16 December 2012

Y’all want a 2012 top 10 music thing?

No, you don’t. Here it is anyway.

Stolen Babies – Naught

folder2006’s “There Be Squabbles Ahead” is awesome. It’s definitely in the top tier for me. Oddly though I didn’t really follow Stolen Babies’ progress after that, and it turns out for most of the time there wasn’t any. They took a big hiatus, but eventually they found out that people actually wanted to hear more music, and they happened to have a some on the burner; and so Naught came to pass. It’s as good as Squabbles if not better, and slightly darker, meaner, but still jaunty dark cabaret masterpiece. Their headlining show that I caught this year was possibly the greatest concert I’ve ever attended (along with the 15 other people who decided to show up).

Pig Destroyer - Book Burner

folder“Dangerously angry one minute, rocking and rolling the next!” These guys never disappoint, except for the whole barely ever performing live thing. Book Burner is the best sort of grindcore; honest, raw, and heavy as balls. It’s just great. It is, in a way, a regression though. It sounds quite a bit more like their earlier work, say Prowler in the Yard, as opposed to the slower brutality of Terrifyer and Phantom Limb. This is due to the replacement of their drummer with the guy from Misery Index. It works.

Converge - All We Love We Leave Behind

folder I really don’t like the album cover art, but what does that matter? It’s another column of hellfire from the masters of true metalcore, Converge. They’re a close second to Stolen Babies for best concert experience of my life; these guys just tear it to pieces. All We Love… is not much of a progression, but Axe To Fall is hard to follow in that regard. It’s an extremely solid piece of music with everything I’ve grown to love from them.

Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo Magellan

folderA momentary detour from the metal bits. I’m not sure why I tried this. Maybe just because I kept seeing the cover of Bitte Orca and being intrigued by it. Turns out that one isn’t really my thing, but this right here is just wonderful. It’s got a great sort of angularity in every aspect of the music, and lots of the lyrics pierce my little emo-heart.

 

Die Antwoord - Ten$ion

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Definitely a worthy follow-up to 2010’s $O$, Ten$ion is another tongue-in-cheek masterwork of weirdness and irony that just hugs my hipster self all warm-like. Yo-landi and Ninja’s artistry is a sort that might be dismissed as trash by a lot of people, but underneath the ugly exterior is some positively innovative stuff.

 

Mares of Thrace - The Pilgrimage

folderBack to the metals! Mares of Thrace is primarily a female death/sludge metal duo with a huge sound. Their previous album, The Moulting, didn’t really do much for me aside from impress me by the concept of two beautiful ladies playing metal so honestly, but this year they really created something I can enjoy on its own merits. It’s got that angularity that I crave in spades, and it’s just straight-up heavy.

Gojira - L'Enfant Sauvage

folderIt’s another Gojira album! It can not suck! That’s why it’s here. Like Converge, they didn’t really forge any new ground, just made yet another hugely enjoyable, groovy metal album. I’ve got to catch these dudes live before I get sick of them.

 

Absvrdist - Illusory

folderHere we start getting ito somewhat less familiar territory. I found a review of this on MetalSucks, and though of lot of the stuff they’ve been recommending lately is starting to leave my areas of interest, I was intrigued by the “blackened grindcore” description, which isn’t really a thing that happens much aside from with the increasingly stagnant Anaal Nathrakh. This here is mostly just good grindcore with occasional black metal mixed into some of the later tracks, but it’s still really enjoyable. “Come on, doesn’t anybody wanna slam-dance?”

Matt Elliott - The Broken Man

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Elliott’s perfected his style here. Misery loves company. I can’t get enough of “Dust Flesh and Bone”

 

 

Andy Stott - Luxury Problems

folderI think I’ve only listened to this three times or so, but I’m still including it here because it’s just so different. I don’t think I’ve heard anything like it before, which is probably because my dabbling with electronic music is sadly limited. This is not typical techno or whatever by any means; it’s a dynamically vibrant, lush, dark experience. Highly recommended.

Some extras that deserve attention but I’m done writing so whatever

Napalm Death - Utilitarian
Beach House - Bloom
Nachtmystium - Silencing Machine
Abigail Williams - Becoming
Scott Walker - Bish Bosch
Gaza - No Absolutes in Human Suffering 

17 November 2012

Skyfall, Wreck-It-Ralph, Masquerade

Here I sit. Time to write.

small_masquerade01Masquerade struck me as very similar in concept to The Devil’s Double, which is another foreign film I knew next to nothing about before I saw it. This one’s a lot less soul-destroying, and more heartwarming than its predecessor. I guess the writer also worked on Oldboy, so it’s got some pedigree, and while it doesn’t rise nearly to the heights of that masterpiece, it’s a wonderfully rousing tale of good-hearted commonfolk versus ancient Chinese politics. The main character is very likeable and the humor element makes it very watchable. Going in I expected it to be a lot more stuffy. Good stuff, if you can stand subtitles.

Wreck-it-Ralph-1I’d heard Wreck-It-Ralph was on-par with Brave, which made me a little less excited about it. Brave was pretty darn mediocre, especially for PIXAR. This, while certainly not another Toy Story, was better than mediocre. The use of familiar video game properties was as brilliant as I’m sure it was costly, and every character was incredibly loveable. The amazing Alan Tudyk as Ed Wynn as the King of Sugar Rush was a real treat, and I always love Sarah Silverman. John C. Reilly did a great job as well with Ralph. The only problem with the film I had is similar in a way to how I felt about How to Train Your Dragon; the moral of the story is off. In the aforementioned film, the takeaway was “Your parents are wrong and probably idiots. Do something dangerous and it’ll work out fine.” I’m not entirely cool with that. Here, the message is going in the opposite direction but still not particularly great: “This is your job. You have to do it. If you do anything else everything will suck.” Communism anybody? Still a very enjoyable movie.

Skyfall-007Skyfall is good. I don’t think I liked it as much as I was supposed to. Casino Royale hit me hard, Quantum of Solace fell flat, and this one just kind of breezed by. It did a good job with legacy fanservice, and the action was pretty good. I’m a big fan of Javier Bardem. His role in this reminded me a bit of Heath Ledger’s Joker here and there. The finale was the best part, keeping the scale of the action down and simple. Jolly good show, old bean. Props to Tank Dong for having the best name in the acting business.

01 November 2012

Movie Catchup

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I’ve seen a bunch of movies since Batman. These might be all of them. They might not. I can’t remember. Boredom breeds needless words.

Argo

I think it’s safe to call this Ben Affleck’s best work so far, although I might have enjoyed Gone Baby Gone a bit more. I really liked the 80s aesthetics in both the costuming and production aspects, probably done better than even Let the Right One In did. The best part of the movie was during the credits where all of the rescuees’ passport photos were shown in comparison to their perfectly cast actors, and then Tony Mendez shows up. Derpfleck.

Frankenweenie

Tim Burton’s return to form as an expansion on his first(?) short-film is a heart-wrenching, delightful homage to classic horror and Tim Burton movies. It was a great decision to do it in black and white; I don’t think it would have had nearly the same impact in color.

3, 2, 1… Frankie Go Boom

Perlman as a transgender ex-con computer hacker. That’s all you need. Oh alright, Lizzy Caplan in a candy bra. Got it? Good. VOD that sucka.

Seven Psychopaths

In Bruges passed me by in theaters, but once I heard it was actually good, I checked it out and was blown away by Colin Farrell and Peter Dinklage’s performances in a clever, gripping, funny and heartfelt movie that had appeared to be some sort of midget exploitation film from the trailers. Hearing that Martin McDonogh had another movie coming out was enough for me to get excited but then attaching Sam Rockwell, Colin Farrel again, Woody Harrelson, Tom Friggin’ Waits, and Goddamn Christopher Walken, holy balls was I into that. And it delivered bygummit. Picture Adaptation with a better cast and more excitement.

Looper

Brick’s really good. I have yet to see Brothers Bloom, which I unfortunately keep confusing with The Brothers Grimm. Anyway, Rian Johnson is crazy talented, so it’s fantastic that he finally got his due with this hit. He gets Bruce Willis to prove that he can still kill an action movie, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt didn’t really have anything to prove but he did it anyway with his awesomely in-depth transformation into mini-Willis. A much better job than that tyke Disney’s The Kid. I loved how the aspect of telekinesis was only hinted on in the trailer but became one of the main components of the plot as the story progressed. Pretty darn.

Dredd 3D

Yes, I did see it in 3D. I would have been fine without it, but it’s not a post-conversion so I’m cool with it. Coupled with the frequently and cleverly used slo-mo it actually worked pretty well. It’s a great, violent romp in a nicely contained setting, and the complete absence of a world-ending baddy made it much fresher as a comic-book movie than it could have been. I liked seeing Wood Harris from The Wire again, as I don’t think I’ve seen him in anything else since. Major props to Karl Urban for not taking off the helmet.

Slither

So it’s not new or anything, but I hadn’t seen it before and it was directed by James Gunn and has Nathan Fillion in it. And that racist hillbilly guy from Walking Dead. Loads of disgusting fun for a small portion of the family. I definitely recommend checking it out if you like that sort of stuff. It’s on Netflix Instant last I checked.

23 July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

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Welp, if I’m going to write about something it might as well be Batman, right?

This little film is the capstone of Chris Nolan’s trilogy on the Goddamn Batman, in which Batman is rarely the centerpiece. He mostly was in Batman Begins, because that was an origin story. He definitely wasn’t in The Dark Knight because Heath Ledger. Here, there doesn’t seem to be a centerpiece per say; it’s a huge, sprawling epic of characters and characters that could have better served as extras, all vying for their piece of the picture while only a few really make the grade. The Goddamn Batman strangely has more of an arc this time but still manages to be not-in-the-movie for most of the six-hour runtime. And yet, we still get WHERE IS IT WHERE IS IT.

That’s all okay though, I guess. It all looks good usually, and it’s certainly not ever boring. There are lots of emotional heights and neat action scenes, the occasionally memorable lines, and Anne Hathaway in a cat suit while actually doing a great job on the character. I really really appreciate Nolan’s use of IMAX cameras, even though I don’t think it’s quite as effective as the smaller number of scenes filmed with them in The Dark Knight (that intro, mannnnn). I also really like the Scarecrow/Crane’s very limited appearance, and his delivery of probably the best line in the movie.

The real problems though come about because there’s just so much stuff. Bane never has the chance to become much more than an occasionally physical menace, and his voice is just comical. His army of villains requires an army of good-guys, and as such there are lots of scenes with a ton of extras, which just didn’t work very well for me, especially where the involvement of so many people seemed to degrade the performances of the main characters. There are a lot of “main” characters too, requiring a lot of separate scenes, breaking the flow all over the place, and adding to the considerable length of the film. I’m glad I drank a lot of Dr. Pepper before the 10:30 showing.

I’m not getting into plot-holes because I’m honestly not good at spotting them. I’m sure there are tons though. It just felt like it.

As I mentioned though I’ve got to point out Anne Hathaway’s performance as a standout; it’s a bit like Heath Ledger’s situation, as he was initially a weird casting, but then owned the role. She might not have done it to the same degree, but her scenes are consistently enjoyable and believable. Also that ass.

So it’s okay. I just like complaining I guess. You should go see Moonrise Kingdom.

23 May 2012

Things

So hey, how’s it been? It’s nice outside.

Since last I wrote, I’ve seen The Avengers twice, Sound of My Voice, a few concerts, and probably some other stuff I can’t remember. I’ve spent a lot of time outside and have had no impulse to write about anything, but it’s all just piling up and I still have a vague sense of responsibility for some reason. Now since I’m taking the day off to recover from Meshuggah last night I’ve got some time to kill. Here we go.

The Avengers is super great as expected. It seems anything Joss Whedon controls is destined for wonderfulness, and now that he’s a got a familiar property to play with he’s finally getting the recognition he deserves, breaking pretty much every box-office record there is like Chris Nolan and James Cameron before him. It’s certainly not a perfect movie, but as far as super-hero stuff goes it’s what it needs to be, and Whedon’s penchant for witty dialogue and excellent handling of large principal casts makes it crazy entertaining.

Sound of My Voice is basically garbage. Don’t bother unless you like being bored and only enjoyed Lost before they started answering questions, except that’s not really even a valid comparison because Lost is good.

As I mentioned, I saw Meshuggah last night along with Decapitated and Baroness. Decapitated were pretty boring, probably because I don’t really know their songs at all, but they struck me as border-line deathcore of a sort I don’t really dig. Baroness kicked all sorts of ass and included a few songs from their yet-to-be-released Yellow and Green album, which seemed okay for the most part. Meshuggah owned the stage of course. I had to push my way out of the crowd though because the middle of a Meshuggah audience is no place for a short, bespectacled music lover.

The night before that I got to see Reggie Watts with some friends. I’m only passingly familiar with him so I probably didn’t enjoy the show as much as I might have, especially since as soon as any sort of music starts playing the speech-center of my brain shuts down completely and words lose all meaning to me. His standup was pretty good though. Very nerdy.

I saw Converge a while back too, which was just extremely excellent. It’s the second time I’ve seen them but this time I was much closer to the stage, which is really the only way to experience their ridiculous intensity. Jacob Bannon is a monster of a performer. They played a number of new songs, which didn’t really sound like anything as revolutionary (for them) as Dark Horse did before Axe to Fall was released, but they were definitely solid and I look forward to them. I only caught one of the opening acts, Loma Prieta, which sounded nothing like music at all and made me wish I’d remembered to bring my earplugs.

I watched some shows too. Some friends got me into Adventure Time, which is a great cartoon made for pretty much everybody, drawing from stuff like Dungeons and Dragons and Candyland, with both childish and adult sensibilities throughout. It’s a joy to watch. I also caught up with Justified, which seems to almost be a spiritual successor to Deadwood, starring the same Timothy Olyphant and guest-spotting a bunch of other alumni. It’s fantastically written and almost every episode is a gripping reprieve from some other less-awesome shows I’m still holding on to.

Community is not one of those less-awesome shows. It’s probably the most awesome. Shame that it probably won’t be next season though. We’ll miss you Dan.

I think that’s everything.

17 April 2012

Cabin in the Woods

joss

“Husband-bulge.”

Why are you not at the theater right now.

02 April 2012

The Hunger Games

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It’s nice to see something good come out of the Twilight poop-cloud. I’m assuming that’s largely why this movie was made anyway; the money-people saw a billion little girls swarming over a female-centric young-adult property and said “NEED MORE.” Very thankfully, this one happens to be based on an apparently quality series of novels that can be compared rather easily to a Japanese film called Battle Royale, which would never be released in theaters in the US. There are no sparkly vampires here.

It’s a weird dystopian future where a bunch of districts in some country are totally ruled by the Capitol, and must give up a young boy and girl each year to fight in a tribute deathmatch. They’re also really hungry, ergo the title, although that part wasn’t given too much explicit attention in the film. This girl Katniss, played by Jennifer Lawrence of Winter’s Bone and X-Men: First Class, offers herself up to save her younger sister. This is a big deal because no one has ever volunteered from her district before, although it’s not at all unheard of in others. Thusly she becomes something of an unwilling star in the game of killing her peers.

Given the concept you might think this could get pretty violent and be not all appropriate for the intended audience of pre-tween girls and boys, but they’ve managed to keep it pretty clean for the most part, and garnered a PG-13 rating so they could get all the moneys. It still works alright, and if you really want to see teenagers dismember each other bloodily then check out the aforementioned Battle Royale, coincidentally just released on BD and DVD in the US! There are a number of pretty emotional scenes, but even there it doesn’t get that heavy. I think the super-fast characterization and attachment required to really pull the heart-strings was done much better in The Grey.

The dystopia bit is really quite well done, with endlessly weird costumes and frightening TV show hosts, hearkening back to stuff like Running Man. It’s long but kept me entertained for the full running-time. Jennifer Lawrence is great. Explosions. Woody Harrelson. BIG BUCKS.

26 March 2012

Casa de mi Padre

A scene from ``Casa de mi Padre.''

Will Ferrel hasn’t really been hitting them out of the park lately. I haven’t seen everything of course but those that I have weren’t anywhere near the genius of Anchorman or… it appears that’s the only really good movie of his I’ve seen. Oh well. Anyway, Casa de mi Padre isn’t going to dig him out of the hole he may or may not be in, but it’s definitely a serviceable exercise in oddity.

It’s a Spanish-language movie mocking cheap telenovelas. That’s pretty much it, except there’s a bit more absurdism and borderline surrealism than I think might show up in such things. Laughs go on far too long, characters are often replaced mid-scene with mannequins, ridiculously fake-looking animal puppets give spiritual pep-talks, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much smoking in a movie. In between these moments of hilarity is mostly straight if low-quality drama, almost exclusively in Spanish with the exception of a few lines from the good Nick Offerman of Parks and Rec fame. I kind of enjoyed being able to pick out some dialogue that wasn’t fully translated in the subtitles, although as far as I could tell it was never done for any sort of comedy.

It’s really a lot of fun to watch. I’m not sure what all the middling/low critical praise it’s getting is all about. I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets some kind of cult status eventually.

10 March 2012

John Carter (of Mars)

11John Carter

As usual, I haven’t read the book. Or books. I suppose it’s kind of shameful given that Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom series is basically the reference for all sci-fi/fantasy that came after it, and I consider myself such a fan of the stuff. I do really like Frank Frazetta’s illustrations of it but that’s not really good enough. I know so very little about the real deal; but that could be for the best, as it made the movie that much newer to me even though everything in it has been tread so repeatedly in other stories.

It’s simple enough I guess. This guy John is a badass, gets accidentally transported to Mars, meets some aliens and an attractive lady, jumps really high and beats the bad guys. As usual the jumping really high part was what appealed to me the most. I didn’t care that much about all the backstory stuff, which includes a shadowy society of immortals who think they control the universe and all that. They were a little interesting but their admitted indifference kind of made them less menacing.

The best aspect of the movie is the visuals. It’s just really well put together. The alien race, the Tharks, while sometimes looking a bit cartoony are really quite believable; perhaps a bit moreso that the blue cat people from Avatar. Some of John’s jumping action is a bit wobbly but it’s still plenty fun to watch. I saw it in 3D, and it wasn’t bad, but I think sitting near the side of the theater degraded it a bit. I was seeing double sometimes.

Next up is the acting; I can’t really find fault with the majority of the cast. There are some damn fine actors in there, including McNulty from The Wire, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony from Rome, and Willem Dafoe as one of the Tharks’ voices. They all do a great job with the dialogue they’re given. Taylor Kitsch is… not great. They could have done better. Lynn Collins as the Martian princess is a much more enjoyable casting.

The dialogue often seems a bit tired, which is to be expected given that the source material has been used so thoroughly already, but I think if the writers had taken it in a different, more pulpy direction it could have been better. I really loved the funny bits, and wish there were more of them.

Reading reviews beforehand may have colored my opinion a bit, but I think the majority is right. It’s a very fun, well-made, but hollow movie.

27 February 2012

Rampart

rampart

Not a whole lot to say about this one. I saw it because Woody Harrelson rocks and Ebert said it was good. Sadly I was somewhat disappointed given the premise of a “bad” cop dishing out his own justice, hearkening to Bad Lieutenant (remake), which I enjoyed quite a bit. This is a bit more realistic, sad, and just a bit difficult to watch. The camera work can be pretty annoying with all the hand-cam stuff and unconventional movements/angles. Woody’s performance is on point, and he does muster up a bunch of pity for his plight, but it’s also quite apparent that what he’s doing is largely wrong, which given the seriousness of the thing didn’t make the experience all that enjoyable for me.

It’s definitely an interesting film with lots of good acting. It felt longer than it was though which is a bad sign.

13 February 2012

Concert Review: Die Antwoord at 930 Club, 12 Feb 2012

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Pitchfork’s recent review of Die Antwoord’s new second album, Ten$ion, is pretty scathing. The 4.2/10 rating is accompanied by words mostly going on about the emptiness of the lyrics and failed attempts at irony or relevance. In a purely analytical sense, I agree with pretty much everything in the piece. However, much as with the first album, I can’t help but love it. I had to see this sordid display in person.

The night began pretty lamely. I got to 930 club about an hour after opening due to metro track work and a bit of a late start, but it seems I didn’t miss anything. The opening act was some DJ who I don’t even care to look up because all he did was play samples of hip-hop and EDM songs I’d never heard. I’m just not accustomed to that and didn’t enjoy it at all. It didn’t help that he was on stage for another one and a half hours, and then Die Antwoord didn’t come on stage until 10. Of course once they finally showed up, it made the wait well worthwhile.

One of the more entertaining parts of the trio’s presentation is the visual aspect, which until now I only really knew from their videos. I love Yolandi’s freakish sex appeal and Ninja’s wiry, nerdy aggression, and the many faces of DJ Hi-Tek give the band a bit of mystery to their fa├žade. All these elements were on intense display last night. The two front-people went through several flashy outfits throughout their set, and their movements were constantly energetic.

As for the music, it pretty much as powerful as on the albums. Although I kind of fail to see the point of including the DJ aside from maintaining the character, there were some slight differences here and there. Of course Yolandi and Ninja couldn’t replicate their vocal performances perfectly but they did with tons of vigor and the volume made up for the loss in production quality. Yolandi’s voice in particular often brought back memories of my last concert experience with Blood Ceremony’s flautist.

I think they mostly stuck to songs from Ten$ion, but they did hit a bunch of the great ones from $O$ and ended the show with Beat Boy and Enter the Ninja, which were both pretty bangin’. It was about an hour all told, which was alright with me as it allowed me to catch the metro before it closed.

This was my first rave show, and my second hip-hop show, although my first was MC Lars so I don’t think it really counts. Definitely a new experience for me. I didn’t really participate much aside from a bit of head-banging (what else is a metalhead to do?), but I think I got the drift. Probably not going to attend many similar things. Unless it’s Die Antwoord again.

11 February 2012

The Muppets / Chronicle

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Thanks to my parents I grew up watching stuff like The Muppet Movie and The Great Muppet Caper, so while I didn’t actually see much of the Muppet Show, I still have a pretty good nostalgia level for these characters. However, after seeing some of the later films like Muppets in Space or whatever, I think some of that wore off, and kind of preempted any interest I would have had in this one. So I didn’t see it until last night, because doing stuff with friends is fun. I got to see it at the Arlington Draft House n’ Cinema which was pretty neat. Ate some chicken.

I’ll cut to the quick. It’s a good, entertaining movie that relies very heavily on nostalgia and cameos. The whole concept of the thing is of course getting the gang back together and all that, which is fine, but it’s missing something that the first films had. There’s also the new muppet character who is having an identity crisis in tandem with his somehow human brother played by Jason Segal, but even though it starts the real main storyline it eventually seems to become unimportant.

It was definitely fun to see all the cool people in it though, and as I said, it’s entertaining. Lots of funny bits. I like Amy Adams. Chicken tastes good.

Chronicle-movie-Alex-Russell_Dane-DeHaan_Michael-B.-Jordan-5

I only started hearing about Chronicle a month or so ago, I think. Kept myself from watching and trailers. Similarly to my experience with The Skin I Live In, I went into it knowing very little; all I knew was it features some kids/teens who somehow gained some sort of telekinetic powers. I’m totally down with that. I’ll try not to go too far in depth on this.

It is in fact about three high-school seniors who find something weird in a cave and then gain the power to move things with their minds, among other things. The rest of the film is an examination of how having this power affects their lives and friendships without getting into any real sort of superhero nonsense. It’s all very believable and emotionally effective. There were some bits (thankfully not too many) that resonated pretty hard with me. Some of that watery stuff came out of my eye-holes near the end.

If you liked Heroes before it sucked, enjoy Misfits, or saw something to like in Kick-Ass or Super, then you should definitely see this movie. If you’ve ever dreamed of flying, you should see this movie. If you are a human, you should probably go see it. What I’m saying here is that it’s really good.

05 February 2012

The Grey

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Here’s yet another movie that was advertised in such a way as to cheapen the content and make it more appealing to the broader audience of people who just want to see Liam Neeson punch some wolves. That said, I don’t know if it would be doing as well as it is if they’d gone the more honest route. It’s been getting great reviews from pretty much everybody though so that’s a good pull if the general public actually pays attention to that.

Even though the trailer is a lie, The Grey does employ some common horror/action movie cliches, such as plane crashes and a bunch of people getting picked off one by one; but that’s just superficial to the real soul of the film. It’s about this guy played by Liam Neeson who’s pretty much ready to give up on everything, but in the face of a force outside of his control, his human survival instinct kicks in and makes him a leader. The rest of the cast is far from the incidental cannon fodder of elimination-style horror movies too; they all seem like real people rather than one-note stereotypes, and even the ones with the most limited screen time leave a lasting impression.

Lately I’ve grown to love action movies with a lot of breathing room, e.g. Drive, and this is definitely one of those. It’s hard to run in the snow and the wolves don’t even show up that much anyway. Much of the movie is just discussion of how doomed these people are, and it’s great. The action scenes are quite good too.

It’s a very human movie. Humanistic I’d say. There’s a somewhat pronounced element of religious questioning and relying on oneself instead of a distant god, and it really works quite well without going too far for semi-religious people to accept, I think. Neeson’s descriptions of his idea of what happens when you die seem starkly poetic.

It’s definitely not a perfect movie though. The whole thing with the wolves couldn’t really be done right without real wolves, and the animatronic/cg solution they came up with is just kind of embarrassing in parts. That said, the whole thing with people getting upset about the portrayal of the wolves as unstoppable death machines is pretty darn wrong. Neeson’s character explains several times that they are basically in the animal’s den and are therefore seen as much more of a threat than normal.

It’s good. You might not want to see it right now if you’ve got a flight coming up though.

23 January 2012

Haywire

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I think I saw the trailer for this in theaters twice, and both times my reaction was “Hm. Maybe.” It had the trappings of yet-another-action-movie but felt a little bit different; it seemed to have some of the personality of The Bourne Identity, which is something I value very highly. It turns out it’s directed by Steven Soderbergh, who most recently put out Contagion, which I didn’t like that much, but he’s also made a whole bunch of very good movies. You’ve probably seen a bunch of them. I think this is his first pure action movie, and he made a great choice for the star; former mixed martial arts fighter Gina Carano.

It’s a very simple story. Mallory Kane (Gina) is a contract badass, and through an unfortunate turn of events she gets betrayed and marked for death. Her story is told partially by her to a random guy from a diner while driving his car in order to not die. That’s about it, and that’s cool. Simple stories can be great as long as they’re well executed and the rest of the film is made with attention to quality, and I think that’s been done here.

Gina is not an accomplished actress, but Soderbergh did a great job of making her look like one as well as he could. She doesn’t have a lot of lines. Her acting is largely physical, much like Ryan Gosling’s performance in Drive, except there isn’t much in the way of subtlety here. She just kicks ass all over the place. The ass-kicking is often filmed in ways your don’t often see in action films these days; wide, steady shots, few quick cuts, and lots of pretty complex fight choreography. Even the gun battles are given an almost panoramic feel. It’s just nice.

The score I’ve been told sounds a lot like Ocean’s Eleven, but of course I don’t remember that at all. I probably liked it though, because I liked it here. It’s very jazzy, at times sounding like something from a James Bond movie. I don’t remember anything particularly orchestral anywhere. Really cool atmosphere.

It certainly doesn’t hurt to have such an awesome cast too, with the meteoric Michael Fassbender, the recently-redeemed (in my eyes) Antonio Banderas, Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglass, and even Channing Tatum in his first good role ever. Everyone performs admirably, and much less annoyingly than in Contagion.

Really the only bad thing I can say about this movie is that Gina’s not that great at delivering her lines convincingly 100% of the time. She’s just not really an experienced actress. Damn fun to watch though.

20 January 2012

Concert Review: Ghost at The Rock N’ Roll Hotel, 2012-01-19

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Ancient Wisdom hails from Austin, Texas, and in keeping with the rest of the night, play a pretty hard-to-pin-down sort of sludge/rock/doom. They were definitely interesting to watch as the frontman is also the drummer, but doesn’t sit on a throne; rather, he hits the bass drum with his left hand and the rest of the stuff with his right, producing a pretty slow, tribal sort of beat. As is the case with most drummer-singers his vocal stylings are a bit rough, especially since he’s opted out of the growls. They rock pretty hard though.

Blood Ceremony1Blood Ceremony was a real treat. They’re not the first female-fronted metal band I’ve seen live but definitely the prettiest one. Also the most interesting due to the flute. Put that thing through a PA and it pierces your very brain in twain. They play traditional doom, very Black Sabbath influenced from what I could tell. All four of the charismatic Canadians seem to be very capable on their instruments and laid down a ton of gripping riffage. I’ll be checking them out further.

2003_hr_mu-ghostGhost of course was the reason I bought the ticket. They were the breakout act of the year in 2011, brought to most people’s attention by the main dude behind Darkthrone. I hear them described as Mercyful Fate-like all the time but I consider their Opus Eponymous to be miles better than anything I’ve heard from them; King Diamond’s voice is something I just can’t get into. Also their songs are just devilishly catchy. Their stage presence is incredibly entertaining what with all their silly costumes and antics, and “Papa” really has a handle on interacting with the audience while maintaining the character. It’s really like watching a play with face-melting sounds coming out of it than attending a metal concert. One of the highlights of their set was their cover of Here Comes the Sun, which I expected might be an encore but ended up somewhere in the middle; the actual encore was strangely omitted.

It was a fantastic night. The venue was nice enough, a bit smaller than Black Cat or Sonar, but the stage was pretty well elevated and the sound was good for the first two bands; Ghost’s mix sounded pretty muddy for a lot of their set unfortunately.

17 January 2012

The Artist

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As I tend to start pretty much everything I write with some mention that I haven’t seen much of something similar to the thing I’m writing about, I have to say that I haven’t seen much in the way of silent films. Probably nothing full-length at all really. I should get on that probably. Due to this omission I’m probably not quite the intended audience for this movie, but in the end it didn’t really matter that much.

So this guy’s a really big silent movie star. Then sound starts happening and he unintentionally creates the embodiment of this new, hateful (to him), technology in the love interest lady with the fake beauty mark. Most of the movie after that point is a telling of his decline from grace and whatnot, with a pretty great little metaphorical dream sequence in the middle.

It’s a bit similar to what I can remember from Singing in the Rain, except without all the songs and talking and whatnot. Almost every possible measure is taken to make it look like a genuine silent movie; it’s black and white, the (limited) dialogue is pretty much exclusively shown on text frames, and the film is shown entirely in a 4x3 aspect ratio. The only thing that’s missing really is the horrible film-grain and defects. Again, I haven’t seen enough of the real McCoy to say that’s really a prevalent thing, though; it’s just the mental picture I have of it.

Of course an important thing in a movie like this is the score, and I’m pretty sure I enjoyed it. Can’t really remember anything as usual. I’ve seen a couple headlines here and there about borrowing from Vertigo or something, but I’ve not seen many Hitchcock films either so I can’t vouch for that. Whatever.

The acting is good, and hammy enough to evoke what it’s going for. John Goodman is great even when you can’t hear his mouth-noises, and the leads pretty much nail it. The dog is the best though. Best Supporting Actor right there.

I really enjoyed it. I wouldn’t give it Best Picture or anything but that’s probably what’s going to happen. Nostalgia and all that shite.

08 January 2012

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Fincher)

Rooney Mara in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

WHERE’D YOUR EYEBROWS GO ROONEY?

I really love the Swedish adaptation of the novel. The Lisbeth character is magnetically dark while maintaining a real humanity, and while the story may admittedly not be the most original or innovative thing ever, her plights and interactions make for some very engrossing viewing. I don’t think it was at all necessary to make an English-language version of it, as the first one was a perfectly well-made film, but if David Fincher wants to do it then sure, whatever man.

Much like for Let Me In, Matt Reeves’ re-adaptation of Let the Right One In, I’m not going to re-summarize the story; it’s the same. There is very little in the way of divergence. I haven’t read the book though (as usual), but I don’t plan on it. I’ve heard from a bunch of people that it’s boring. I think I’ve got the gist anyway. The only difference that really registered with me was how Lisbeth and Mikael’s relationship develops and ends up; although I did feel a bit cheated at the end of the Swedish one, I think I preferred it to how it happens here. This conclusion does seem a bit less like a cliffhanger though; maybe they were covering their asses in case the response fails to merit sequels. Maybe I’m making stuff up.

Aside from that, all the differences are in the filmmaking. It’s a Fincher movie, so it’s really tight. I can’t say I’m familiar enough with his stuff to pick out any signature elements or anything though. I’ll have to re-watch it, but I think the Swedish version was filmed pretty much just as competently as this one. Trent Reznor’s back again after winning an Oscar for The Social Network, and while the score isn’t that noticeable most the time, once in a while it sticks out in a subdued sort of way (except for Immigrant Song, which knocks my pants off). I thought the dude with the NIN shirt was pretty funny. Another awesome thing for me music-wise was the Ulver tune in the background of the tattoo-parlor scene. No one else in the theater noticed though, I’m fairly certain.

Rooney Mara’s performance is of course the clincher here. It’s obvious she put a lot into the role. She was one of the very few actors who actually tried to use a convincing Swedish accent, and she’s barely recognizable from her appearance in The Social Network. Still, I think it might have been a bit less of a problem for her than for Noomi Rapace in the nude scenes, as her body is considerably more smokin’. In the end though I prefer Noomi’s take on the character. It might just be because I’ve seen the movie so many times, but she just came off as perfect.

Daniel Craig is fine. It’s a pretty bland role. That dude from AMC’s The Killing book-ends the movie pretty great with his one line and worried looks. They should’ve gotten Milton from Office Space to play Lisbeth’s guardian instead of that Jack Black-lookin’ guy.

I liked the first one better. Still very good though.