21 June 2011

Game of Thrones – Season 1


Winter is coming yo.

So this is show is awesome. HBO is good at making stuff. Of course it doesn’t hurt that it’s based on one of the most highly praised fantasy book series ever, and the writer George R. R. Martin is a producer and wrote one of the episodes. It also has a fantastic cast, and a pretty decent budget.

It’s a story of family ties, honor, idiocy, betrayal, scheming, war, and a little magic. The several houses of Westeros vie for the throne for different reasons while a gathering darkness threatens everyone’s existence in the cold North. A host of interesting characters, including the inimitable Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister and Sean Bean as Eddard Stark, have long conversations about their idea of how the world works and make lots of mistakes; unlike in a lot of other shows, these mistakes come with definite prices. Much like in The Walking Dead (the comic, not really the show), no one is safe. It lends a sense of danger unlike I think I’ve seen in television before aside from shows like The Wire or Breaking Bad.

While it is a sort of high fantasy, there is very little in the way magic, and I’ve seen no elves or dwarves anywhere. There’s a lot of dragon talk but you’ll have to watch the show to find out how that works out. There is some sorcery, but it happens behind closed doors and is regarded by pretty much everyone as something that should be avoided at all costs. It’s kind of refreshing to see something this realistic in this setting.

These past ten episodes have ranked up near the top for me, and I can’t wait for more. I’ll probably break down and read the books before the next batch comes around.

20 June 2011

The Tree of Life


I haven’t seen any Terrence Malick films before this, but I probably will do so in the future. It’s pretty obvious this guy really cares about what ends up on the big screen, and puts everything he has into it. Although I can’t say I enjoyed watching this as much as something like Super 8, I can definitely respect the film; it’s a beautiful, heady trip of a thing.

There’s a bit more of a story than I was led to believe in other reviews, but it’s definitely presented differently than in most films, and not very linear. The main character, played by Sean Penn in adulthood and Hunter McCracken as the child, doesn’t really lead that much of a special or interesting life; it’s just a life. He has problems much like most kids, and his parents have problems like most parents, they just happen to be very strong characters. His mother is the embodiment of grace, and his father a man who tries his hardest to be the best father he can be, which is much different than society’s current idea of the fatherly blueprint.

The story is told with gorgeous shots, limited dialogue, and barely any exposition. Surrounding the main plotlines are a few extended segments portraying the creation and destruction of everything. These segments are incredibly beautiful and I wouldn’t at all mind seeing them in IMAX. The thing is, I’m not entirely sure what Malick is getting at with them; they must relate somehow to the story of the boy, but in keeping with the lack of exposition, this is never really laid out. There are a fair number of whispered voiceovers, but they’re mostly cryptic. I’d probably need to watch again and listen more closely to glean the meaning. Right now it’s just left me a bit mystified.

It’s a monster of a movie, and Malick is planning/working on making a six-hour version too. I’m not sure I’d be able to watch that, at least not all at once.

13 June 2011

Super 8


Put ET and Cloverfield in a blender, and you’ll get Super 8. I’m pretty sure that’s what JJ Abrams was going for from the start, as evidenced by getting Spielberg to produce it, and making the primary cast mostly kids; I’d say the formula worked pretty damn well.

A small group of kids with various kinds of family problems are trying to make a zombie movie on their Super 8 camera when a train crashes in frame and leads to a bunch of weird, scary stuff that the kids end up understanding better than most of the adults. It’s a definite formula, but done right it really resonates with the nostalgia centers of our brains, especially when the kids doing the acting know what they’re doing, which certainly seems to be the case here. The small group of distinct, likeable characters creates an atmosphere of caring and curiosity unlike anything I’ve seen in quite a while; I should probably watch The Goonies at some point.

The monster part was very well done too. I really liked Cloverfield, and figured from the start that this movie would have some similarities given JJ Abrams’ involvement. I wasn’t disappointed. It’s presented in much the same way, just a little bit at a time until the end, where we still don’t get long looks but enough to get a general idea. I thought the CGI was good too.

It might not be the most plausible of stories, and there are definitely a bunch of moments requiring a healthy dose of disbelief-suspension, but it’s just such a likeable movie that going on about its faults is a pointless venture. You want to see this movie.

05 June 2011

X-Men: First Class


Kick-Ass was a pretty great-ish movie, so it was pretty cool that Matthew Vaughn got to do an X-Men movie too. For some reason though I never had very high hopes for this, probably because of the last two X-Men movies, III and Wolverine: Origins, neither of which could be called good. Hearing that the production was being very rushed didn’t help either, and although January Jones is positively smokin’, her acting career outside of Mad Men (and sometimes in it) hasn’t been stellar. Aside from Kevin Bacon the cast is mostly unknowns or just relatively new actors, whereas the first trilogy had the powerhouses Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan. None of this could really ruin the movie but I still had my suspicions that it might not be the greatest thing ever.

It’s set in the 60s, so that’s pretty cool. We get to see more Nazis and Commies and clips of JFK, but sadly I didn’t really feel like what I was watching happened 50 years ago; probably just because there wasn’t really any apparent effort made to make it look like a movie from the 60s, more like somebody with a modern camera went back and made some shots. Imagine what a Tarantino X-Men movie would look like. Now that would be something.

Naturally since it is the 60s, and it’s called First Class, the story involves Professor X and Magneto getting together and starting the X-Men. Everybody’s young, hip, and aside from the leads, pretty bland. Kevin Bacon kind of makes up for the large cast of lamers by being himself, probably ending up as the best character next to Michael Fassbender as Magneto. I know I’ve seen that guy in stuff but even when I look it up I can’t remember his characters. I just now read that Mystique was played by Jennifer Lawrence; I knew I recognized her but her appearance and character here were so extremely removed from her role in Winter’s Bone that I just couldn’t make the connection. Sadly she’s far above the material she was given; Mystique worked much better as the silent morphing-supermodel.

I know I’ve been mostly negative so far, but it’s not a bad movie, just a pretty good one with a bunch of problems. People who are lauding it as the best of the series though are probably forgetting the first two. There were some darn cool scenes and some fun dialogue from time to time, and a pretty hilarious cameo of sorts half-way through. I just think the sadly necessary inclusion of so many characters hurt the film, probably because there was so little time to really develop them. Those who were given the most attention were good enough. The story wasn’t anything to go crazy over, as it seems to be with most prequels.

I’d say it’s about what I expected. I just wish it had been given a bit more time to stew.

04 June 2011

Concert Review: Man Man at Black Cat, 2011-06-03

The Show is the Rainbow


Although not the worst opener I’ve ever been subjected to, the one-man rap-artist The Show is the Rainbow has the honor of the being the most retarded. The music wasn’t too bad, but being prerecorded I didn’t have much respect for him; in my limited research of the lineup before the show I saw hints that he had a band at one time, but they split. It doesn’t take much to imagine why. This guy is a wacko, pathetic pot-head. Most of the stuff he said between songs was about how great pot is and that he has no fans. Thankfully he was only “on stage” for about half an hour.

Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers


To me, this band was an experience similar to Secrets of the Moon; a band I’d never heard of that tore up the stage without the benefit of rabid fans, and had me transfixed. They’re definitely not the same sort of music of course, there was no metal to be had this night; still, the intensity and power that Shilpa threw into that microphone was pretty staggering for such a small person. They do a sort of jazzy punk-rock with a lot of soul and plenty of punch. All of the players were great. The guitarist’s sound was wonderfully distorted and colorful, the bass was clear and punchy, the drummer was the most animated person on stage all night, and Shilpa’s dynamic voice owned me. Possibly even more interesting was the strange instrument she was playing which is apparently a harmonium. They got a CD purchase out of me.

Man Man


This band could be one of my favorite bands one day. As it stands though I haven’t heard enough of their music enough times for it to click with me. They have a lot of the elements I enjoy, including frequent time-changes, quirky vocals, some pretty heavy bits, and just general strangeness, but for some reason up to this point they haven’t grabbed me. I heard a bit more Tom Waits influence on their recorded stuff than I did in the live setting, which was a bit disappointing.

The main problem for me though was situational; the fans were here to party, and party they did. I was pretty near the stage and a mosh-pit broke out almost as soon as the band started playing after their somewhat ridiculous and prolonged abandonment of the stage after setting up their instruments, presumably to get into their uniforms and face-paint. I’m not a fan of moshing. Since I’m a short guy, moving away from the stage obscured the band from my view, so I just went to the back of the club to sit down. After that the music was okay but a bit muffled.

I think the main reason people claim the band is better live is their theatrics. There was much standing on top of things and being strange, and the instruments themselves were all decked out with plastic fingers and bicycle pieces; pretty neat to see but it didn’t add much for me. It was nice to see Shilpa help out with the vocals a couple times.

This was the second time I’ve been to Black Cat, and it’s a pretty nice venue. It’s quite cave-like, a lot like Sonar but a bit more friendly seeming. The area in the back is quite nice thankfully, a raised platform with chairs, tables, and even a couple couches. The sound’s pretty good and the alcohol is apparently pretty cheap for the area. I expect to be going back there a bunch in the future.