27 May 2013

The Iceman

I've sung Michael Shannon's praises a few times before here, notably in Take Shelter and Boardwalk Empire. I might not have noticed this movie if not for his name; sure it's a pretty neat story, but it hasn't been advertised very well at all as far as I'm aware, which is a shame. Shannon's performance here is just as monolithic (to reuse the term) as in Boardwalk. The characters aren't the same, but there are enough similarities in their temperaments to make him perfect for the role.

The Iceman is based on the true story of Richard Kuklinski, a man who killed somewhere around 100 people from the 1950s to the 80s. He started out killing for the fun of it and later joined the mafia as a hit-man. The latter period is the focus of this film. Kuklinski had a wife and children who never knew he was a killer until his arrest in 1986. The film paints his family life in a way that makes you almost empathize with him; he seems kind, and expresses the fact that they are all he cares about several times. Outside of the home though, killing is like breathing to him. He's not a moralistic killer aside from his "no women, no children" rule. He kills who he's told to kill, who he needs to kill to protect himself, and those who just annoy him or happen to be in the wrong place.

So, he's a pretty terrible person. The film and Michael Shannon's excellent performance take this dark spot of humanity and turn him into something less than a monster, which is probably bad in the grand scheme of things, but even an anti-hero has to be a little relatable in order for a story to work.

Aside from Shannon, we get some great stuff from the frequently more elusive Winona Ryder, gangster stand-by Ray Liotta, and a completely unrecognizable Chris Evans as the scummy ice-cream truck murderer Mr. Freezy (apparently called Mr. Softee in real life). James Franco also makes a short but very effective appearance as one of Kuklinski's more unfortunate victims.

It's a darn good movie. It's a pleasure to watch Shannon's appearance change through the decades, while maintaining his stone-cold posture and hints of inner turmoil. I hope he's used right in The Man of Steel.

26 May 2013

The Great Trek into Kvelertak

Star Trek Into Darkness

The first one was a lot of fun, and so is this one. The main problem with the 2009 film was the rather unimpressive antagonist; this time around, they got Benedict Expletive Cumberbatch to work his baritone magic, and even with the almost incoherently silly and convenient script, he managed to play a wonderfully menacing and yet almost empathic bad guy and made the film at least twice as enjoyable as it could have been without him. The rest of the cast did their jobs well enough. There's enough action to fill all of the old Star Trek movies put together, and a different kind of humor that often falls into the referential category. It's this referential thing that's getting a lot of people (mostly die-hard Trek fans) really upset. As this is a "reboot" of sorts, there are going to be many parallels, and that is taken to a bit of an extreme here. It's done a little bit sloppily but I got a ton of enjoyment out of it. Good stuff. Robocop.

The Great Gatsby

 I'd been hearing bad things about this from the first time I heard about it. There have been at least four other Gatsby film adaptations in the past, and I don't think any of them have garnered much acclaim; it's just too much of a masterwork (or so I'm told) to really be "filmable," as people tend to say about things they like a lot. Obviously I haven't read the book so that defensive attachment wasn't an issue for me going into the theater, and I think it helped my experience a lot. It's a beautifully visual film with some pretty great acting, a lot of gorgeous women, and of course the story itself is quite interesting even if it is a bit of a "chick-flick" sort of thing. I'm not a huge fan of voice-over but it worked well enough. Perhaps it has failed though in that I don't really feel like I have to go read the book. Different strokes, Old Sport.


Check another one off the list of must-see-live bands. I bought this ticket months ago, as soon as the tour was announced. They have come to the U.S. before, but never so close to me, so there was really no choice this time. Their self-titled album from a few years ago topped my list without much even competition (aside from Shining and Ghost). Meir hasn't had nearly the same effect but it's still an excellently feel-good metal album and didn't lessen my love for the band. I spent the majority of their set in the first and second rows, and suffered the requisite beatings from the mosh pit behind me; it was worth it. The frontman went crowd-surfing several times, and at one point one of them starting hanging from the rafters above the crowd. At the end the first few rows were all invited up onto the stage join in with the band in their revelrous finale. Kick-ass.

The openers were pretty good too. The first band, Black Clouds, was an instrumental three-piece playing rather djenty metal similar to TesseracT but with an extremely distorted bass, and a seizure inducing light show. It was fine but I get bored rather quickly without vocals. Next up, Black Tusk performed as the only opener I'd actually heard before, but were unfortunately fairly boring as well. I'm not sure really what made them boring for me. They're really quite similar in sound to the rest of the bill, but there's just something missing. I think the next band, Cancer Bats, managed to find that element that really gets my interest. Could be the rocking guitar riffs or the vocalist's energetic performance (plus pizza shirt), but whatever it was got me to buy their album Dead Set on Living. It's pretty great; a disc full of rip-roaring bluesy metal followed by another disc of Black Sabbath covers, almost exclusively pulled from their first few albums. They've got a new fan for sure.

03 May 2013

Iron Mud Trance


Danny Boyle makes good movies. Sometimes he makes great ones. This one isn't great, but it's certainly a ride. I went into it with some idea of what to expect from Filmspotting reviews and such; I think I was bracing for something like Inception. It's not really that, but there are some similarities; it can be a little difficult to tell what's really happening and what isn't, and there's quite a bit of jumping around, but the narration helps to keep it mostly straight. It's visually interesting and exciting, but the characters make some strange turns, and it all just falls together a bit ridiculously by the end. I'm just gonna end this one with this: Rosario Dawson knows what you want.


Mud's great. It definitely rides on the quality of its actors. It's probably the best I've seen from Matt McConaughey, Michael Shannon's in it, other dudes from Boardwalk Empire and Deadwood both make appearances, one of the main characters is a kid from The Tree of Life, and Reese Witherspoon's okay I guess. With that lineup as the base, Jeff Nichols crafts an endearing, emotional film only tangentially similar to Beasts of the Southern Wild (which I liked a bit less than this in retrospect). It's got friendship building, violence, action, budding and broken romance, and a lot of water with snakes in it. I'd say that's a winning formula. Definitely catch this one.

Iron Man 3

Shane Black made Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It's not only an awesome movie, it also features Iron Man himself (RDJ). Makes sense to have him pick up the pieces left by Jon Favreau (who appears in this movie as comic relief). I liked the second film well enough but only saw it once. No desire to see it again. This one here has shades of that one, but it does it all a lot better, with a much more interesting villainous angle and a much more human Tony Stark. Still, it's a little hard to believe Tony's emotional plight with his constant, rapid-fire verbal deflections; but it wouldn't be an Iron Man film without that. The little tie-ins to the rest of the Marvel movie-verse (mainly Avengers) are fun and serve the plot well enough. Ben Kingsley's Mandarin works better than I thought it would, but perhaps not for the reason you might think going into it. I liked it but I wouldn't put it over the first film. The initial ending credit sequence though, is fantastic. Nice post-credits tag too.