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Thursday, November 5, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW - Where the Wild Things Are

Yet another flick based on a short children’s book. For those fearing the same result as Jim Carrey in Grinch make-up, lower your shields. It may drag, but it never sags. Likewise, Spike Jonze may not be as great as his name, but I’ll give him credit on this one. Where the Wild Things Are managed to gently probe my heart, but I’m not exactly sure why. Frankly, that kind of bothers me.

Appropriately, Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are is a case of “did it really happen or was it just the kid’s imagination?” It doesn’t really matter either way, what is important is that you walk away knowing little boys are f---ing insane. Coming from a long history of wild imagination and impulsive energy I can certainly appreciate the love for an “igloo” made out of snow or acting like some creature out of a Godzilla movie. Young guns are wild and creative and Jonze does the audience right by establishing the fun and trials that come with being a young boy whom values indoor forts.

Eventually Max runs away from our unimaginative and boring world and finds himself with a bunch of snot nosed monsters that look like Tim Burton’s take on Sesame Street. Though it turns out that finding a home with other wild things wasn’t the answer to his problems. Yes, young padawan Max finds that maturity can be alienating and a lack of it can hurt others. So why be wild if growing up is inevitable? To all the females in the room who’ve never pretended to be Optimus Prime in their back yard: Wild. Is. F--king. Better.

But Jonze shows restraint. He knows better than to end a coming of age story without age. Though I wished Max’s journey to the land of evil Jim Henson puppets could have worked out, his visit leaves the Wild Things in turmoil. So we see the impressive visuals of these giant stuffed animals go emo and allow Max’s reign to fall on them like boulders. (Or dirt balls rather…) Max’s revelation is the pain he’s caused, which is linked back to his mother whom he reunites with in the end.

I suppose you could classify Where the Wild Things Are as a kind of Peter Pan retelling. But without a Captain Hook the story is a little long-winded. How much does it really take to make post-infancy mindsets clash? With that in mind I feel like Wild Things would have made a better short film. I guess this is why the book wasn’t too long. I don’t mean to sound under appreciative of Jonze’s love for boyhood imagination, but a movie should be more than just straight-up nostalgia. It was a valiant effort nonetheless. So I’ll give it bonus points for that.

*** out of ****

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

MUSIC REVIEW - Atreyu - Congregation of the Damned

Fact: I’m not the world’s biggest Atreyu fan. Hell, I didn’t enjoy any of their stuff pre-Lead Sails and Paper Anchor and frankly I still don’t. Scream-o might appeal to the chaps in the crowd who don't fear strep throat, but I’ve never found much value in metalcore’s insistence on gargling lyrics. But like’em or hate’em, Atreyu is a band full of talented, loud, shredding and vengeful rock stars. It’s just a shame they haven’t whetted my appetite until their last, and pleasantly subdued album, Lead Sails and Paper Anchor.

So with their previous record being something of an expansive triumph, and perhaps their unsung masterpiece, (Yeah, I went there.) I won’t be able to help the comparisons between it and Congregation of the Damned. Sorry. And for the old school Atreyu fans, you might as well stop reading. You won’t find any praise for the appropriately named The Curse. Cry about it emo sluts.

Congregation of the Damned begins with a song reminiscent of their earlier material, but, surprisingly I wasn’t hemorrhaging while it played. Consistent screaming aside, it’s not a bad opener. After that, Atreyu returns to its Lead Sails sound with "Bleeding Is a Luxury," a song that carries the albums’ stronger lyrics, but owes Anberlin a thank you note for its opening. Or maybe Anberlin owes them a lawsuit? (“Feel Good Drag” anyone?)

Though Congregation doesn’t have any major hooks and sure-to-be-classics like Lead Sail’s “Doomsday” and “When Two Are One,” it offers some strong tunes that beg for some attention. “Gallows,” “Storm to Pass” and “Insatiable” make a passing effort for car ride scream-alongs. Meanwhile, “Coffin Nails” steals the baton of badassery from the would-be, should-be, wasn’t-to-be awesome title track.

The album's biggest failure is Atreyu’s struggle at affectionate songwriting. The attempt at an emotional finale, “Wait for You,” almost makes me want them to go all the way back to their metalcore roots. The last thing I want to hear before I die is another love song by Atreyu. Stick to lyrics reaming off the effects of Armageddon guys.

If you’re an Atreyu fan, new or old, give Congregation a world. It’ll be a hit or miss with most fans. If you’ve never heard a song by Atreyu before, move along. There’s nothing to see, hear or have sex with here. It’s fun enough to avoid being damned, but we can’t please everyone, can we? Lead Sails PwNz0Rz it. Sorry. Couldn’t help Atreyu-izing myself for a moment.

** out of ****

ANIME CORNER - Mobile Suit Gundam 00 - DVD Part 1

When you’re watching a Gundam series you better buck up for some heavy-handed, anti-war sing-along. It’s inevitable. Whenever a Gundam rears its samurai inspired head it tends to glare at current events in a battle for relevance. Mobile Suit Gundam 00, tends to be the heavier hitting of these shows. It sports the most obvious post-9/11 storyline yet, but it isn’t so downbeat to not remind us how cool giant robots are.

Bringing ethnicity, religion and moral obligations in to the forefront, 00 manages to drench its audience in enough back-story to send even your grandma to wikipedia. Thankfully if you just sit back and watch the show everything will be revealed. What’s the fictional country they keep mentioning you ask? Wait ten minutes and the three, sexy female characters will reveal all! (And my God, Feldt has enormous mammary glands for a thirteen year old! Apparently every girl in 2307 A.D. will be 38C by age ten.)

In all seriousness though, Gundam 00 has a fantastic hook. The series blasts off immediately with robot-kicking action and saves the explanation for episode two. But nothing is spoon-fed immediately. Every character is harboring some deep secret that leaves the audience wanting more. It’s like Lost, but it won’t take thirty seasons just to know what a character’s tattoo means.

The instant grab is, of course, main character Setsuna F. Seiei; a name so suave you want to whisper it during sex. This would-be Heero Yuy clone actually has more depth to him than a constant bid for suicide. His consistent distaste for God, brought on by his previous occupation as a brainwashed child soldier, is clashed with the angelic salvation of a Gundam. Years later he finds himself piloting a Gundam of his own and embodies the infatuation every boy has with these machines. It’s nice to know there’s finally a series where the kid is as obsessed with giant robots as we are.

The rest of the characters, Lockon Stratos, Allelujah Haptism and Tieria Erde, have equally interesting mysteries obscuring their past. Unfortunately very little is revealed in the first nine episodes. Instead we’re introduced to a plethora of supporting players that are good for the story, but not very interesting characters. (Except for Graham Aker. I can see him spinning into the realm of baddassery later on.) Lockon tends to be another favorite of mine. It’s nice to have a Gundam pilot whose age doesn’t begin with the number one. Meanwhile Tiera is a little too flamboyant for my tastes. I’ll wait until I know his backstory, but as of right now the guy is a dick. I mean pink shirts? Really?

But what about the Gundams, gun-dammit? Are they worth snapping together for your model kit collection? They are, in fact, sleek and cool, with some design aspects I’ve never seen before. The animation is also incredible—Guaranteed to make any mecha-phile explode their pants. They’re also pretty much invulnerable. I mean come on; you didn’t expect them to take on the world without getting God’s blessing of dent proof armor no matter what hits them. At least the GN-drive is a worthy and mysterious device for their superiority over enemy mobile suits—For now anyway. That could change when we know more about it.

When Part I ended with an aggravating and surprisingly edgy cliffhanger, I declared Gundam 00 as a positively epic and thoughtful addition to the Gundam series. And why the hell shouldn’t I? Every politically motivated episode is accented with some explosive surprise whether it comes from the characters’ mouths or the end of a beam rifle. U.C. Gundam fans will revile it, but if you’re a little more open minded about the Gundam series you might find it’ll rock your socks.

***½ out of ****

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW - Zombieland

Walking out of Zombieland was like receiving a Christmas gift you didn’t ask for, but enjoy anyway. “Why didn’t this movie fail?” Has been a constant question I’ve asked myself. After all, Zombieland is just a road trip movie that looks like it was written for Michael Cera in a genre so putrid that Shawn of the Dead is its greatest advocate. But I digress. Reason? If I didn’t respect Woody Harrelson beforehand, I do now.

In Zombieland Jesse Eisenberg puts on his best “I am Michael Cera” moves, a tactic I should criticize him for until the end of time. But I have to admit, I enjoyed his take on a nutless, teen recluse a lot more than Juno’s love interest. Speaking of love interests, if you are a male with any genitalia you should write a letter to Emma Stone asking her to look exactly as she does in this movie for all her future projects. In a movie with Woody Harrelson shooting zombies on a roller coaster I won’t ask for Oscar winning performances, but if a female lead is a must, Stone’s bad girl look is required. All aboard for Wichita.

Wichi-who? Wichita. That’s right. Every character calls themselves by their home town or destination-- A fittingly amusing move for characters that become very close. While Eisenberg’s Columbus and Wichita are fitting names in an oddly plain way, Harrelson steals the name Tallahassee. Yep, he’s as bombastic as his title suggests—A blistering mobile for lines like “Nut up or shut up!” and my new favorite derogatory: “Spitf--k.”

Even though the character chemistry is strong and the laughs run deeper than the many spoilers in the previews, the movie doesn’t really get good until the team reaches Bill Murray’s mansion. (You heard me.) From there the movie spirals into the absurdity you expect of a zombie comedy. Harrelson’s badass shows a soft side, Stone’s playgirl softens to our favorite nerd and Eisenberg learns to do something Cera never has: “Nut up.”

In a predictable turn of events that leads Columbus and Tallahassee on a rescue mission in a theme park, Zombieland delivers the goods in guns, guts and glory. Thank God this movie was rated R. I can’t imagine it skeeting over its 98% chance of failure otherwise. I truly applaud Zombieland for what it has overcome. Despite it’s revealing trailers and exhausted plot devices the film soars as one of the most entertaining flicks this year. Furthermore, I want more adventures with these characters. Bad idea? Maybe, but imagine what Zombieland would be like with some fresh ideas. To director Ruben Fleischer, I want more. Time to nut up and get crackin’ on that sequel.

*** out of ****