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Saturday, August 14, 2010

MOVIE REVIEW - Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

If cinematic originality is suffering, like so many internet trolling experts say, then my reply would be that it’s not always how original the story is, but how you tell it. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is an example of that reply biting me in the ass. The age-old story of a warrior battling for his true love is retold as a video game/comic book hybrid. I was originally interested in this idea and the prospect of another comedy by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz). I was even willing to set aside my hatred for Michael Cera and Beck Hanson to enjoy this film. But try as I might I just couldn’t embrace Scott Pilgrim.

When Scott Pilgrim cheats on his current girlfriend for the mysterious Ramona, karma catches up with him in the form of her seven evil exes. From there he goes through each ex, fighting for Ramona while trying to maintain a relationship with his band and roommate.

As if it were hard to choose, the best part about Scott Pilgrim is the nerd driven battles. Piled with video game nods ranging from Guitar Hero to Street Fighter, these fight scenes aren’t only creative acid trips, but hard hitting action sequences too. When Pilgrim smashed his fist in to the first “evil ex” I was really impressed with the way the visuals made me feel the impact. It makes me wonder if the wire-fu from the Matrix Trilogy is going to stand the test of time. Oh, yeah, and they’re pretty damn funny too. The fight with a vegan Brandon Routh peeks when Thomas Jane and Cliff Collins Jr. make a cameo as the “Vegan Academy” security. Brillant.

But beyond the ball breaking action scenes lies Michael Cera who was terribly miscast as Scott Pilgrim, a character far too confident to carry Cera’s trademark inelegance. (Or as I like to call, dumbassery.) Not that the writing is particularly excellent anyway. It tries to be quick and witty, but it’s handicapped by painful moments of awkward humor that made me shrivel up in my chair and wish I was watching any other movie. Why is it that Cera is a magnet for these types of moments? Is it in his contract to implement the clumsiest, eyeball puncturing moments in every movie he pollutes?

Oh, but Cera isn’t the only one to blame. There are plenty of poor actors in this movie and if it weren’t for the quick editing none of the lines would be saved. But should they be saved? It’s never a good thing when I’m halfway through a film and want to take an axe to the run time. What purpose did Pilgrim’s first meeting with the lesbian ex serve? It actually ruins the fact Ramona dated a girl. (Spoiler) Then there’s the long exposition between her and Scott. Why? This is a movie with a guy fighting a league of evil exes not My Fair Lady. Oh, right! I nearly forgot. What would we do without those important shots of Cera embarrassing himself? How would the world turn?

If you feel the need to see Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, I’ll grant you can do a lot worse this summer. But it’s not much of an improvement either. It’s an overly long venture in high-octane special effects mixed with misfired humor and the occasional L.O.L. I can understand the need to do something different; to do something fun and to try something new. I can even appreciate the effort. But when the result is as alienating as this film what did it accomplish? Mr. Wright, you’re too good for this. P.S. Dear Beck, stop. Just stop it.

** out of ****

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

MOVIE REVIEW - Toy Story 3

Ah, Pixar. Once again I write a review about a film that was loved before it was released. Such is the case with most Pixar films. I suppose I was one of the few not totally enthralled with Ratatouille. And I don’t think the internet has enough bandwidth to relay my scathing hatred for Cars. So what of the final episode in the Toy Story trilogy? Should I praise it because it’s another Pixar home run? Should I hail it because it’s the best ending to a trilogy I’ve ever seen? Or should I just give it a thumbs up for being a solid movie? I contemplate this with such cynicism only because of my misplaced belligerence toward Pixar’s perfectionism. I don’t think Toy Story 3 is Pixar’s best film, or even the best Toy Story; but if there’s a textbook example of it’s astonishing (see: sickening) mastery over cinema—Well, here it is.

Toy Story’s finale sends Buzz and Woody on a quest to find a new home as Andy gears up for college. Though parting ways is hard on many different levels. The toys find a replacement daycare “paradise” that turns out to be hell on Earth. Meanwhile, Woody partakes in his favorite pastime (getting lost) and plans to rescue the others.

I read one film theory that claimed this movie was actually a retelling of the Holocaust. Whether that’s true is up for debate, but it’s certainly an interesting look at the story and gives it a little more dramatic weight. But if you wish to pay attention to the film’s political construct or not, rest assured Toy Story 3 has a heavy focus on the emotional aspect of its break-neck adventure. Almost immediately the film’s heartstring-plucker gets to work when we see a grown Andy and his dwindled collection of toys eager to be played with. While the Andy's coming-of-age subplot is certainly an important aspect of the story, most of the film is about moving on-- Times of change where one must let go and embrace the future. So which is more gut wrenching? Coming-of-age? Or moving forward? I suppose it doesn’t really matter since you’ll have to contend with both ideas at the movie's tear-jerking conclusion.

Not that it's perfect. I felt like the villain was too close to the previous film’s antagonist, what with his nice-guy/troubled past persona that turns out to be a façade. Then there’s the fact that the toys are fretting over Andy getting rid of them. Toy Story 2 established that they knew this day would come and they act as if they’ve forgotten about that. Perhaps my cynicism is kicking in again. Maybe the point I’m missing is that accepting fate doesn’t make the process any easier. Still, while the situational focus on the toys’ relationship with Andy is intriguing, I miss the franchise-defining camaraderie between Woody and Buzz. (Whom I felt was nearly wasted.)

Yet if the Toy Story series has shown me anything, it’s that they know how to end a movie in the most poignant way possible. After Pixar’s most armrest clenching showdown of their twenty-five year existence comes another high in emotional endings. I use the word “high” only realizing that if Toy Story 3 were a drug everyone would be on it and under Pixar’s control. Maybe we already are considering the immediate love for this film. Frankly, I can’t say it doesn’t deserve it. After all, how many beloved series end this well? Any takers?

***½ out of ****

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

When Bands Change - The Rebirth of Linkin Park, The Stinginess of Fans

I've been a fan of Linkin Park for a long time and for most of that time I've defended them from real music lovers around-- Whether they're indie snobs that get hard from listening to some silly nightmare of insomniac curing shit like The White Stipes or Beck, or real "hard" music loving fans that still claim the likes of Metallica are the greatest musicians in the world despite the fact they went to war with their fans and refusing to release a lick of decent material in twenty-five years. Or they just like thrash metal and they're long gone...

Very few times, however, have I had to defend them from their own fans. This isn't even designated at a grand majority, but rather a bunch of ear-candy loving pussies who refuse to grow past the age of nine. Who gave them computer access? Can retarded people use a computer this well?

To clarify what's happening, Linkin Park's new single for their September 14th-bound A Thousand Suns was released yesterday. Titled "The Catalyst" I was initially unsure of the song myself based on very few clips. But once I heard all 5 minutes and 43 seconds of this monster I was astounded. Linkin Park had finally moved away from the typical mainstream sound and structure they had proved to easily reproduce with Minutes to Midnight (2007). Meanwhile the sounds of Hybrid Theory (2000) and Meteora (2003) were nowhere in sight.

Ah, but those naive fans thinking that Linkin Park would return to their nu-metal, rap-rocking roots were of course left more disappointed than ever. Trolling and spamming the Linkin Park website like clockwork with their inability to spell and clear irreverence for punctuation. Here's some of my favorites gathered from linkinpark.com and their facebook. Guaranteed to make you laugh:

"what happened 2 old LP paper cut all the good stuff in the end everything u guys messed up =( OLD LP FTWWWW since u guys switched music theres hardly anymore good rock"

"WTF?? Linkin park have you sold out to the Techno "FAN BOYS" or what?
I love you old stuff and that's why i was a fan of yours but if you don't pump out some good sounds where going to leave you."

"Sadly i will say that 1-2 songs on MTM was OK..... but still not the LP we love and know. And what's with all this GOD crap?? are you guys some christian rock/techno band now?"

"Omg so far from the meteora's album.. You're no more that a pop gay band :(.."

"not as good,as l.p used to be,please change your style again and come back to you earlier music ok.."

"Im not even lieing these guys song suck ass now..greenday much better"

"wats wrong wid all u dickheads who liked the song????? i mean are u guys fuckin kiddin me!! oh ok!! lemme guess everyone who liked it must defintaley be backstreet boys fans!! now i get it!! its assholes like urll who encourage LP do do this shit!! wanna listen somethin new go and listen to that bitch lady gaga u fuckin dorks!! bloddy nerds and geeks!!! dumbassess!! its not about HT and meteora, LP are a numetal alternative hard roc band, they already belonged to a category which cudnt be defined then y this!! its coz of ppl like urll who like this sorta crap!! LP this is for "u guys are loosin phase" better do somethin about it and look at the response u get!! and chester please stick to the human nature defined by u.. if its workin well stick to it and stay wid it!! just as a reminder to all HT WAS THE BEST SELLIN ALBUM OF 2001 AND METEORA IS THE ONLY MODERN ROCK ALBUM THAT HAS 5 OR MORE SINLGES WHO HIT THE NUMBER 1 SPOT IN THE CHARTS!!! so the message is straight, stick to the basics wen it works out well for u!!! and anyone who replies to this comment is eitehr frustrated or is so shamelessly a backstreet boys fan and is so desparately dependent on pop and techo music!!"

"its amazing that 95% of people that like this shitty song here are girls... But may i ask if its because the song is actually decent or you like mikes voice casue "he is cuuute"? Crap song, not LP, this is pop."

"Tell us something Mike... All "A Thousand Suns" sounds like "The Catalyst ???? Because, the Catalyst is your WORST SONG !!!!"

"The Catalyst SUCKS !!!! What the fuck is wrong with you Linkin Park?, my remix of "The Catalyst" is BETTER !!!"

"we want the old linkin park back!!!!!!"

"The Catalyst perfect FAIL!!!! Give us the old and hardcore LP!!!!!!!"

"I AM DISAPPOINTED :( wtf/ :(" (With a Meteora icon.)

"well i can wait for the next new album,and i pray to GOD,and i hope that album it's similar to HT or METEORA or LP is just fucking dead..to me they are dead until that cd will came out ...4 years for nothing"


All right, maybe I gave you too much of an example of what asininity looks like. The stupidity is so bad I have to keep it from leaking off my computer screen and attacking me like a virus. But there's just so many stupid people out there-- It was hard to choose. My favorite is the last one. The one I ended this example of idiocy and juvenile behavior on. Even with the band telling the world they want to change their sound over and over, even when we're two albums away from the nu-metal sound and even though nu-metal died six years ago and has remained dead with only a few terrible bands, like Korn and Limp Bizkit, holding on to its decomposing sound, there are fans still crossing their fingers Linkin Park will return to that old mess. I'll at least give them points for holding on to such hope for so long.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm a fan of Hybrid Theory and Meteora as well, but that era is dated, dead and, quite frankly, has nothing new to offer. I remember when Meteora was scolded like Minutes to Midnight when it first came out. Can all these fans who only like Linkin Park's old sound believe that Meteora was hated with a passion on the linkinpark.com boards when it first arrived? Guess what the number one complaint was? Ding, ding! It sounded too similar to Hybrid Theory. (Doesn't help that, looking, back on it, Meteora is Linkin Park's weakest album lyrically. How easy is it to rhyme heal with feel and real? I hope it didn't take them all night to come up with that.)

Now I'm aware the majority I'm fighting here are a bunch of snot-nosed, fat, spoiled, ITouch toting middle schoolers who "feel so numb" because Amy Missperfect, sitting two rows down in english class, doesn't like them back. Boo-Hoo. But I've seen for myself that the fan base has intelligence. LPAssociation.com is home to the older, wiser and more mature conversationalists. Most of them like the new stuff Linkin Park dishes out and the few people that don't are at least constructive about it. LPLive.net is similar, even if some of the more immature fans tend to bleed in to that haven. I'm not talking about, or too them, but I will give them a nice, big thank you for being grown-ups. (And using a passable percentage of decent grammar.)

But to the younger, stubborn and immature: The "old" Linkin Park is not coming back. Quite frankly, I'm happy about that. They've grown up and decided to do new things and that's what being a musician is all about. Linkin Park values music enough to push themselves and try new things. They don't want to stay in the old because it was "successful" or because "fans loved it." If they do that then they are selling out. Then they're in it for the money, not because they love music. They end up looking as bad as Limp Bizket. But a musician's art is music and to tell an artist to only paint one thing for his whole career is cruel and damning.

And so be it. Yesterday I heard Linkin Park take a risk, step out of the mainstream and leap even further away from the nu-metal comfort zone to create something with true layering and musicianship. Mike quipped in a UStream that the song is hardly pop just because it uses synthesizer. He's right. There's a lot of great electronic music and industrial sounds out there. (Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails) They're not "pop," so to speak, and neither is this. This is a well constructed, odd, but rewarding experience in an electronic rock sub-genre and quite frankly there's not a whole lot out there that sounds like it. (That's a good thing kiddies. Try to see the light.) Not to mention the astounding lyrics. They're few, but they're some of the best the band has put out. Beats the lyrical angst off of Meteora's "Somewhere I Belong". So to some degree I'm happy you youngster brats don't like the new Linkin Park. It's nice to enjoy a song from this band that jr. high students, or those with the same maturity level, can't understand the beauty of.

Even still, it's sad there are fans that want to break the band down in to a mediocre thought-process and keep them in a box to replicate a single sound over and over. I can't think of a more selfish, greedy reason to dislike new material. If you're constructive about it fine, but I've seen very little evidence to such a contrary.

Well done Linkin Park. Keep pushing forward. There are enough bands that drive backwards. They normally end up wrecking.

Monday, July 12, 2010

MOVIE REVIEW - Predators

If there’s any proof that there are smart people at Fox, it is Predators. Granted, the film was made by Robert Rodriguez’s Troublemaker Studios, but it took a bright man to hire talent from the outside. What’s more impressive is just how damn awesome the film is. Being the ultimate 1980s sci-fi/action throwback, the Predators are back with a vengeance.

The movie wastes no time throwing you into action. Adrian Brody’s Royce awakes in mid-air, flailing helplessly for a ripcord that may or may not be there. Once he’s “safe,” Royce finds himself fraternizing with ex-cons, various military personnel and mercenaries to figure out where they are. But once it’s clear that they’re being hunted, Royce makes the daring decision to fight back.

It’s been a long time since we’ve seen the Predator in a decent flick. Predator 2 wasn’t terrible, but oddly cheesy for a character with such bloodlust. The Aliens vs. Predator flicks are guilty pleasures of mine, yes, but only because they make for fun midnight, b-movies. Otherwise they’re nefarious abortions of great concepts. Predators is the purest sequel to the 1987 classic. The characters are well-written and wonderful examples of testosterone induced heroes you actually care about. Sure, they’re not well developed, but neither were the cast of the original film. We never find out why Royce is such a badass, but he displays said badassary with such believability as he leads the characters through the jungle.

This convincing strut of awesomeness is a real treat from Adrian Brody. (A man who once reminded me of a pencil with Cpl. Max Klinger’s nose.) The man is beefed beyond belief and he pulls off the battlefield hardened anti-hero like he was born for it. Another surprise was Alice Braga’s sniper-rifle toting Isabelle. It’s hard to believe that a female part would work in a movie like this, but her aura echoes the seriousness of action heroines like Sarah Connor and Ripley. And Laurence Fishburne? Comparable to William Hurt in A History of Violence. He’s a true, albeit short, presence.

Meanwhile, the film’s title characters find a complete return to mystery and suspense. Predator 2 and AVP blew up the mythology in a way only George Lucas would love-- Revealing an overly technological Predator home world and a back-story out of a Stargate episode. Here their secrets are reeled back, making for more engaging and mysterious creatures. The jungle is truly where the Predators belong.

We do get some new glimpses in to this savage take on the alien hunters. A blood feud between two different types of Predators is established not only as insight, but a helpful plot device. The “crucified” Predator introduces the creatures to the audience in a brave way. Though previous entries have repeatedly tried to surprise us with the creature-under-the-mask trick, director Nimrod Antal makes the decision to humanize the “lesser” Predator only to reveal much nastier creatures. It works because it’s unexpected. Unlike most sequels these days, Predators refuses to rely on the cliché of repeating classic lines of dialogue, or copying scenes from prequels. If you spot an homage, it’ll be subtle.

This isn’t to say the movie isn’t without faults. The biggest eyebrow raiser begins with the alien world that looks a lot like a jungle on Earth. When one character mentions a specific plant species I couldn’t help but wonder if every alien world looked just like Earth. A new concept perhaps, but pretty dull.

Outside of the minor gripes Predators delivers. It’s not a great movie, but it’s well crafted. No it doesn’t feature “deep” or “moving” characters. But it gives us likable ones to root for. The movie is a classic action romp, dependent on muscles and sweat instead of CGI and explosions. It uses its characters for the heavy lifting and keeps them believable while doing so. That’s far more than I can say for seemingly immortal casts that fly tanks.

*** out of ****

Saturday, June 26, 2010

MOVIE REVIEW - The A-Team

For those of you who know there’s something wrong with the action genre, but can’t pinpoint exactly what it is, I present you The A-Team. Honestly I’m not sure what drove me to this movie. Having heard such terrible things about Robin Hood and Prince of Persia I bypassed the first few tent-pole flicks of the summer for this one. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have fun to one extent or another, but I’d also be lying if I said I wasn’t cringing during a good portion of it.

After being framed in Iraq, Col. Hannible Smith (Liam Neeson) and his “A-Team” of misfit soldiers escape from prison to clear their name and hunt down the operations group that framed the four of them. Sounds a lot like the television show right? Well… assuming you know anything about the television show.

The storyline of the film, or television series, isn’t the problem. It’s the current state of the action genre that turns this film in to an absurd spiral of mayhem. Does anyone remember how to make an action movie? I’d like to point to Die Hard, a movie that started out with a character that was largely relatable. When John McClain is faced with the impossible task of saving a building of hostages from terrorists the audience goes on a journey with him. We discover his weaknesses, his strengths and what makes him the bold character he is while plummeting through several incursions. The audience has hope that he’ll succeeded of course, but because he is so human and has made notable errors, the audience is in suspense of whether or not he’ll be able to save the day. The explosions and gunfire are a fun, but not the stars of the show. This isn’t the case with The A-Team.

Hannible and his team are introduced to the audience as perfect combatants. Right out of the blocks Hannible is able to escape imprisonment with ease and his team show an equal amount of skill and confidence. Unlike McClain, they are completely disconnected from the audience due to their inhuman abilities to beat down a garage full of eight muscle men, maneuver helicopters like an F-22 and fly a tank. (lol wut?) The tank scene is what made and killed the movie for me. While escaping enemy aircraft, the team jettisons from their exploding plane by tank and maneuver it safely over a lake using the main cannon as propulsion. While I appreciate the absurdity, why should I be worried about these characters anymore if they survive a tank falling from the clouds? Oh, sure, director Joe Carnhan tries to trick the audience into believing these characters will bite the dust due to a healthy gunshot wound to the shoulder. But after the tank thing we know better. These guys will survive anything!

And why do action films these days feel the need to create scenes like the tank sequence? Have we reached a point in cinema where the clichés of jumping out of an exploding building are so bad we have to resort to the ridiculous to appease audiences? Is the classic action movie dead, casting aside great characters in extraordinary situations for extraordinary characters in impossible situations? It can be fun sometimes, I’ll admit, but it’s junk food—And it’s all we get these days. Maybe when I can safely fly a tank in to a lake I’ll appreciate this stuff better.

*½ out of ****

Friday, June 25, 2010

MOVIE REVIEW - Babies

You know, in a year that’s looking like one of the worst summer movie seasons in recent memory it might seem easy for a documentary about babies to outshine an A-Team. But the beauty about Babies (and humor) lies in its humanity. The most innocent kind of humanity too! Babies isn’t necessarily about a bunch of infants growing up differently, but rather an example of their similarities immediately after birth.

The vague story of this documentary follows four infants: Ponijao from Namibia, Bayar from Mongolia, Mari from Japan, and Hattie from the United States. From there they learn to crawl, mumble, walk and speak, all while being utterly entranced by fresh, new life.

For a lot of the film, Babies turns out to be more of a crowd pleaser than an insightful journey. The humor surrounding these kids as they decide to gnaw on everything, piss where they please and stare obsessively is truly outrageous. But what gets me is how similar they all are. It begs the question: Is this a movie about babies growing up in different cultures or a film showing how irrelevant cultural preference is in the wake of new life.

To exemplify the similarities of these infants, they all have access to animals and treat them with as little reverence as possible. Panijao tugs on the upper lip of a dog, while Bayar steps on a lamb. They’re curious about these animals’ physical structure and they feel they must learn about them by touching-- Despite how uncomfortable the animals get. There is no boundary for these babies in any culture. They study by doing and they have yet to get to a place where they can be fully assimilated in to their respective societies. To me, this is what makes the film so fascinating.

The film rams home that the purist form of human innocence is the untainted and curious baby. If this sounds hysterical, don’t worry, it’s suppose to be. Mari’s parents may be worried about their job, but she’s more concerned about getting a long, cylinder block through a hole. (Something I’m sure her father would prefer her to learn later in life.) But the failure to understand why these toys won’t stay together upsets her so much that she throws her feet to the floor in a fit of rage. Her day is clearly ruined. The result is both hilarious and engaging. Hilarious because from our point of view the situation means nothing; engaging because this is really what is important to her. It’s how she learns and she feels she’s failed.

But I won’t recommend this to the masses. This is a movie with babies being babies for an hour and twenty minutes with no narration. Nothing Youtube can’t give us, right? But while the film admittedly seems less interested in providing a new perspective and more interested in making the crowd go, “Awww…” I’m pretty sure there’s enough insightful material to spark intelligent discussions. And if you don’t feel the same way, at least we can agree that babies will be babies—And honestly, how damn funny is that?

*** out of ****

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Music With Meaning: Linkin Park's "From the Inside"

Does it ever feel like some bands just make videos to songs that don't correlate at all? Critics and fans of Linkin Park have long argued whether or not their videos have anything to do with the song they're put to. In a recent Linkin Park contest, the winner explains "From the Inside" in a way few have probably thought of. Before reading I recommend re-watching the video.



Analysis:

""From The Inside" is not only my favorite Linkin Park song, but it's also, in my opinion, the best music video they've ever released to the public, for a variety of reasons. The video itself is a moving, political piece about the late 80s Iran-Contra scandal, which involved the US government secretly funding a group of Nicaraguan contras, of which those funds would be made by selling weapons to Iran, who were under a strict arms embargo.

After Mehdi Hashemi leaked this information to the media, all hell broke loose. For you see, it was reported that the contras and the US government had joined forces to more easily bring cocaine to the United States. When the world found out, people were terrified, shocked and any other emotion you can imagine. "From the Inside" tells the tale of a young boy growing up in the midst of the Iran-Contra affair, and his explosive emotions dealing with his outrage at how his government, and his people, are reacting to this atrocity. Mobs of common citizens uniting with one another to clash with officers of the law, clad in riot gear, tanks patrolling the streets, etc. etc. Finally, his anger reaches a new height, just as Chester screams out the prophetic lyrics, "I won't waste myself on you!". His anger is physically felt, with the angry mob of citizens and police officers being pushed back forcibly, the little boy's un-drank milk shakes and spills on his parents' coffee table, while Linkin Park is unaffected, playing the final riffs of the song with added vigor, while Chester emotionally twists and turns his body, almost like he feels the entire situation with all of his being and knows the little boy's pain. That's when you realize...

It's 1986, and the little boy is Chester Bennington."

I've always felt that Linkin Park's first foray in to political banter did not begin with Minutes to Midnight, but rather this video. But is there any evidence behind this? Well I don't think the fan is pulling all of this out of his ass. About six seconds in to the video there's a sign that says, "No Contra" and the choice to film the video in Prague speaks worlds considering the aesthetic similarities between it and Iran's more elaborate architecture. As for the child being Chester Bennington-- It sounds like a big leap, but not that big considering the child is actually Bennington's son. Pretty spot on... A little too spot on... To me it sounds like this "fan" is really a crew member "from the inside."

I'm sure the band will not confirm or deny this since they don't exactly like explaining the meaning behind their artistic endeavors. Perhaps one day we'll unlock the secrets behind all their videos ourselves. But if there's any truth behind the analysis for "From the Inside," the band clearly has a motive behind their often creative videos.

Friday, June 4, 2010

MUSIC REVIEW - How To Destroy Angels EP

I’m a little puzzled at the existence of this How to Destroy Angels. Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s great that Trent Reznor is still making music. The fact he’s decided to do so with his new wife is wonderful… I think. How to Destroy Angels seems like a good idea from afar, but once you get up close you have to wonder what it’s trying to be. A new band? Or Nine Inch Nails with a feminine flare?

Regardless of what this band is suppose to be, the new EP is a huge let down. “A Drowning” and “The Spaces in Between” represent the two best tracks on the project, but they were released prior to the EP. When the rest is poor electronica that sound like scrapped NIN demos why bother?

While “Fur Lined” is probably the next best thing on the album, it won’t keep you from wondering where Trent’s vocals are. At this point the similarities between How to Destroy Angels and NIN are so close that it feels like even lead singer Mariqueen Maandig is putting on her best Reznor impression.

Even “A Drowning,” the best piece on the album, is too NIN inspired to stand alone, but it certainly gives listeners a taste of the real talent behind the project. Meanwhile, “Parasite” would have been better off as an instrumental and “BBB’s” ridiculous lyrics want us to, “listen to the sound of my big black boots.” Why? Is it a comparison of lame reverberation?

Again, “The Spaces in Between” has a lot of fire behind it, and “The Drowning” is an atmospheric masterpiece, but beyond that the EP is an unfocused jumble of half-hearted songs. If Team-Reznor can get stray from the NIN sound with this one it would probably be for the best. The potential for something new and great is there, so I still look forward to a full-length album. But lets stay away from the inspiration of “big black boots” next time. Shall we?

*½ out of ****

MOVIE REVIEW - Iron Man 2

I can’t lie. As I watched Iron Man 2 I was having a great time. I was laughing at the jokes, smiling at the action sequences—Overall I was having fun. So why? Why did I feel like something was off? The answer is somewhat annoying, but rather simple. Iron Man 2 is a trick. It tricks you in to having such a good time that it’s hard to find the flaws. After all, this is a film showcasing Robert Downey Jr.’s smooth, but self-serving swagger, various forms of the universally loved Iron Man, and a strong cast of players in a superhero film. What’s not to love?

As Tony Stark returns to the screen, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) decides its time to put him in his place. In an attempt to avenge the legacy of his father, Vanko agrees to an uneasy partnership with Tony’s less talented corporate rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) resulting in slam-bang-boom showdown. Meanwhile, Tony struggles with some issues of his own concerning the arc reactor in his chest, his relationship with Pepper and the inevitable references to the upcoming Avengers film.

There’s a lot going on in this movie. Director Favreau did a pretty good job keeping the story elements as easy to follow as possible, but I wonder how much better it would have been had he taken an axe to the script. The Avengers build up was way too much. You might notice I don’t mention Scarlett Johansson in my synopsis. That’s because she does nothing. Oh sure, we can all pretend she was a monkey wrench in Tony and Pepper’s relationship, but that’s part of the trick. Her involvement in making Pepper jealous was dropped to reveal her as a SHEILD agent and reintroduce Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury. Dear Marvel, we don’t need commercial breaks in the middle of your films to advertise The Avengers. Love, GMAN.

Despite the clunky Avenger stops, Robert Downey Jr. throws on his A-Game with Mickey Rourke, who once again proves why he should have won the Academy Award. (Go to hell Mr. Penn.) Sam Rockwell also throws down an great performance as the dislikable, and embarrassing, Justin Hammer. It’s hard to decide who made the better villain, Rourke or Rockwell. They were both very different characters, but fun to watch despite the bumpy writing surrounding their partnership. If anything held this movie together it was the actors.

Downey Jr. specifically seems to have a way with making the most out of his characters. Here Tony Stark is faced with a slow, but certain death. The film explores this in pieces, showing him drunk and belligerent to the point of battling his own friend. But the script never hits home how badly this is affecting Stark. Instead, Downey Jr. does all the heavy lifting to evoke, at the very least, the idea that he is dieing and has accepted that fate. I wish this were explored further, but with the government trying to get the Iron Man suit, Vanko teaming with Hammer, the Avenger previews and Pepper’s love life… who has time for that?

The climax was fun, but oddly unsatisfying. While War Machine and Iron Man were around to root for, I wondered why Vanko was behind a desk most of the time. That about sums up the movie: Pleasing to sit through, but strange to look back on. How can a movie that was so enjoyable leave such a bitter aftertaste? Being tricked is no fun sometimes, but it's up to the audience to happily embrace the deception. The actors and director masked the weak script the best they could. I admit it! It worked! For the most part...

**½ out of ****

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

MOVIE REVIEW - Kick-Ass

When you finish a movie and the person next to you exclaims, “…the fuck did I just watch?” it normally gives off a negative reaction toward the film. In my world, more often than not, it means it's truly liked. And like the loose language in the film itself those same words were uttered like a storm of applause when Kick-Ass ended.

When high-school nerd Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) wonders why no one will brave the tights of a superhero, he takes on the task himself. Unfortunately, he inadvertently gets involved with two vigilantes who can do the job better than he and a crime boss confused with their existence. Add some blood, fantastic one-liners and a jar full of irony and you have Kick-Ass.

If you’ve seen only the previews to Kick-Ass you know it’s a comedy. If you don’t know it’s a comedy, guess what? It is. Surprise. But what makes it work is everything it stands for. Kick-Ass asks why we love superheroes and why it’s a good idea and a terrible idea to be one. It answers these questions with a rush of reverence, idiocy and a rather unsettling look at propaganda.

Dave is not a superhero. He is a child in love with iconic fictional characters and what they stand for. He is so enamored by them he decides to become one in hopes of supporting their ideals. Alright. It’s time for another skit of Good Idea/Bad Idea. Good Idea: Standing up for the ideals that Superman and Batman do. The world knows these characters enough to agree with the reasons behind what they do. Furthermore, who doesn’t want to take a stand against evil and all that is wrong? Bad idea: The fictional characters of Batman and Superman have specific skills and powers that force audience members into suspending disbelief. Dressing up in a costume to literally fight crime results in Kick-Ass getting his ass kicked. And rest assured he spends more time having his name handed to him than living up to it. The outcome is hysterical. Love it.

But by far, the show stealer is Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz), an eleven-year-old girl with a stronger skill set than Dave (by miles). Her father (Nic Cage) has brainwashed her into avenging her mother’s death by use of soccer moms’ biggest complaint against superheroes: The violence. Truthfully, her reasons behind being a "superhero" are no different than Batman’s or Spider-Man’s. The controversial part lies in her age. But something surprising happens with her. Instead of having her life ruined Hit Girl becomes responsible. She proves she has not become a mindless killer. Her mission is to avenge her mother and that’s it! Now you could argue she’s been programmed to do that and once the program is finished so is she, but that’s going too far. Plus, a lot of it is simply that it’s hysterical to watch an eleven-year-old girl annihilate the shit out of an army of crime pawns.

And thus we come to the to the final stretch of this amusing social commentary on superheroes and their legacy. I can talk about the film’s intricate meaning all day, but it only works with the action as a very powerful punctuation. Kick-Ass’s final foray into superhero-dom teamed with Hit Girl’s bloody vendetta splatters with a genius mesh of slapstick and action. It is everything you want to happen—Saying it delivers is an understatement. Sure a lot of the action is what takes the authenticity out of the film’s glaring satire. In fact the entire movie takes baby steps toward total absurdity as if it’s trying to trick the audience. There is no connection with reality by the end. But despite that rather muffled flaw the characters make it all work out. So is it funny? Absolutely, but it’s also something to mull over once finished. Recommended for a laugh. Also recommended for a look.

*** out of ****

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

MUSIC REVIEW - Story of the Year - The Constant

As fine of a band as Story of the Year is they’ve hit plenty of highs and lows. With The Constant I’m starting to wonder if they have some Star Trek-esque odd/even curse. Their first and third albums were borderline masterpieces, while the sophomore effort was as uninspired as music gets. The Constant doesn’t sink to the low that In the Wake of Determination did, but it’ll have you running back to The Black Swan pretty quickly.

The album starts out well enough with “The Children Sing,” and “The Ghost of You and I,” which is one of the albums’ strongest songs. But would-be epics like “The Burial” come off as monotonous and the slower ballads like “Remember the Time” and “I’m Alive” are instantly forgettable.

And what is it with these bands trying to cash in on Anberlin’s “Feel Good Drag?” Like Atreyu’s “Bleeding is a Luxery,” off of Congregation of the Damned, the opening to “The Dream is Over” sounds suspiciously like Anberlin’s Joseph Milligan rolling in to the “Drag”. It’s also one of the best tracks on The Constant though, so I guess both SotY and Atreyu owe Anberlin a big thank you.

I’ll give a hand to “Holding on to You” as well. It sounds like a throwback to Page Avenue’s gorgeous ballads and it's a catchier piano effort than Black Swan’s "Terrified." Though it's a shame the album didn’t end with “Ten Years Down” or “Time Goes On.” While neither are particularly memorable songs, they would have been more appreciated closers than the messy “Eye for an Eye.” Then again the group has always struggled to end their records well.

Being one of my favorite bands I can hold a nice little place in my heart for some of these tracks. But I also know they can offer so much more. Even at it’s best The Constant isn’t particularly brilliant. It’s just another rock album. Maybe that’s what the record’s title is referring to though…

** out of ****

Monday, May 24, 2010

ANIME CORNER - Mobile Suit Gundam 00 - DVD Part 3

Well, dear God. Gundam has been many things over the years—Preachy, action packed, contrived, groundbreaking; but never has the series been so relevant as it is with Gundam 00. This comes with an emotional presence that I’ve rarely felt over the series’ thirty-year run of Universal Century, Wing and SEED.

Though I was initially turned off by the inclusion of the Trinity Gundams, their storyline twists in to a very unexpected conclusion. Furthermore, I have to thank those characters for throwing Celestial Being in to self-serving situations that reveal more background about these fantastic characters. Setsuna and Lockon discover a very unsettling bond that actually strengthens their friendship and tightens the Gundam meisters’ relationships as a whole.

The supporting characters never seem to float to the center of the meisters’ lives, but they maintain their relevance due to how the Gundam’s actions affect them. Saji Crossroad (a non-too subtle name for a person inadvertently crossing paths with Setsuna) loses everything he holds dear due to the Gundam’s interventions—Both by Team Trinity and Celestial Being. His storyline should be the most boring and non-crucial arc in the entire series. I have to give the writers props for getting me to care about him and his life. Saji is crucial because his trials represent the flaws behind the Gundam’s actions. He is not a soldier. He’s not a man who will surely seek revenge against the Gundams and become a pilot in a cliché move to be the next villain. He is a scared boy whose life was destroyed by a terrible string of world events and, like most people, he moves on. Never say, “it doesn’t concern me.”

On the flip side, Setsuna’s character reaches a half-hearted conclusion about his plan to fight fire with fire—It’s not assuredly strong, but it’s enough to keep the character going as we see some fan favorites get obliterated. A rather surprising swan song represents one of the best moments in the Gundam series and a demise for anime fans everywhere to remember. (I’m still cursing the sky over this one.)

Meanwhile, Team Trinity’s story is wrapped with much tragedy, escalating the battle against Celestial Being to new heights; placing adversaries in the perfect face-offs and closing the technological gap between Earth’s forces and the Gundam units. This is where the suspense begins to take center stage and the build-up is more than enough to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. Suddenly the Gundams aren’t the god-like juggernauts we’ve seen and the meisters find themselves drawing the short end.

The final chapter to the season isn’t without faults though. Soma Peries, a supporting player I had initially despised, is showcased a great deal but doesn’t become the interesting character she should be until the show’s final moments. Oh, it's season 2 cliffhanger material for sure, but it would’ve been nice to pull that card earlier. The Trinity’s existence is somewhat glazed over. The pseudo-explanation was better than some of Lost’s attempts, but left a faint look of confusion on my face regardless.

Though nothing disappointed me more than Setsuna’s final showdown with Graham Aker. It’s as if the writers ran out of time and decided to slip in Graham’s vendetta at last minute. It was an unjust move for such a strong character, but at least the spouting of differences between him and Setsuna make for an interesting, though pretentious, commentary on the world.

It’s not without some glaring flaws and a lot of questions to answer in season 2, but season 1 of Gundam 00 ends with some intense action, gut-wrenching character closure and a promise that the next twenty-five episodes will be interesting indeed. Universal Century fans can revile it all they want for having powerful Gundams, or pretty-boy character designs. The fact is 00 pushed the series in to a new and relevant place. As good as Unicorn looks, I don’t think it will do the same.

***½ out of ****

Saturday, May 22, 2010

MOVIE REVIEW - Alice in Wonderland

It’s very possible that Tim Burton’s best days are long behind him. If you’ve never read Alice in Wonderland, do me a favor. Google it. Read the synopsis on Wikipedia. Or go on Sparknotes. Then continue this review. Done? Pretty ridiculous right? For better or for worse, it sounds like the type of bizarre story that Burton ejaculates on the screen every time he’s given a script. Burton was once an inspiring visual master-- Baking a unique, yet beautiful cake with great characters standing atop some wonderfully bizarre icing. (Edward Scissorhands anyone? Beetlejuice? Batman?) Alright, alright. I should really stop looking at what these great directors used to be… I know. So what’s wrong with Alice in Wonderland? Problem number one, and the main flaw, it doesn’t feel like Alice in Wonderland at all.

Alice, now all-grow’d-up, once again follows a White Rabbit to a bizarre world where she re-unites with the Mad Hatter and other beloved characters. She then struggles to remember her previous journey to Wonderland and accept the destiny of saving it... and slay a dragon. “Well no shit it doesn’t feel like Alice in Wonderland, GMAN! It’s a different story!” Noted. But you can’t make a sequel to a classic book without keeping to what made it legendary. Instead, the unfittingly epic battles pushed the film’s atmosphere closer to a Narnia flick than anything Lewis Carroll would’ve approved for Alice.

Burton stated that he felt the book was nothing more than Alice wandering from one inane character to another. Perhaps, but it was the quirkiness of these characters and the lack of sense-making that garnered such a huge following. I’m sure fans would have rather watched Alice recite “Tis the Voice of the Lobster” instead of slay a dragon. I stand firm in the position that casual moviegoers who are not familiar with the source material could've also enjoyed the peculiar world without a re-play of Prince Caspin’s climax. The action was a cop out and it was an unnecessary focus to a world that was fine without it.

Oh, sure, the visuals are great and the character designs are what we have come to expect of Burton’s films. Surprisingly, even Johnny Depp is subdued, keeping the film focused on the title character. I was in shock that this was one of the praiseworthy things about the movie. I mean, really-- How easy would it have been for Depp’s Hatter to upstage Mia Wasikowska’s Alice? Do I shake the editor’s hand or Burton’s? I know it’s not the writer’s doing.

Even with the unlikelihood that Alice would have gone on such a bombastic journey in Wonderland, I suppose the film’s story could have worked had it maintained the odd quirks that make Wonderland a wonder. Lewis Carroll is often accused of being high while writing Alice’s adventures. I can’t say I thought the same of Burton while watching his vision. (Although I’m sure someone could make the case…) Such a misfire comes off as utterly forgettable and that, my three or four readers out there in the inter-webs, is a much greater sin than being outright terrible. (Example.)

* out of ****

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Top 5 Best and Worst of 2009

It’s that time kids. My top five best and worst films of 2009. The list pretty much speaks for itself, so lets roll with it:


TOP 5 BEST OF 2009




5. Public Enemies **** out of ****
Nope it wasn’t nominated for anything. It wasn’t even particularly well received by critics, but that’s their loss. Johnny Depp flexes some of his best acting muscles and Christian Bale is equally impressive. Meanwhile, it’s absolutely criminal that Billy Crudup was not nominated for a supporting actor. Despite the lack of attention given to this fine film, Michael Mann made an excellent comeback with this top notch, suave and thrilling period piece. Gangster films tend to look worse and worse as years go by, but Public Enemies put the “cool” back in it while extending the beautiful merits of digital cinema.

FULL REVIEW



4. Up
**** out of ****
A movie I wish I saw earlier in the year. After Pixar proved they could go outside the box with their stories in Wall-E, Up proved that great story telling can be minimalistic, but take different forms—And I’m not talking about the fact it’s a CG animated motion picture. With a gut-wrenching opening, impressively chalked with nearly no lines, and a wonderful reverence to the value of time (and life), Up ranks among Pixar’s very best films.

NOT REVIEWED



3. Inglourious Basterds
**** out of ****
Where do I begin? If it’s not Tarantino’s best movie, which I think it is, then it’s at least my favorite. A return to form for the great director, Inglourious Basterds is tiled with memorable characters, great laughs and some of the most fascinating scenes to grace the screen in years. His craft has never looked this perfect and my love for film has seldom been as passionate as it is when I watch this movie.


FULL REVIEW




2. Up in the Air
**** out of ****
Jason Reitman knocks another one out of the park. Bringing text-book modernism back to the screen turned out to be a wonderful move. Up in the Air explores the paths of living in the current economic climate and ends at a destination of your choice. Strong and very funny characters carry the audience along for the journey.


FULL REVIEW



1. The Hurt Locker
**** out of ****
And this is the one. Kathryn Bigelow’s war tale isn’t so much about war as it is about those who fight them. Focusing on an adrenaline fueled main character, played by the impressive Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker expresses the deepest and darkest fears of those involved in war—Including the love for it. It’s the Saving Private Ryan of our generation and it scares the hell out of me. “Awesome.” Simply put, and you can’t call too many “bests of the year” this, but it is absolutely “awesome.” I’ll be rooting for it Sunday night.

FULL REVIEW


TOP 5 WORST MOVIES OF 2009





5. X-Men Origins: Wolverine
*½ out of ****
Though I’ll admit it gets better with repeated viewings, it’s still a mess. What should have been a dark, psychological origin story turns in to a bad X-Men 4, with characters that shouldn’t be involved and some really poor writing. Sure the action is fun, but reducing the title character to survive every suicidal stunt possible makes him a bore. So why care about him?


FULL REVIEW



4. The Men Who Stare At Goats
* out of ****
Hippy bullshit for the masses. An all-star cast of some of the world’s best actors slip and fall face first in the dirt clot that is this movie’s script. Incoherent, contrived and contradicting-- Goats had the potential of a great movie. But it’s not a great movie. It’s just a great, big, boring disappointment. What a waste.

FULL REVIEW



3. The Hangover * out of ****
Because there’s not enough stupid, college student targeted Mt. Everests of crap out there. What scares me is that this film, the same EXACT humor we’ve seen in other terrible movies i.e. Wedding Crashers, Superbad, Knocked Up, 40 Year Old Virgin..etc… is what passes off as funny to its target audience: Dumb college students. The future of our world assuring more bad comedy is made! Lets go through the list of predictability: Drunk jokes. Check. Not sure what happened on the “crazy” night before to incite certain [non]humor. Check. Bad Las Vagas clichés. Check. Bad movie. Check and mate.

NOT REVIEWED


2. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen ½ out of ****
Big, loud and stupid can be fun if the flick has certain charm to it. But this doesn’t. Bay tries way too hard to make it the “ultimate” summer flick, but bigger isn’t always better, and a lack of restraint seems to be dangerous. It’s as if the movie prefers to be as dumb as possible—Such a film makes me wonder how some directors/writers get away with what they do. Then again, what producer okays it?

FULL REVIEW


1. Dragonball: Evolution ½ out of ****
‘Nuff said…

FULL REVIEW

MOVIE REVIEW - Up in the Air

There’s a lot to be said about a film that examines the philosophy of living space. Materialistic living and courtly relationships have to be questioned without resolve in order to pull off the idea that there are many ways to go about one’s life. Up in the Air does just that—Without turning in to a giant cliché of any given film genre, director Jason Reitman’s latest masterpiece is relevant enough to tantalize the hearts of those unsure about jobs, relationships and, ultimately, where the hell to go in life.

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) travels nearly non-stop from city to city to “dismiss” people being laid-off. When his frequent flyer miles plunges him in to a potential relationship, (Alex) an ambitious, but a naive new co-worker (Natalie) shadows him and prompts him to look at his happy seclusion in a different light.

Once again my vague synopses put readers at a disadvantage, but to divulge any further would take away from the films’ experience. Furthermore, as preachy as I make this movie, it actually stays away from being over-bearing. Instead of feeling like a pretentious art house boob with unrelatable insights, it reaches far in to the climate of today’s troubles and beyond.

Clooney’s Bingham is the man everyone does and does not want to be. He twists and turns throughout the movie with a slow exit from certainty. Is living on the move from one hotel to another really what he wants? Is Natalie’s American dream more likable? Is Ryan’s poor, underprivileged brother-in-law’s quest for love-over-success worth it? Like most modernistic films there’s not so much a straight answer as there is an examination. And there in lies the beauty of Up in the Air—It really is up in the air.

One of Reitman’s great talents is always pulling out the best of characters in the worst conditions, and what’s great is that their choices are never predictable! If Juno was his take on adult-like adolescence, Up in the Air is his extreme evolution of characters from Thank You for Smoking. Bingham, like Eckhart’s character in Smoking, is suave, smart and more professional than your dad on career day. But later on the many roads of life haunt him; though he ushers those who have lost jobs to take different paths every day, the same suggestion causes him to lose a focus many people can relate to. (Don’t tell me you’ve never looked at the ceiling and wondered, “What the hell am I suppose to be doing/should do/want to do.?” Angst. Tears. My Chemical Romance. All that fun stuff.)

Thankfully, instead of telling the audience there’s only one correct path, Reitman leaves us with a mesmerized Ryan Bingham, looking at the different paths he could take for his future. Reminding me of Cast Away's ending, Up in the Air throws a whole list of air travel destinations instead of a three-way road. I find Bingham’s choices a little more realistic. Sure such a list can be overwhelming, but when is life not overwhelming? Plus look at all the fun destinations! I really enjoyed where Reitman went with this film and if he continues this type of quality he may end up being one of the very best modern directors of our time. If it's not his best film, it's close.

**** out of ****

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Elements of Film Art - Sullivan's Travels and Preaching Not to Preach

I'll be posting these "reaction papers" every week. Originally for a class, these short write-ups are mainly simple overviews of elements from films I've screened in classes. These are primarily written for those who have seen the film, so if you haven't watched the movie of topic it won't make a lot of sense. Moving on...

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It’s amazing how one’s perception on a film changes within its own running time. Although I greatly enjoyed Sullivan’s Travels by the end of the movie I could only think about how its existence is a contradiction.

Sullivan’s Travels
begins with great promise, but as it moves forward I can’t help but wonder if it lost its identity. Supposedly a screwball comedy, Sullivan’s Travels certainly doesn’t evoke the same laughter that His Girl Friday does. In fact the comedy feels very second tier to the dramatic elements. It’s almost as if director Sturges wanted exactly what Sullivan wants in the movie: To make a serious picture about the men and women suffering during the economic crisis. But to avoid looking too hypocritical, given the script’s “message,” he sprinkles some comedy here or there to pass it off as a screwball delight.

Now I doubt that’s really how Sturges thought of this movie, but its insight does confuse me. After spending so much time with a montage on the poor and watching the characters experience similar conditions the audience is given an ending that makes it all feel like a fluke. If laughter is really all people need, or want, then why did a “tramp” steal Sullivan’s shoes and money?

While looking through information on Sullivan’s Travels I stumbled upon a quote from The Hollywood Reporter that adequately sums up my feelings for the film, “[The film] fails to heed the message that writer Sturges proves in his script. Laughter is the thing people want-not social studies." Indeed if Sullivan’s final line were the case, where’s the laughter? Watching an ocean of homeless engulf an alley and dine on trashcans isn’t exactly hysterical. Sure Sullivan and “The Girl” grant us a few laughs, but it’s never a straight shot.

Going back to my His Girl Friday comparison, a movie I consider the king of screwball comedies, that film granted laughs every ten seconds. Sullivan’s Travels, however, lingers from one genre to another without a smooth transition. (For example, after the amusing image of a sick Sullivan swearing he’ll go back on the streets fades away the audience is gifted with a depressing montage of tramp-life at its finest.) Despite its screwball comedy reputation there’s heavy attention to serious drama. Include a moral that makes my head spin and I remain confused as to how seriously I should (or should not) take the film. On the other hand, such a contradicting film could be considered a work of genius. Like a double negative, maybe it’s supposed to support both a social commentary and a surrender to thoughtless entertainment. Although, either way it still feels messy.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

MOVIE REVIEW - The Hurt Locker

About halfway through The Hurt Locker, Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner) stumbles upon a crude bomb workspace with a locker standing between two desks. There is no mention of it by the characters. They don’t open it, hell, I don’t think they even look at it. I can assume there are only bomb parts in that locker, thus making it a candidate for the film’s title. Of course the real hurt locker is present-day Iraq, but I have to wonder if that ominous locker was placed for its own aesthetic metaphor. It may sound pretentious, but it’s these same nuances that make The Hurt Locker the masterpiece it is.

Sgt. William James becomes the new team leader of an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit. His teammates deem him reckless in his search for adrenaline—In contrast Sgt. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) is extremely by-the-book with the way he handles bomb tasks, and Spc. Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) lives every day in fear of death. The disparity between James and Eldridge is the most interesting comparison of today's soldiers. Whereas James will march in to a wired car without any protection, Eldridge is constantly seeking counsel from commanding officers. The film begins with a quote from journalist Chris Hedges, "The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug." This line becomes the crutch of James’ character, and it’s a crutch that scares the hell out of me.

Going back to the EOD’s infiltration of an insurgent bomb facility, James finds himself with a dead body-bomb in which he believes was a child he befriended earlier. Whether it is the child or not becomes a mute point as James continuously searches for more reasons to enter combat. This is a side of reality I’ve always been interested to see explored. So few movies touch on the soldiers who know nothing but war. Sure, First Blood was built on that, but it didn’t retain the believability that The Hurt Locker does. It’s not that James is a bad person. He’s not a warmonger or a ruthless killer by any means. In fact he may have fired the least amount of weapons in the entire movie. He simply only knows how to acknowledge his existence in the battlefield.

Along with the near-maddening mentality the characters ooze off the screen comes a tension unmatched by most films of the last decade. Prepare to chew your arm off as a frustrated James scrambles to defuse a car bomb while more and more on-lookers gather. Any of them could hold the detonator. Any of them could have planted the bomb. But no one knows for sure. It’s maddening that this is the type of combat that goes on today. Such knowledge only increases the nails-on-a-chalkboard suspense that crosses from the screen to your gut.

Oh no worries. Your stomach gets a break from all the punching the movie gives you now and then. (Amusingly, our main characters play a “manly” game of hitting each other in the gut that seems to embody what the movie is doing to its audience.) But when the last minute of the movie spins to Sgt. James’s destiny a far more terrifying realization hit me. He’s necessary. In a world with such insane venues as Iraq, this fictional character is a must. And then, perhaps just as scary, I become at ease with the idea that people like him exist. Should I? Don't know. Maybe I feel safer or maybe I'm just glad its not me out there.

With this fixation on William James, I can’t say The Hurt Locker is specifically about the Iraq War. It’s even possible the title refers to any battlefield a man stands on, but I won’t proclaim the movie is, “just about war.” Such a cliché undermines its value. Rather, The Hurt Locker stands for warriors—Warriors of today and their mentality during battle. They might be scared or they might be fearless. They could feel empowered or they might appear powerless. They might not like each other, but they’ll live with each other. The Hurt Locker doesn’t stand on a side of the political fence it worries about the modern day American soldier. If this film is any indication their job isn’t as easy as looking for a sign that says “bad guy” and squeezing the trigger. Nope, when the smoke clears, The Hurt Locker feels more like a horror picture than a war flick. Perhaps that’s an indicator of its realism. I’d have to go to Iraq to know for sure. Watch this movie and let me know if you're up for the trip.

**** out of ****

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

MOVIE REVIEW - Avatar

When Star Wars launched its phenomenon in 1977 it was completely unpredicted. This little fantasy/sci-fi picture defined a decade and has since continued to be one of the top money making franchises of all time. There was no hype. It was an explosion of bewildering success and greatness. So it’s of no surprise that studios and filmmakers have tried to recreate that scenario; but the idea that you can create such leviathans with sheer will is arrogance cooked on stupidity. The latest example is the decade’s ultimate hype-machine: Avatar.

The movie’s story? Let’s put it this way. While watching the movie my significant other leaned in to note how similar it was to Disney’s Pocahontas. My mouth hit the floor with what I can only assume was an astonishing thud—I’m sure I looked like a sorority girl on game night. She nailed it! Mind you this was said to me before either one of us saw THIS. Sure, she could have said Dances With Wolves and she would have been equally correct, but Avatar’s resemblance to the Disney film is so uncanny I had to stop and think: James Cameron had fifteen years to refine this script?

Whatever… Now you know the story of Avatar to an absolute tee. Is the absurd predictability of the story a problem? That depends on the audience. If you’re in to the irrelevant exercise of looking for originality you’ll probably hate Avatar. If you can stomach the fact that this story has been told at least four or five times per decade, post-1950s, then it can certainly be a rewarding experience. Otherwise enjoy the over-exposition of a cliché, trigger-happy badass and his military constantly bullying the savage protagonists and their “enlightened” ways. Are military folk always this thoughtless? Are native savages always right no matter what? Is blue alien sex really that hot? Yikes…

So, to that reward I mentioned. As you might have imagined, the special effects really are fantastic. Though I feel the comparisons to Jurassic Park are exaggerated, Avatar has a claim to creating photo-realistic characters and environments that will do well to aid future special effects features. The most intriguing thing about Avatar is its setting. Pandora, the planet, is truly beautiful and an incredible technical achievement that I can bank on being used again and again. Couple that with Cameron’s penchant for aggressive action sequences and you have a recipe for some exciting visuals.

However, it is a shame that these visuals are wasted on such derivative designs. As cool as the world is, putting two sets of front legs on every known animal on Earth and then painting it blue isn’t exactly what I call creative. But neither is the giant robots conjuring images from The Matrix Revolutions.

Okay, okay, I’m probably being a bit harsh. Avatar isn’t a terrible film at all, really. For its unoriginality it’s actually well told and boasts some impressive performances from most of the major players—Especially Sam Worthington! But the success of Cameron’s film relies on the hype he built for it. There was no explosion and, like the movie, there was nothing unexpected about it raping the box office. But if you strip off the fancy effects and incredible advertising you're left with just another character epic. Cameron use to be a master of great and original filmmaking, now he’s proving gimmicks are enough to make a “good movie.” It frightens me there’s a majority okay with this.

** out ****

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Download to Donate: Haiti


Linkin Park is in battle-mode with their Music For Relief foundation. They've brought some artists together and released a free benefit EP for Haiti. The catch? No catch. The music is free, whether you donate or not. But unless your dick is up your own mouth, you should donate-- Especially if you download the songs.

Excellent cause and organization Linkin Park. Donate what you can, if you can.

LINK: MUSIC FOR RELIEF - DOWNLOAD TO DONATE: HAITI

Tracks:

1) Not Alone - Linkin Park

2) Mother Maria - Slash feat. Beth Hart

3) Never Let Me Down - Kenna feat. Mike Shinoda and Chad Hugo

4) Heroes - Peter Gabriel

5) Still (Acoustic Session) - Alanis Morissette

6) Resurrection - Lupe Fiasco and Kenna feat. Mike Shinoda

7) We Are One - Hoobastank

8) The Wind Blows - All-American Rejects

9) It Must Be Love - Enrique Iglesias

10) Typical Situation (Live) - Dave Matthew Band

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Predator Buzz

So the other day while I was wasting more of my life, surfing movie news sites, nerd forums and gangbang videos co-staring AIDs, I tripped over the rather shocking realization that the the next Predator movie, Predators, comes out this July. And here I was thinking it was set for a 2011 release. Currently, I'm not sure if the movie has wrapped production and is on the editing room floor. Although it wouldn't surprise me if it wasn't half-way done shooting given how Fox enjoys the most unrealistic production schedules. On the other hand Robert Rodriguez's "studio" seems to have full reign of the film. Who knows where it sits currently.

The director, with the unfortunate name of Nimrod Antal, seems to be getting some positive buzz from this production. I hope his previous works (Vacancy, Armored) aren't a reflection on what this movie is.

Staring Adrian Brody and Laurence Fishburne, I can only hope Rodriguez's hand in the script will make this the Predator film it should be. As much as I enjoyed AVP-R in a sick, "so bad, it's good" kind of way, I have no desire to revisit that type of mindlessness. I long for a Predator feature with the suspense and ambiguity John McTiernan fed us in the original. (And some messy kills fitting of an alien hunter.)

So where did my shameless surfing lead me? To some rather cool on-set pictures:





You really can't tell how good the movie is going to be from these pictures alone, but I'm enjoying the look of both the human and "yuatjaian" characters. Some fans have pointed out that if you look behind Adrian Brody, in the second photo, it features Stan Winston's original design of the creature. I think its both too far away and too blurry to make that claim, but time will tell. I really like these designs though. Come on Nimrod! No more AVP foul-ups are tolerated. Hell, these days Predator 2 seems like a worthwhile bar to hit!

Predators, in theaters July 9th. This year. (WAAH?)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Lionsgate May Acquire Terminator Rights

Now that you've read the title lets assume you've asked, "For how much?" Well, apparently for the lowest common denominator. $15 million. (Halcyon was trying to sell it for $60-70 million. Ouch!) The Terminator rights aren't exactly being dogpiled by a lot of studios and my hopes of Warner Brothers acquiring it seems to be nowhere in sight. (So things are looking bleak for The Sarah Connor Chronicles.) The next in line is Summit, who is coming up in the ranks with the money they've made from the Twilight movies and a quality picture with The Hurt Locker. Despite Twilight I'd prefer Summit to grab the rights, but I have a strong feeling that's not happening.

So what say The Resistance out there? Is the studio that's given us the horrendous Saw series, Hostel, Delta Farce, the Transporter trilogy and bad documentaries really what we want for the series? And what of TSCC? Will it get a second go from Warner Brothers when the final decision is released this February?

You see that mushroom cloud? That's not Skynet. That's the franchise...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

MOVIE REVIEW - Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day



EDIT: Synopsis fixed for the Boston-ites/hard core fans.

Oh, what a rush. The Boondock Saints doesn’t really have the greatest reputation among film critics, but I suppose the liberal media would slam movies like these. Being something of the year’s anti-Men Who Stare at Goats, I was pleased with the no holds barred approach of The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day. So I’m going to side-step the educated, snob-a-thon critic bullshit this time and praise it for what it is: A movie that hangs its nuts without any intention of putting them away.

After going in to hiding, the death of a priest lures the MacManus Brothers back to Boston for more “gratuitous violence.” But it turns out to be the genesis of a much larger problem that goes back before their conception. Thus, Daddy MacManus steps in to confront his past. Among the returnees are newcomers Clifton Collins Jr. as Romeo and Julie Benz as Agent Eunice Bloom. I wasn’t too keen on their addition at first, but once the movie gets rolling you won’t want them to leave.

While the film attempts to answer some questions about the MacManus family we still get what we came for—More punishment than The Punisher could ditch out. The question of whether or not they’re doing right or wrong is never brought up again. Frankly it doesn’t need to be. Murphy and Connor are completely at piece with their job and firmly believe in destroying evil. What's important is this leads to more over-the-top action sequences, some hysterical dialogue and, yes, the return of the “fucking rope.” Add to the mix Rocco’s cameo (and his cat) which distinctly slams everything Men Who Stare at Goats stood for with, “I am so sick of all of this self help, twelve step, leftover hippie generation bullshit!” and you have a recipe for a man movie. What is a man movie you ask? Many have forgotten. Predator and Dirty Harry fit the bill, but man movies don’t quite jump at you like they use to. I blame George Lucas. I can’t think of any examples since Greedo shot first. That’s another rant for another day.

What’s important to come away with is accepting, and enjoying, how the film makes no apology for being the cinematic equivalent of a hardened assassin. It is an exercise in badassery (yup, my word again) and a non-to-subtle reminder of everything a guy wishes he would be. It spits at political correctness with a grimace and smirks while shooting bad guys. Sure there isn’t much character development, but how do you develop characters as hardened and devout as the MacManus Brothers? While the most interesting players tend to be the new kids and the talented Billy Connelly as “Il Duce” (Papa MacManus), we never lose that aspiring glance we give Connor and Murphy as they slide to their knees with two guns. Why? ‘Cause they’re just that damn cool.

I’m not here to say The Boondock Saints II is the greatest balls out action flick ever, or even of the year, but it is a satisfying sequel with no interest in social sensitivity. It doesn’t make me wonder how right or wrong their actions are like the first one, but I don’t think director Troy Duffy is too concerned with those questions here. No, this time it’s about gifting the fans and keeping The Saints true to their word. Lets top it off with a very surprising ending that begs for another sequel and the politically incorrect extermination of “evil men.” Bring back the MacManus Brothers. I’m ready for round three!

*** out of ****