most of his compatriots are more likely to side with the man with the booze. The bulk of his devotion to duty is part of his almost psychotic religious intensity. He imagines himself the poster-child for Christianity while I doubt many churches would want him representing them. The guy’s got a bit of a righteous anger problem, and it’s relentlessly entertaining. His attempts to nab Nucky in the act lead to some of the most gripping scenes in the show.

There are a few more notable characters and lots of plot, but this post is getting too long and I don’t think I can make it entertaining. It’s a good show. The first episode, directed by Scorsese, was a bit hard to follow but it set the bar for quality quite high. After that every episode was a bit slower but just as gripping, and almost always featured some sort of violence or skin (Paz de la Huerta has an aversion to clothes). It never got boring. It really was like watching a twelve-hour movie. I’m a very character-oriented kinda guy, and every character on the screen was made either likable or despicable to a level not too far from The Wire. I’m definitely looking forward to season 2.

06 December 2010

The Walking Dead – Season 1

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This show was by far my most anticipated show this year. Pretty much every star aligned to make this the best thing I could imagine. Frank Darabont, director of The mother-flippin’ Shawshank Redemption, took my beloved Robert Kirkman graphic novel and decided to make it into a TV show. All of the publicity that came out before the premiere had me giddy; all of the actors were basically ripped straight from the black and white pages, one or a few of the episodes were to be directed by someone who had a hand in Breaking Bad, and Robert Kirkman was writing a script for an episode as well. It seemed that this would be a realization of something I had previously thought impossible.

The great thing about The Walking Dead is that although it is a zombie story, it also isn’t. It’s primarily about a group of people and how their lives and minds are effected in a world where everything is dead and hope is so very rarely seen. Each character becomes a different person, some more than others; the trauma of a post-apocalypse is wonderfully examined in a supposedly endless story of survival, breakdown and perseverance of the human spirit. Frank Darabont understands this very well. That doesn’t mean the zombie element is left by the wayside, far from it; their gruesome faces are seen in every episode, and AMC doesn’t seem to shy away from dismemberment at all.

The plan is to use the comic as a sort of basic outline for the series instead of a rote history. There’s plenty room for expansion of the cast and storylines, and no doubt things will be omitted as well. I’m fine with this as long as it fits, and they keep the more pivotal moments intact. So far they’ve done a pretty good job doing just that, except maybe for the addition of a location and character that just didn’t work out very well for the last episode. There were some other characters added to get right into some more varied social issues right off the bat instead of waiting until later, as there was of course no guarantee that the show would continue after the first six episodes. These new guys did seem a bit too stereotypical for Kirkman’s style, but I don’t think it was a particularly bad move to include them.

The bits that didn’t change are perfect. Every member of the core cast from the comic is dead-on, both visually and characteristically. Glenn (the asian guy) is particularly amazing in this aspect. Rick Grimes, played by Andrew Lincoln, is perhaps a little too melodramatic at times but pulls off the character very well. He’s of course the most important element, as he goes through the most visible changes, both physically and mentally. I have confidence that he’ll keep the quality high.

This first season did a fantastic job of introducing the story to the small screen. The ratings were near the highest of any cable drama ever. This is probably due to the fantastic marketing it got. AMC is awesome. It was not without issues, some more glaring than others, but overall it was just a joy to see the pages brought to life so well. There were a few knots left untied which are pretty easy to figure out if you’ve read the comic. Not sure how I feel about those. Perhaps Darabont will surprise us. The writing staff is going to change a little for the next season, so anything could happen really. I just wish we could get the season 2 premier before next October.

05 December 2010

The Warrior’s Way

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I haven’t seen a whole lot of kung-fu/ninja movies, nor is my knowledge of westerns very extensive. As far as I know though this is the first movie to combine the two genres (correct me if I’m wrong). The last American-made ninja movie I saw was Ninja Assassin, so I had no reason to expect this to be any good, especially from the previews. The one thing that caught my attention was the genius line, “Ninjas. Damn.” which unfortunately was omitted from the theatrical release. Strangely though, this movie was almost entirely different from what I expected; it wasn’t a mindless action fest, but instead a stylistic, charming action-comedy.

The story focuses mainly on that ninja guy in the picture. He’s got the pretty generic ninja backstory, dedicating his life to become the very best ninja in the world, ever. This is rather hilariously pointed out with a dumb-looking text overlay near the end of the beautiful intro scene. That and the cowboy-narration pretty much set the tone for the rest of the movie. So anyway, this guy decides not to kill the baby princess, daughter of his enemy, after slaughtering their entire clan as a test of his awesomeness. This won’t sit at all well with his own clan so he flees to the American West to meet an old friend and go into hiding. Here he meets a ragtag bunch of down-on-their-luck westerners, many of which are circus performers. This adds to the weirdness ever more. He soon befriends a spunky redhead girl and teaches her the art of swordplay so she can have revenge on the evil bad-guy who murdered her family. Eventually he and his gang show up, and so does our hero’s past. An epic battle of old-timey machine guns, katanas, dynamite, and devilish clowns ensues, afterwards proceeding to an ending not so happy ever after.

As usual the previews make it out to be nonstop action. Surprisingly though the action makes up maybe 10% of the movie. The rest is nicely paced romantic comedy with the occasional midget humor. I can’t say the acting is that great, and almost every scene is obviously green-screened, but the characters are likable and it’s not pretentious in any sense of the word. The action itself is very entertaining, and sometimes gorgeous. The main antagonist is wonderfully slimy and easy to hate. As far as the whole genre-mashing goes, I think it was done well enough, but it could definitely be improved. I’m expecting next summer’s Cowboys and Aliens to put this movie to shame ten times over. Still, I enjoyed The Warrior’s Way much more than I thought I would, and I hope it doesn’t do too poorly at the box office.

04 December 2010

Dogma

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This is one of those movies that I’ve seen playing on TV at various places, but never sat down to watch the whole thing. I think there are still a bunch of those. I finally got around to Dogma though, mostly because of the new Jay and Silent Bob Get Old podcast, which has been pretty hilarious and sometimes moving so far. It’s renewed my interest in Kevin Smith stuff anyway, so I figured I’d hit this one up before Chasing Amy and his other less-lauded works. Probably never going to watch Cop Out though.

The film starts with a disclaimer about its sacrilegious content, which has done nothing to keep it from being derided by critics of the more religious sort. It’s not really surprising, as it really shows how little Smith respects Catholicism specifically. He doesn’t go around calling all Christians idiots or anything, but he does use very satirical and often blatantly juvenile humor to point out some of the more easily mocked aspects of human-forged religious tradition. The key point in all of his arguments is the most inflammatory; in argument between two Earth-shackled angels (Matt Damon and Ben Affleck), one of them reminds the other of a rule I don’t think I’ve ever heard: “If the church says it's so, God must adhere.“ There was a more official sounding line saying basically the same thing but I can’t find it. I’m pretty sure it’s just something Kevin made up, but it definitely seems to justify the whole Papal system.

So the problem brought about by said rule is that the two angels have figured out a way to re-enter Heaven due to George Carlin the priest reinstating indulgences, which means that anyone who enters his church would become absolved of all sins. This would contradict God’s decision to throw them out of the Holies. Such a contradiction cannot exist because God is infallible, so if they were to succeed in their venture, then the universe would cease to be. In order to prevent this God sets up an interception with the last Scion (Linda Fiorentino), which  means she’s the last living relative of Jesus Christ. She is of course reluctant, and becomes even more so after finding she has to be accompanied by our old friends Jay and Bob. Also joining the group are Rufus the 13th Apostle played by Chris Rock, and Salma Hayek as the Muse of Serendipity. Alan Rickman stops in once in a while as Metatron, the voice of God (God’s actual voice makes your head explode).

It’s definitely a Kevin Smith movie. Most of the jokes are about how angels don’t have penises or how Jesus was actually black, and I’m pretty sure there’s at least one Star Wars reference. There’s even a poop demon. It was funny. The inclusion of Jay and Bob seemed unnecessary but it wasn’t bad; it’s always fun to hear Jason Mewes spouting off about his genitals and drugs. I have to say I enjoyed Salma Hayek’s introduction scene.

As an anti-religious satire, it doesn’t hold a whole lot of water. As a comedy, I think it’s something that mostly just Kevin Smith fans will really enjoy, but it’s got capable dialogue and enough shock moments to keep the average viewer happy. Not my favorite of his by a long shot though.

30 November 2010

Kvelertak

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Back in January, a band called Shining released an album that had me hooked from the first note. I thought it couldn’t be topped. Amazingly though, it seems 2010 had even more to offer. I first heard of Kvelertak on MetalSucks, a rather fantastic music blog which has been a great resource for me lately. The first thing to catch my interest was not the review itself, but the awesome John Dyer-Baizley artwork. I’ve been a fan of his since Baroness’ Red Album (Baizley is a member of the band); his visual touch has since been a near-perfect indicator of quality behind the cover. Sure enough, this new Norwegian band has created a monolith of feel-good genre-fusion extremely worthy of the lustrous illustration John so graciously/profitably contributed.

The band’s debut opus is an immensely cohesive mixture of punk, hard rock, rock ‘n’ roll, and Norway’s specialty, black metal. I’m actually quite surprised how well it works. I guess it might not be quite as infectious if the black metal part was more prominent; for the most part it’s relegated to the vocal section, while popping up once in a while amongst the riffing. I do suspect however that the screechy voice is what will hold this back from becoming a truly prominent album. There are tons of people who simply can’t stand that sort of thing, and I pity them for it. As far as these go, they’re not the best extreme-metal vocals ever, but hardly weak by any stretch. Combined with a few folk-metal tinged choruses and gang-vocals, the screeches fall into place better than any punk-rocker’s marble-mouth I’ve ever heard. Even though the lyrics are all in Norse, it’s easy to envision the folkloric fantasies and bar-stool anthems held within them.

Every track is a blood-pumping thrill-ride. I can’t count the number of times I’ve listened through this in my car; it’s just so perfect for keeping up-beat during such a frequently boring commute. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t really heard enough of the more traditional genres it’s drawing from, but this just seems so new to me. I feel like everyone should like this. Unfortunately there doesn’t yet seem to be any official US distribution, it’s $25 to import on Amazon, and it’s not on US iTunes (yet another reason for me to hate it). I think the majority of Kvelertak’s fans probably haven’t spent a dime on their listening pleasure. However, the band itself is pretty cool with that from what I’ve heard. They’re just jazzed that people dig it, which makes me like them even more.

Feast your eyes and ears on MJØD (which I think means beer, lemme check… close. Mead.) A little warning though, it might be not be quite safe for work or whatever.


It’s all like that. I hope you can agree that this is completely awesome.

29 November 2010

Tangled

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So I probably wasn’t going to ever see this movie, but it looked like it might not suck, and my attempts at spontaneity kind of made it the only option when we got to the theater on Saturday night. The selling points for me were Disney’s attempt to bring back their old character style in the new medium of CGI, and the casting of Zachary Levi (Chuck) as the voice of the male protagonist.

The story of course is that of Rapunzel and her ridiculously long hair. As I recall though the hair wasn’t really magical in the original story. Here it’s given the power of glowiness and healing/rejuvenation, which is what makes the old hag keep her locked up. I can’t remember what her reason was before. Anyhow, Prince Charming isn’t a prince, instead a bit more of an antihero with a heart of gold and all that, pulling out the parkour and the fake skate-boarding at every turn. We also have an intensely annoying sentient horse playing an antagonist-turned-good-guy, and some evil twins. We follow goldie-locks and Sean White through an adventure filled with emotional turmoil, misunderstood ruffians, natural disasters and familial stress, always accompanied by generic Disney musical numbers, the majority of which made me want to leave the theater.

That’s the problem I have with these things now; Pixar has spoiled me with great movies devoid of cheesy and unnecessary musical bits, and usually good characters and story. In this film, Disney seems to be clinging to the crappier bits of their legacy and not really forging any new ground. I suppose it might be entertaining for its target demographic, but I’m decidedly not a part of that anymore.

That said, the 3D aspect was pretty well done, and I did like the majority of the characters’ visual design. So that’s what I can say about it; It’s pretty, but mostly lame.

21 November 2010

127 Hours

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In 2003, some dude named Aaron Ralston made some stupid decisions. He felt invincible in his youth, physical capability, and knowledge of the terrain he was visiting, and felt no need to tell anyone that he was setting off alone into a rocky wilderness. This film is about how stupid he was. However, it’s not just about that; it’s also about emotional reflection and the human desire to survive.

James Franco plays Aaron the thrill-seeker, dashing head-long into peril without much caution at all. He first meets up with a couple babes who’ve lost their way and has a joyous time with them for a while in a subterranean pond, then sets off to “Blue John” to do something I guess, it’s never really clarified. It doesn’t matter anyway since he never gets there. While navigating a narrow passage he dislodges a rather large rock which pins his arm to the side of the passage. He then goes through several stages of disbelief, situational analysis, despair, excitement, alternating manic/soulful reflection, and dire decision making while slowly losing precious water, but never his will to live.

I think it’s pretty common knowledge what happens next, so I’m just going to go ahead and say it. Dude cuts his arm off. With a pretty dull, cheap multipurpose tool, because he forgot to bring his Swiss Army knife. First he has to break his two arm-bones though, which is almost harder to watch than the cutting part; the sound wasn’t quite as sickening as I thought it might be, but it was very loud, giving a good idea of the pain he must have experienced. Even better though I thought was the sound made whenever he touched a nerve; I think it was something like a screeching electric guitar. Very evocative of sharp, searing pain. I’ve heard that the whole scene has made people faint; I didn’t have a problem with it but my viewing buddy said he had to cover his eyes for some bits.

The rest of the movie was pretty awesome too. There were quite a few funny bits, like when he starts going a little nuts and does a mock talk-show with his portable camera, interviewing himself and pointing out what idiotic choices he had made to bring him to his situation. There was a frequent use of three-way split-screen to show all of the thoughts going through his mind, which worked quite well, and the music was pretty damn amazing. Aside from the technicality aspect though, the greatest part for me was the joy of finally extricating himself from the rock; for some reason I feel like I can relate to that sort of situation of being stuck and finally breaking free, but I don’t know why. It was just invigorating to see that small prison finally snap.

I haven’t read Aaron’s book, but I probably will at some point. It just seems like it would be thrilling. This movie certainly was. Hats off to Danny Boyle.

15 November 2010

The Room

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Tommy Wiseau is an idiot. He got all of his writing and directorial ideas from softcore pornography, and though it was a good idea to make a movie about this one time his girlfriend ditched him. At least that’s what I got out of this horrendous piece of unintentionally hilarious pig vomit.

I’m not alone in my opinion; along with Troll 2 and a few others, this is held pretty much universally as one of the worst movies ever made. I had to watch it though because it’s also hailed as being funny in its ineptitude, especially in the performance of the mastermind Tommy Wiseau himself. Tommy wrote, directed, and produced the feature, and I think he would have been fine with playing every part but had to settle with the protagonist because he doesn’t have boobs.

So the story, as far as I could tell, is about Jonny (Tommy), the perfect man. Jonny has no faults aside from being overly trusting and a little too philanthropic. No way is he a total douche. His girlfriend is a two-faced witch who lovingly fondles him in the two-hundred twenty-seven awkward sex scenes while repeatedly claiming to be bored and out of love with him in conversations with pretty much everyone else, such as her bitchy mother and Jonny’s best friend Mark, who she manages to seduce somehow. There’s also the very weird man-child Denny who is apparently a drug user and is in love with Jonny’s girl, Jonny himself, and some other girl who we never see. Anyway it can all be reduced to this: nobody appreciates Jonny and he kills himself because they all betray him.

If you’re not cracking up already I’ll explain why this is funny. Tommy Wiseau is a terrible actor with an accent that would put the Governator to shame. He forces his awkwardly constructed dialogue on his terrible cast in what I think is an attempt to make his own acting look better, but it fails. Tommy thinks the only way to introduce a character into a scene is by greeting them with a “Oh hi [name]!,” no matter what the situation. His emotional breakdowns consist of languidly pulling drawers out of dressers and haphazardly knocking pictures off of shelves. His best insult is badly imitating a chicken, and everyone else seems to think this is genius. His classic line “You are tearing me apart Lisa!” pretty much makes the movie.

I had some friends come over last night while I was watching it, and one of them kept referring to it as a “show,” because it really looks like a bad soap opera instead of a professionally filmed feature. Everything is bad; the sets, the cinematography, the editing, the acting, the dialogue, the music, and even the length of 100 minutes is too much. It’s kind of amazing that Tommy needed four million dollars to make this thing.

I need to watch a good movie now.

07 November 2010

Due Date

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Here’s another one of those comedies where most of the jokes are in the trailer. Not all of them though thankfully, and the ones that they left for the show are usually a bit more shocking than one might expect. I’m cool with that. I’m a big fan of both Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis (a name I simply can’t remember how to spell), so them in a road-movie comedy seemed like a good bet anyway.

I’ve heard a lot of people compare this to Planes Trains and Automobiles, a Steve Martin movie of which I think I’ve only seen a few minutes. If I recall correctly I tried watching it at one point and I just couldn’t handle the disaster-comedy vibe it had so I gave up on it very quickly. I’ve learned to deal with those a bit better now so it wasn’t a big deal. However, I can’t make any comparisons because I don’t know how it goes. Maybe I’ll check it out later.

Anyhows, it’s the story of a pretty up-tight dude who needs to get back to his wife in time for his first child to be born, and the intervention of Zach’s bumblingly needy character into his life, disrupting RDJ’s efforts in pretty much every way possible. It turns into a sort of high-damage slapstick with a lot of awkwardness mixed into the dialogue. The road-movie part of it was enjoyable but maybe not as much as I’d hoped, and it wasn’t really that easy to accept RDJ’s eventual (though somewhat begrudging) acceptance of Zach’s friendship after everything that he was subjected to. Still, it was a pretty fun ride with a few hilarious moments here and there. Not bad.

31 October 2010

The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

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I’m a huge fan of the first movie in this trilogy, which sets up Noomi Rapace’s powerful character so wonderfully. The second movie helped to solidify her independent badassery while making sure to show that she’s not infallible and really needs other people to help her out even though she refuses assistance at almost every turn. In this final installment, most of the work is done by her friends, but she still comes out looking the strongest.

As in the second movie there is very little contact between the two protagonists, Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist. Lisbeth spends about half of the film in a hospital due to the events from Played with Fire, and Mikael spends all of that time gathering evidence to combat her aggressors in court. The majority of the movie is just that; evidence gathering and attempts to sabotage it, and then a pretty exciting trial bit. I’ve never been a big fan of court-tv dramas but when I really care about the characters, the setting can be gripping. The first movie alone made me love them so I actually enjoyed the proceedings.

Aside from that thread, there is also the loose end from the finale of the second film, the blond giant whose solution to every problem, big or small, is to bash someone’s head in. He happens to have a problem with Lisbeth being alive so throughout most of the movie we see short scenes of him monitoring her and waiting for the moment to strike, leading up to the action-heavy finale (similar to both previous movies in that respect) that acts as a great payoff for the large lack of violence in the preceding 120 minutes.

This one also sees the return of Lisbeth’s hacker friend Plague, a stereotypically fat but very likable guy who knows how to use a computer, and ends up pretty much saving the day. This kind of nerdery is just another aspect of these films that makes me love them even more; I recently read an article explaining how all of the hacking is completely possible, but of course not quite as simply as it’s made to be here. I’m fine with that of course. It would probably make a pretty boring movie to do it accurately.

Noomi’s performance is excellent as usual, and that’s really what I care about personally. I’m a huge fan of her goth image, which is her projection of the independence and power that she possesses; not only does it portray that well it also just looks damn cool. After she gets out of the hospital she really goes all out in that regard, adding the mohawk and big flashy neck spikes. This full regalia is what she wears to court, as if to say that she has no reason to hide herself from the jury’s scrutiny; the accusations of insanity are so groundless that even her outlandish display is not enough to discredit her.

As a movie in itself, it’s well made and entertaining, but only if you’ve seen the first two of course. The first can stand alone but these last two really require that you see them all in sequence. I suppose that’s obvious though. This one serves as a perfectly capable ending to the series, although I wish there had been a bit more payoff regarding Lisbeth and Mikael’s relationship. I suppose it would have been contrary to the theme of independence though, and probably would have cheapened it. Oh well. Still a satisfying conclusion to the saga of the Men who Hate Women.

28 October 2010

Scott Walker – Scott 4



I’m going to review The Drift at some point. For now though, I’m starting to buy his older albums and feel the need to write about them, since they’re really just as worthy although so completely different from his later works. This one is considered to be his masterpiece of the early years by lots of people, and it really is pretty amazing.

It starts out with a track called The Seventh Seal, and it just so happens to be a poetic summary of the film by the same name, which I just recently wrote about here. To be honest I didn’t realize this until I looked at the lyrics, as I’m really bad at listening to the words of songs. Must be why I enjoy death metal so much. Anyway it’s a great track. Scott’s vocals are in top form and there’s some nice acoustic guitar work to go along with the cellos and whatnot. The next track is what appears to be a breakup song, a short down-tempo ballad that sounds nice but doesn’t have a lot to say. Still, he manages to squeeze in a line about dead dudes in subways. The World’s Strongest Man is in the same vein but a little more upbeat.

A little later, one of the standout tracks shows up. The surging violins, uplifting vocal lines, and reverb-heavy classical guitar picking help to make it a memorable song, and lines like “Extensions through dimensions, leave you feeling cold and lame, Boy Child mustn’t tremble, ‘cause he came without a name” both mystify me and please my nerdiness. It might be because this one was featured on the documentary “30 Century Man,” an excellent documentary on Scott’s history, which has contributed to its memorability for me, but I still just love listening to it.

I don’t think I’ll be going into any sort of depth on the rest of the tracks. There’s one about a crippled war hero, a song supposedly “Dedicated To The Neo-Stalinist Regime,” and a few other ones. All of them are pleasant listens without a hint of the jarring strangeness from Tilt and The Drift, but almost every song has a line or two that just doesn’t seem to fall in line with the carefree attitude of most pop songs. It’s the first of his solo albums not to contain any Jacques Brel covers though, so by comparison it’s the happiest of the bunch; strange that this one was the flop. It was such a sales failure in fact that it was deleted from the publisher’s catalogue almost immediately after its release. Scott’s audience at the time was mostly lonely housewives rather than musical aficionados like today, and the previous album’s predominantly 3/4 time signature made it difficult for them to dance to it, and so they gave up on him; at least that’s what Scott figures.

As a whole it’s a very well produced and poetic orchestral pop album. I don’t think it’s quite the level of genius that most other fans seem to make it out to be, but it’s still an easy listen and anything but shallow. Good stuff.

27 October 2010

Concert Review: Devin Townsend Project at JAXX 2010-10-26

It was a hot, sweaty night of nerdery at Jaxx Nightclub yesterday. The line of the black-shirted went all the way to the gas station on the other end of the parking lot; I was surrounded by people who were talking about things I actually new things about, like Gene Hoglan’s middle name and the release date of Strapping Young Lad’s first album. It was a pretty glorious thing. Eventually I got inside and decided to once again try out the main floor instead of heading to the elevated rear, which might have been a mistake, again. I managed about 3rd or 4th row from the front, and had an intermittent view of the stage. Not too bad but not great.

Tetryl

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So the first local band hit the stage pretty quickly, pounding out some kickin’ death metal with touches of Lykathea Aflame. It really was a very solid performance for such a young band, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. The vocalist had both the look and the attitude down pretty well, and his vocal style reminded me a bit more of a grindcore mentality. All the musicians performed great and it was probably the heaviest showing of the night. I wouldn’t mind seeing these guys again.

Exist

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As soon as the drummer and the bassist started setting up their stuff I could tell what their deal was. The drummer had a Cynic t-shirt and the bass was something like an 8-string fretless. This could only mean one thing: jazz metal. Jazz metal is something very few bands have been able to pin down right, and it’s still not something that can really be enjoyed. One of the more important points of metal is to be focused in its brutality and not to meander too much, which jazz is wont to do. These guys did bring on the heavy for some bits, but they only managed to play two songs because of the ridiculously long noodling-sessions in which the lead guitarist tried desperately to be Allan Holdsworth, and pretty much failed. I suppose it might have been more fun if I’d been high. They did play well I guess, aside from that. You can download their debut EP for free at http://www.existband.com.

TesseracT

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I’ve been aware of TesseracT for I think about four years. I was first introduced to them in a forum thread about the possibility of the existence of something as awesome as Meshuggah’s “I” EP, which is pretty much impossible to top. However, there were some good recommendations, the best of which was TesseracT’s song Concealing Fate (Part 1), which at the time was just a few demos. Their demo sampler was listened to many times on my walks to and from class back at school. Theirs is a style similar to Meshuggah’s in the use of low-range palm-muted “chuggas", known nowadays by metal nerds as “djent.” They distinguish themselves from their Swedish masters by using more melodic non-growled vocals for the majority of their lyrics, and lots of chimey ambient guitars to give the music a more dynamic feel. They aren’t a unique band now, but they might have been back then if it weren’t for Textures. Still they’re distinct enough to be recognizable, and very enjoyable.

As for their performance, it was outstanding. They’ve gone through a number of vocalists, and I think they found a keeper in their current guy, who was an entertaining frontman and sang quite well considering the range of sounds he has to make. He does sound a little bit too much like the guy from Coheed and Cambria but it’s not so bad that it makes me sick. The instrumentalists of course were all spot-on; they’ve been playing the same small set of songs for about half a decade, it would be kind of amazing if they screwed up at all. A weird thing that happened during their set was a large dude in front of me passing out. The singer had to find a dry spot in the song and notify security, after which the limp body was swiftly carried away. He came back for Devin’s set though so I guess it all worked out.

I bought their Concealing Fate EP for $10, and there will probably be a review forthcoming.

Periphery

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Periphery is another djent band who has gone through a ton of vocalists. Their current screamer joined the band only just recently, just in time to record vocals for their debut eponymous album. The widespread reaction to the CD was one of admiration for the music, but disgust for the vocals, an opinion I share. He’s supposedly improved his style recently (after releasing the album of course, good move there), going so far as to post a re-recorded version of one of the album tracks on his myspace page. I don’t really see it as much of an improvement. I was all psyched to see if he could do better in a live setting, but first his mic didn’t work for the first song and then it turned out he was sick and couldn’t handle the stress on his throat, so he left the stage half-way though the set. What little I did manage to hear of his voice sounded okay, but even after he got the working mic it wasn’t really mixed high enough for me to make any judgment. Compared to TesseracT they played a lot more intensely; the music was very dense and complicated. It was so loud though it kind of sounded like mush. After their travesty of an album I wasn’t expecting much, even after respecting their founder Misha Mansoor for quite a while.

Devin Townsend Project

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Devin Townsend has been near to or at the top of my list of favorite musicians for a number of years now, and the only reason I bought a ticket, although noticing that TesseracT and Periphery were on the bill was a great surprise. I managed to catch him during the Between the Buried and Me tour earlier this year in Baltimore, but a 30 minute set is simply not enough Hevy Devy. His new positive outlook is a refreshing thing in metal, although I sure wouldn’t mind a few Strapping Young Lad songs. His set consisted largely of songs from Ziltoid, Addicted, and Infinity, with a couple from Ocean Machine and Terria. I’m pretty sure there wasn’t single Ki track, which was disappointing, and Earth Day was omitted as well. Sad. Still, Bad Devil was featured, which is pretty awesome because it was probably the first track that actually got me interested in his solo material.

As usual Devin was an extremely charismatic frontman, starting out with a joke about the amount of ball-sweat in the room and a rapid-fire story about taking a shit in the CVS across the street. His array of funny faces made him a joy to watch, and at one point he actually came out into the crowd and played a section of a song while all the sweaty nerds patted his shiny bald head. It was obvious that he was well-loved by everyone there. His vocal performance was pretty incredible, much better than most footage I’ve seen on youtube and all that. He seems to be really enjoying these tours, contrary to the time when he swore off ever touring again and promised to become a hermit in the Canadian mountains. I’m very glad he’s found his new life in music and hope he’ll continue to be his prolific self for many years to come.

24 October 2010

The Social Network

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The first time I saw the trailer for this movie I was impressed with the design and thought it looked pretty interesting. The next 25 times I saw it in front of every other movie ever, I started getting pretty annoyed with it and thought I might not be able to stand sitting through a feature length film including the scenes from the trailer. Still David Fincher is not one to be overlooked, and the movie started getting fantastic reviews from pretty much everybody except Armond White, which means it must be really good.

Jesse Eisenberg, who I know best from Zombieland, plays Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook. Yes it’s a fictionalized version of Mark but as I understand it it’s not completely falsified. At its core this movie is about a computer nerd who wants to do something big, and thinks he knows something about social interaction while he really doesn’t. I have to say I kind of identified with him a little, although I have neither of those two qualities aside from being a nerd with few social skills. The trailer makes him out to be a lot more of an ass than the movie as a whole does. Still, it’s largely a negative look at Mark’s life, which makes sense since it’s based on a book which was written with Eduardo Saverin as the main consultant. Eduardo, played by the up-and-coming Andrew Garfield, is put in a much more “faultless victim” light. If you go into the movie expecting an objective documentation of history, then you’re going to be disappointed in that regard. It’s some dude complaining about another dude. Past that, it’s a very good movie.

The worst parts of the trailer for me were the out-of-context bits of Jesse’s performance. I just don’t think they work nearly as well standalone like that. In context, his rapidfire self-centered babbling is almost always entertaining, if maybe a little hard to follow at times. Garfield does a solid job in his role, and Justin Timberlake proves once again that he’s a good actor; still not enough for me to even think about trying out his music though. Rooney Mara’s somewhat minor performance is good, but not quite extensive enough for me to make any judgment as to how she might do in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. That dude playing the twins did a good job too I guess.

Anyway, it’s a very well directed movie, and the fast-cut editing really worked. The cinematography was pretty great as well, especially the tilt-shifted rowing race. Always love that stuff. Trent Reznor’s contribution to the soundtrack is a good one too, not always particularly recognizable but not hard to believe that he was involved. Ending with a Beatles song is always a nice touch.

So, David Fincher’s gone and done it again. Here’s to hoping he continues his history of excellence (minus Benjamin Button) with Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig in the American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Looking forward to it.

23 October 2010

Scott Walker - Tilt

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Quite a while ago I wrote about The Drift in a very abbreviated post. That was back when I was even worse at music reviews so I couldn’t think of anything to say. Also, since that was my first exposure to Scott Walker, I didn’t know very much about his musical career or anything, and now I do, so I have a bit more to write about. Huzzah. I might give The Drift an expanded shot later, but more likely I’ll just end up talking about it here. We’ll see.

Noel Scott Engel started his career as an American teen/child idol on some TV show in the late 1950s. He also sang a bit at that point I think. After that, he joined a band called The Walker Brothers as their bass player and became Scott Walker. They played your basic pop songs, and became quite popular on the British charts, especially with their ballad The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore, sung by Scott. He wasn’t the lead vocalist for most of his time in the band, but his deep baritone voice suited their sound well and he became a more prominent member in their later time together.

Eventually the band broke up and Scott started putting out solo albums in a style somewhat similar to his Walker Brothers material, but usually much darker in lyrical content and including more orchestral elements. His albums did quite well until his fourth venture, which failed to chart; he attributes this to his extensive use of 3/4 time on the previous album, Scott 3; I guess it’s harder to dance to waltzes. So anyway this failure kind of crushed him and he lost his spark for a while, putting out a string of uninspired junk for a few decades. Then in the 80s The Walker Brothers got back together and put out a few albums, the last of which started out with four Scott songs displaying a much different, darker, weird avant-garde sound that would signal the start of his descent into the realm of nightmare music.

The first of these was Climate of Hunter in 1984. It was the most similar to those four Walker Brothers tracks, not all that daring but still quite strange. It would then take another 11 years for him to put out another one, and finally we get to the real subject of this review. Tilt is an exceedingly dark kind of industrial dreamscape full of morbid tales sung in a sad crooning voice. The opening track, Farmer In The City, is based on a poem by Pier Paolo Pasolini about an Italian draftee and deserter; its emotionally drenched refrain of "Do I hear 21, 21, 21...? I'll give you 21, 21, 21..." always gives me chills although I’m not entirely sure what it means. It’s on the second track that the industrial part really steps in with a sound like a sledgehammer on an anvil and a herd of rattlesnakes about to strike. Also featured are long distorted saxophone notes and disturbing ambience which make The Cockfighter probably the most rattling song on the album.

The rest of the songs are bit more reserved but still very strange. The title track includes awesome wavering pitch-shifted guitars in the background of an almost upbeat bassline and drum track, giving it an ominous sound a bit similar to the opening track on Scott 3 from 26 years before. The album closes with Rosary, a quiet but emotionally saturated track set apart by Walker’s “ooh-ah-oooh ah-ooh-ah-ooh,” which sounds a lot more impressive than it looks written here. There used to be a live recording of him performing the track live on youtube, but I’ve been unable to find it again unfortunately. It was quite powerful.

Although not nearly as creepy as his 2006 followup The Drift, Tilt is a formidable release and should not be taken lightly. If you’re not really into the whole darkness thing then I suggest starting out with Scott 3 or 4 in order to get some appreciation for his talent, and eventually you might be able to stomach what he considers to be what he wanted to make all along, the aural depiction of his constant nightmares.

Here’s “Farmer in the City”

21 October 2010

Die Antwoord - $O$

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These South African weirdos came into focus early this year when Xeni Jardin of BoingBoing posted their videos for Zef Side [Beat Boy] and Enter the Ninja. Before that, they had been through a number of groups, none of which garnered any sort of international recognition. Die Antwoord itself had been around for a year or two before February. The name means “The Answer” in Afrikaans, a language pretty specific to South Africa that has its roots in colonial Dutch and a smattering of native languages. The group uses this and several other languages in their lyrics, which I view as a benefit to their package.

$O$ was first streaming free on their website, but then after the BoingBoing push they soon got a record deal with Interscope and replaced the songs on their website with instrumental versions. The CD came out a few weeks ago with a different tracklist and new cover art, seen above. It’s really quite fantastic how quickly they became a hit and kept the momentum going with great music videos and tours.

The main performer of the group, who goes by Ninja, has created a great character to help sell the music; that coupled with his pretty considerable rap skills make the music quite enjoyable. Yolandi Vi$$er performs backup vocals and some leads as well. She’s one of the stranger elements of the group’s image, putting forth a very sexualized persona while wearing an odd hairstyle that makes a lot of people very confused. DJ Hi-Tek isn’t really seen much, but he provides the “next-level sounds” on his “PC computer” to great effect.

The music itself is very sharp hip-hop with lyrics about genitalia, social classes, haters, ninjas, annoying girlfriends, transsexuals, and a lot of other stuff that I don’t understand because it’s not in English. There’s lots of bass and techno-influenced beats which makes it very fun to play in my car. There are quite a bunch of references to pop-culture and possibly less popular culture as well, such as South Park, District 9 and Zelda; the chorus of Enter the Ninja is apparently ripped from some trance song that I’ve never heard. Almost every song is humorous, which makes the self-promotion stuff bearable to me. Most other hip-hop that I’ve heard using that element has just annoyed me. Be warned though, the parental advisory on the cover is not to be ignored. If you don’t want to hear F-bombs then you probably won’t be able to listen to a single track, and if you can understand Afrikaans then you’ll probably be even more aghast.

It’s a ton of fun. There are plans to release at least four more albums, which makes me very happy. This CD is only $10 on Amazon, so if it sounds appealing then go for it.

20 October 2010

Portal - Swarth

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I think it was a few years ago I was browsing the Meshuggah forums, and happened upon a thread about this band. It seemed everybody there couldn’t get enough of their sound. The most touted album at the time was Outre’, so I checked that out. I was underwhelmed. The production seemed lousy and it all just sounded like a big muddy mess; not what I was looking for at the time. So that album just hung around in my library for a while, mostly ignored. Then a few months ago, I heard about a new album from the band called Swarth; I got ahold of it and this time it clicked. Loudly and sharply.

Portal’s sound can be pretty accurately described as a whirlwind of angry bees being pummeled by an avalanche of rhinoceroses, with an occasional high-tension wire snapping through the maelstrom. If that doesn’t sound appealing to you then I wouldn’t be surprised. This sound is pretty consistent through their catalog so far, but Swarth somehow separates itself from the rest with a slightly snappier production and I think a bit more energy. It’s best listened to at very high volume and low light. Their lyrics are supposedly inspired by Lovecraft and other such things, but of course only the most careful of listeners will be able to make anything out. Reading the CD’s insert, all I gathered was that they like to use big words and Latin phrases that probably don’t really mean anything when put together. I’m fine with that.

Aside from the sound, Portal is known for their very strange stage presence. Everyone aside from the vocalist wears executioner’s masks and dingy business suits, while his outfit changes for each album release (so far). First he wore a large wizard’s hat that fell over his face, then a pope’s hat in conjunction with the robes and a black cloth, and now it’s a weird clock/radio-thing. I really want to see these guys live sometime.

Check out “Glumurphonel” if you wish.

19 October 2010

Rubicon Season 1

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AMC’s been doing some wonderful things for TV lately. Breaking Bad and Mad Men have both been incredibly great dramas, and The Walking Dead promises to be everything a lover of the comic could hope for; it seems the channel known for its taste in movies knows a thing about shows as well. When I first heard news of Rubicon, the early synopsis didn’t wow me very much, but I knew that it had to be quality stuff to be broadcast alongside Draper and Co’s flagship.

Rubicon is a conspiracy show. That’s why I didn’t initially think much of it; I hold almost no interest in conspiracies, and have little respect for theorists thereof. The fact that this story is about an actual conspiracy doesn’t really assuage my disdain for it, as it only bolsters the mindset. Still, it’s a good drama aside from that and there are some likable characters in it. Will Travers, played by some guy I’ve seen in other things that I can’t place, is a supposed genius intelligence analyst who discovers a conspiracy involving his place of employment and some large corporations. He gets help with his theorizing from several people who are probably a lot smarter than him (smart enough to protect themselves), including an older guy named Kale who seems pretty cool. Will’s small team of analysts has some kind of entertaining sub-plots, and were occasionally fun to watch and maybe care about. His secretary’s hot but pretty one-dimensional. The baddies are made to be a little less ominous than they could have been while being kept on the outskirts of the drama.

The main nit-picks I have with it mostly involve Will’s behavior in the context of him supposedly being really smart. This may be my own fault, as I often think of myself as intelligent and thus compare Will’s actions to what I would do in his situation. Every time he needlessly confronts someone who’s following him or messes with a bug in his room I yell at the TV “DON’T DO THAT! You’re just calling attention to yourself!” I have to remind myself that I really don’t know anything about espionage and would probably screw up a lot more than he does.

It’s a “cerebral” show. That means stuff doesn’t happen very much, but it’s supposed to make you think. Therefore, the majority of it is pretty boring for someone who doesn’t care about what the characters seem so worried about all the time. It picks up a bit near the end though. I can’t complain about the quality of the acting or the cinematography; it’s all skillfully done. I guess it’s just not the kind of show I like. Bring on the zombies.

18 October 2010

Catfish

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Remember when you first got on the internet, and you got warned about those hot girls/guys in chat rooms who are actually fat old dudes? Turns out that actually happens, and the circumstances can be stranger than you might think.

Catfish is what appears to be a completely true, non-acted documentary about a photographer who gets involved in a virtual relationship with a family of seemingly wonderful, talented people, and slowly starts uncovering the truth behind the facade. It’s pretty odd that they just happened to be filming this stuff while it wasn’t yet apparent what was going on, but not so odd that it’s entirely unbelievable. As the deception unfolds it seems to become more and more sinister; the editing often gives it a thriller-like feeling, especially in dark driving scenes.

It’s a bit hard to really give a good synopsis of this movie because of what it is. I’ve probably already written too much. If you don’t intend to ever see it then you can probably find a more thorough summary lying around somewhere. I think what the filmmakers ended up creating is a kind of essay on the strangeness of human desire for a life other than that which he or she has been given, and the sadness of broken hopes. It’s not really a depressing movie but it certainly isn’t a feel-good story.

All in all it’s a film quite different from anything I’ve seen before, and I recommend it.

10 October 2010

Never Let Me Go

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Ever seen The Island? Remember how much it sucked? Well, it wasn’t because of the concept that it was a failure, it was the director’s fault. Good ol’ Michael Bay. Anyway, this movie is basically The Island taken out of its obviously sci-fi genre and inserted into an alternate timeline in Europe where human cloning has been legalized and exploited in a similar, but much more horrifying fashion. It’s not at all what it looks like on the surface.

Instead of the luscious Scarlett Johansson we get treated to Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan, who are both much better actresses than Scarlett, and not at all hard to look at. Ewan McGregor is replaced by Andrew Garfield, the soon-to-be Spider-Man. He does a pretty fantastic job too. The story is that somewhere in the 1950s, we figured out how to clone humans and use them as organ banks, in a way defeating a host of deadly diseases by creating a much more efficient donor program. This is of course kind of horrible, especially since it seems that the clones are quite human and capable of living normal lives; however, the donor program keeps them separated from normal society and indoctrinates them with the belief that their fatal destiny is their only option and the right thing to do. It’s obvious though that this conditioning starts to wear off as they get older, although they also seem resigned to it.

The story focuses on two girls and a boy in a strange love triangle; in and of itself it would just make a tolerable romantic drama, but in the context of this tragic doom-fest it’s heart-wrenching. The ethical question of whether clones have souls becomes a stupid one as the story progresses; these are obviously full-fledged humans, they’re just a little weird because the other humans have forced them to be so. They just choose to disregard it so they can keep living. It’s a very sad story.

As a movie itself it’s very well done. There’s some touching cinematography, a poignant score, and excellent acting throughout. It is a little odd how it’s so explicitly divided into the traditional three acts, but I don’t think it’s a detriment.

I don’t think I could see something like this really happening. That might just be because it hasn’t yet, but I suppose things like slavery and whatnot make pretty close precedents.

09 October 2010

Lost Highway

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I saw two movies today. One was good and one was terrible. I’m going to write about the latter first because it’s more fun.

I’ve seen a number of films by David Lynch, as well as the TV show Twin Peaks. Everything except the pile of excrement known as Dune was either tolerable or enjoyable, and always disturbing; It has been a while since the last time I watched one though, so I decided to give one of the few remaining on my list a go. I didn’t really know anything about it, and I think I know why now. Nobody wants to watch this movie.

It seems to be about some jazz musician guy with wife-problems that don’t make any sense. He starts getting video tapes in his mail containing evidence of some weirdo spying on him, and then he apparently meets the guy who seems to have the power of multi-presence and white face-makeup. Then he somehow gets framed for killing his wife, goes to jail, has his face melted, and turns into some biker kid who ends up having sex with a mob-girl who looks a lot like the first guy’s wife. She of course is using him for something that’s never really explained, and then weird shit happens and the first guy’s back and his wife was actually a pornographic actress and he kills the mob boss. Creepy guy comes back and says weird things too, and the jazz musician drives off while trailed by cop cars and melts his face again.

What the hell Lynch? Was this supposed to make any sense at all? And seriously man, was the Marilyn Manson cameo necessary? Why the hell was Rammstein included in the soundtrack? I DON’T UNDERSTAND. To top off all this tomfoolery, it’s also one the most boring movies I’ve ever seen. Every scene is slow and often seemingly pointless. The only thing that kept me from turning it off was the helpful presence of a couple of friends who joined me in mocking it throughout the two-hour fifteen-minute run.

I remember Mulholland Drive being weird and confusing too, but I also remember liking it. I wonder if I watched it again whether I would think the same of it. I think I’m better off not finding out.

03 October 2010

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia seasons 3-5

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Season 3 was really good, much like Season 2. It pretty much took the second season and just kept going, except it was funnier somehow. I can’t remember much specifically though. Season 4 was good, but it felt more like a chore to me; I think the problem was the Gang’s shenanigans got just a little too brutal, as pictured in above in the episode “The Gang Gets Extreme: Home Makeover Edition,” in which they kidnap a hispanic family and destroy their home while somehow thinking this is a good thing. Sure they’re stupid, but it’s just a little bit too unbelievable to stay funny and just becomes horrific.

Season 5 was better than 4, but I don’t think it quite recovered enough to make me love it again. There were some great moments and some not so great ones. It was still a bit of a chore to get through it. I can’t really think of anything interesting to write about it.

Then there was the Christmas special, which was amazing. It was good to finally hear them let out a few F-bombs and push the disgust-boundary without resorting to torture. It was also nice to learn a bit more about Charlie and Mac’s childhoods; the extras on the DVD contained a few short scenes of kid actors depicting stuff they had talked about before, and they were pretty hilarious/touching. I wish the whole show was this good.

Now I’m hearing rumblings that the new season airing now kind of sucks so far. I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

02 October 2010

Let Me In

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You might have heard about Let the Right One In a year or two ago when every movie critic ever was putting it on their Top 10 lists. Or maybe here. I’s a fantastic movie, but it’s Swedish, so I’m pretty sure it wasn’t in any major US theaters, and therefore most people around these parts didn’t go see it, which is a huge shame. Thankfully though some cool people saw it and decided that more people should at least see some version of the story, so they made Let Me In. The title is supposedly a better translation of the book’s title but I don’t know Swedish so I can’t be sure. (update: the phrase "Let the right one in" is apparently from a Morrissey song. I need to check  that guy's stuff out sometime. I guess they just changed the title to make it more appealing.)

I already wrote briefly about the story in my review of the original, so I’m going straight to the part that everyone who has seen that one wants to hear: how it stacks up. As the concept of the movie being remade was introduced, it was often said that it’s not really a remake but a re-adaptation of the book; as I haven’t read it I can’t be sure, but there are differences which make me think that might be accurate. The tone is slightly different but it definitely seems like Matt Reeves was trying to capture the essence of the original film.

The biggest difference is the addition of a detective in the place of a bumbling local whose motive of revenge leads him to investigate the strange situation. Aside from the motive itself though the only real difference is that one of the detective’s scenes is basically repeated as a flashback in the beginning of the film; his role as a character is very limited, which is as it should be. I don’t think I like it any more or less than the other version.

The most obvious changes behind the detective are the two scenes where Abby/Eli’s protector/familiar goes out to do his thing. This time they are much more action-heavy, and both involve cars instead of walking in the snow or school gymns. They’re done very well and Richard Jenkins does a fantastic job as usual. The action element is really stepped up in every scene requiring it, but not in a bad way at all. The previews make it seem like the movie has become some sort of B-grade action-horror movie but that’s just to get people to watch it. I personally think that was a bad move.

Aside from that, it’s a very similar movie with very similar dialogue and message. Some of the iconic scenes are extended a little bit and don’t suffer for it. Some scenes are slightly less-good and others are done better, as they are more suited to a higher-budget movie. Chloe Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee both put on stunning performances. There were of course a number of moments where their delivery of the lines made me cringe a little, but I don’t think I would have if I had seen this movie first. Perhaps they could have made the translation a little less literal, I don’t know. I had a few small gripes with Chloe’s physical performance but not enough to overshadow the rest of it; she did a really good job, cementing her as my favorite child actor right now. I mean, this is Hit-Girl and Eli? That’s a freakin’ resume right there. Kodi was in The Road too which makes me like him straight off the bat, and his role here doesn’t hurt at all.

The only real problem I had with it was the CGI. There was some in the Swedish version, and I don’t think it was that great there either, but for this one they basically took the original as a guide and magnified its faults. Abby’s transformation to vampire-mode is slightly more drastic and therefore less believable. Thankfully though it doesn’t happen any more often and can be overlooked pretty easily.

As a final judgment I have to say that it doesn’t quite match the Swedish movie’s greatness, but it’s still a very good movie and very much worth seeing. If you haven’t seen the first one, I highly recommend checking this one out while it’s still in theaters; I don’t think it will last very long since it was advertised so poorly. Even if you have seen Let the Right One In it’s a worthy watch.

30 September 2010

Hellboy Vol. 6 – Strange Places

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I’ve decided I’m going to write about each Hellboy trade paperback that I buy after I read it from now on, because they’re great. To summarize what’s come before this one, Hellboy is a demon who came through a portal opened by Nazis and now he’s trying to be a good guy, but his apocalyptic destiny keeps on creeping up on him and getting him very annoyed. He’s fought a lot of mythical creatures and spirits and always had a witty tagline.

Each volume usually has two or more stories of varying length. This one has two, the second of which includes an epilogue and sketches from a couple of aborted attempts. They’re both excellent, and I think I may have enjoyed this volume more than most of the others for its simplicity and foreboding.

The first story, The Third Wish, begins with a trip to Africa and the introduction of a possibly ancient witch doctor who pushes Hellboy into an undersea adventure inspired by the same story on which Disney’s The Little Mermaid is based, only way darker and shorter. He’s dragged into a cave by Ursula’s counterpart, the Bog Roosh, who is basically a giant fish/eel with boobs. Actually it was a trio of mermaids of some relation to her that brought Hellboy to the cave, and in seeking reward they pretty much all manage to get murdered through Roosh’s manipulation of their wishful intentions like some sort of evil djini. Hellboy’s not a fan of that so he brings out his right-hook and does a little damage. The doomish part is brought into the picture through Roosh’s claim that she needs to destroy Hellboy to prevent the apocalypse, which just makes him madder because although he doesn’t want to accept his destiny, it’s beginning to wear him down.

The second half is more explicitly about the great evil that he is meant to bring to world. The Island is a desolate ship graveyard full of strange castles and skeletons, one of which was once a prophet of the Ogdru Jahad (the giant slug-bug monsters in space), and it just so happens he’s waiting for some blood to spill on the ground and wake him up, and Hellboy unfortunately obliges. There’s then a pretty lengthy discussion on the origin of Earth and the Ogdru Jahad and Hellboy’s supposed failure to embrace his future. Of course he ends up kicking ass and goes home but it seems like he doesn’t have a whole lot of hope left. The epilogue is a discussion amongst several observing spirits/ghouls about the doom that continues to approach to to Hellboy’s refusual to die, and then we’re treated to some awesome sketches and stuff.

Mike Mignola’s writing is consistently engrossing. The voice of Hellboy is always a great contrast to the stuffy olde-english way in which almost all of the other characters speak, although their language always makes for delicious prose, like “Little fish, little fish. Pretty as you are… oh but I will make of you such a horror.” Love this stuff.

22 September 2010

The Town

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I’ve never been to Boston. I don’t know anybody who grew up there. I don’t really know much about the place, or have any desire to go there. I think maybe after seeing this movie I have even less interest in visiting the city by the bay.

This is the second film Ben Affleck has directed, the first being Gone Baby Gone, which I haven’t seen yet. Supposedly it’s much more of a laid-back indie film than this, which is meant to be a sort of thriller-blockbuster. It’s also based on a book which I haven’t read. The only reasons I had any interest in seeing it were that Jon Hamm (the fantastic lead-asshole of Mad Men) has a pretty prominent role, and it’s been getting pretty good reviews. The previews with the weird masks were pretty cool too I guess. So after a few aborted attempts over the last few days I finally got to the theater last night and sat down in front of the big screen for a couple hours.

The story focuses on Affleck’s character, who is portrayed as the “good guy” whose life of crime has been forced on him by a sort of bank-robber caste-system. He is of course in possession of a heart of gold and wishes to “leave this whole (censored) town in my reah view,” an idea of which his other caste-members aren’t too fond, especially Jeremy Renner (the wild-card with too many bullets to keep in his clip). So leading up to his exodus, he has to do a few more jobs, and his gold-laden heart leads him to befriend and be-love one of his bank-manager victims because she’s hot. This is a bad idea generally. The rest of the movie is the continued efforts of Affleck to end his robbing career and leave with the hot chick, involving a few more robberies, a couple shoot outs, and one or two chase scenes. Then it ends rather stupidly and I walk out of the theater a little disappointed.

It’s not that bad really, I just couldn’t connect with the characters. This is a problem I seem to have once in a while with crime-related drama; I can’t make myself love people who make stupid life choices and disrupt the machine of everyone else’s lives, unless the performance is something outstanding like Heath Ledger’s in The Dark Knight or something. At least I think that’s how it is. Sad to say that the acting in this movie just isn’t that spectacular. Not even Jon Hamm did that good of a job, though I think that’s a fault of the script. The action scenes were pretty cool but since I didn’t care whether the characters lived or died they weren’t as gripping as they could have been.

I’m still going to watch Gone Baby Gone at some point, but I can’t say this movie has made me love Ben Affleck the Director.

16 September 2010

Crazy Heart

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The Big Lebowski is one of my very favorite movies. If it wasn’t for that I very likely would’ve had no interest in seeing this one, which of course stars The Dude (Jeff Bridges) as “Bad” Blake. It did win Best Original Song and Best Actor Oscars last year, which I suppose might’ve gotten it on my radar, but I’m not the biggest fan of country music; I don’t mind a bit southern twang but country itself is just one of those things that I wasn’t indoctrinated to love. Still, this movie might have just endeared the style to me a bit more.

It’s the story of an old musician whose career has passed the downturn and is currently wallowing in booze. This is a pretty common tale, I’m led to believe, but it’s still a good enough base to make a semi-tragic romance out of if you’ve got good actors and all that stuff, which this movie does. You’ve got the aforementioned Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Colin Farrell and a bunch of other great character actors all giving outstanding performances. Gyllenhaal plays the love interest as a hopeful reporter who interviews Bad Blake; Blake has very little interest in the interview though, and it seems she doesn’t care all that much either because the romance bit starts off almost too easy. It all goes past the one-night stand routine and then the alcohol starts screwing everything up. Eventually it becomes a story of attempted redemption and acceptance. It’s not a feelgood movie really, but it’s not a total tragedy either, which makes it more than okay in my book.

It’s a pretty beautiful movie both visually and sonically. There’s a fair amount of driving in Texas / New Mexico landscapes, and nicely atmospheric musical sections featuring well-written country songs performed by talented musicians. Frequent song breaks don’t always work for me, as was recently evident in the HBO show Treme; I got bored with most of that pretty quickly. Here though they’re a bit more abbreviated and at least to me they seem more necessary. They play a major part in the story of Blake’s decline to patheticness. My one complaint is that the music sections are always about twice as loud as the rest of the movie; I ended up just keeping the volume down and turning on the subtitles.

Possibly the best part of the movie for me though was the first scene with dialogue; it’s in a bowling alley. Those who’ve seen the film I mentioned in the first paragraph will know of the significance. This time The Dude is wearing the cowboy hat though, and he’s definitely not abiding.

14 September 2010

THE AMAZING SCREW-ON HEAD™ and Other Curious Objects

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I’ve been collecting Mike Mignola stuff for a somewhat respectable while now, and yet I haven’t written a thing about it. That’s kind of indefensible because Mignola is the metaphorical knees of the bee. This is particularly evident in the collection of shorter, but very entertaining/beautiful stories. I picked up the hardcover at a local comic shop because I couldn’t not buy it once I saw it.

The main story is of course THE AMAZING SCREW-ON HEAD, which was the basis for a TV pilot episode that never aired but was totally awesome (Netflix that sucka). Only this one story was written and Mignola says in the story notes that nothing more will be, as he doesn’t have anything else. That’s a real shame. It focuses on the title character who is essentially the head of a robot who can screw himself into a bunch of robot bodies for various tasks, and takes orders from Abraham Lincoln. He’s pretty much a secret-agent dude in the same sort of way that Hellboy is aside from not really having a dark origin. He goes around fixing supernatural problems. In the story, his target is Emperor Zombie, who was a master of ancient languages. This matters because of reasons you should find out by reading/watching the issue/episode. It’s much more of a comedy-based venture than Hellboy and most of Mignola’s other works, although it has about the same level of fantastically doomy stuff that makes it so damn interesting. Very fun but sadly brief read.

The collection includes five other very short stories, one of which isn’t really even a story, but they’re all great. The Magician and The Snake is particularly interesting because the writing credit is given to Mignola’s seven-year-old daughter. Those who read Axe-Cop know this can mean very awesome things. It’s a pretty sad story; melancholy coupled with the non-sequitur consciousness of a child is a great combination. It got the Eisner award for Best Short Story in 2003.

The rest of the book is filled out with stand-alone drawings and sketches related to the stories. Mignola’s art is a very different sort of thing, lots of black and seemingly simple shapes used in concert to create all kinds of atmosphere. I can’t saw I always like it, but there are so many frames that just pop so sharply that it makes me feel like no other style would work for his stories.