Monday, June 30, 2008

Review: Wanted

Night Watch director Timur Bekmambetov delivers his first American film, which stars James McAvoy and Angelina Jolie as Matrix-style assassins in Wanted, a big-budget interpretation of yet another comic book we've never heard of. The film is slick and flashy... and not much else.

The highlights: great cast, great action--in particular there was this one sequence on a train that will knock your socks off. The slow-mo gunplay bits (bullets curving, striking each other, etc) include variations on "bullet time" that are different enough to never feel like the film is an out-and-out Matrix rip-off. Jolie is superb and sublime, fans will recognize her... um, bare ass... Fans of the Night Watch films will see Anton show up and talk about rats. Also, it's unabashedly R-rated--in a Hollywood film-culture in which any other comic book movie would get a PG-13. They use the added freedom to trump up the violence and language, to good effect--the end result is coarse and gritty.

The lowlights: first and foremost, over-narration. Rule number one of cinema: don't tell, show. Granted, it's no Sin City (which was thoroughly ruined for me by constantly telling me what I was seeing), but there's a difference between foreshadowing and telegraphing the climax. Also, the dialog was sub-par. McAvoy's catch phrase throughout was "I'm sorry", which is weak sauce, if you ask me. So, call it a one-two punch of talking too much and not having anything interesting to say.

Overview: it feels like a fabulously made B-movie. It's fun, frenetic, and pulse pounding, if a bit shallow and poorly-worded. Also, Angelina Jolie's bare ass, if you're into that sort of thing.

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

I'm Burnin', I'm Burnin', I'm Burnin' for You

When I was in junior high, I was playing around underneath a cot and ended up chipping a tooth on the metal frame. I also have a scar from when I was 4 and ran into a mailbox. I once bounced off a tree while sledding down a hill on an inner tube.

Last night, I earned another injury that resulted directly from behavior that was not particularly bright or responsible. I will preface this by saying that I was already drunk. I'd drained a flask of Bacardi and had finished about four beers, plus whatever Everclear I had absorbed through my cheeks. Here's what we were doing:

Get a mouth full of grain alcohol. Spray it atomizer-style into a tiki torch. Try not to hit anything flammable with your firey spit.

Long story short, my aim sucks and I lit my hand on fire.

But it's fine now, just first and second degree burns. Didn't even lose any arm hair.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Review: Wall-E

As movie theater experiences go, children's movies are the worst. Kids are not polite film patrons, and 90% of children's movies are absolute garbage. I'm sorry, but cross-dressing lemurs who like to move it, move it, are not entertaining. At all. Seriously. And even if the film turns out to be a gem, you'll be subjected to a deluge of previews for the most god-awful tripe ever conceived. Of the shite I endured last night, Beverly Hills Chihuahua had the most profound effect on my gag reflex.

Yet, amongst the din, Pixar shines through, setting themselves apart from the rest of the animation world by actually making, you know, real movies.

We've watched them grow up over the years. Toy Story was a simple, enjoyable tale that had fake-looking characters in a fairly stark environment, but it worked because they played to their strengths and based the film on quality voice-acting (if not necessarily the biggest-name actors, yes Tom Hanks is a star, but there's not a Cameron Diaz in the cast), and a compelling, smart story. A Bug's Life elaborated on the technical side, giving us more complicated environments and complex character designs. Even more so, Monsters, Inc (although, full disclosure, I don't care for M,I all that much). Then it's like a contest: what's hard? Water's hard. Very well, Finding Nemo. What else is hard? Humans are tough, let's do a cast with nothing but humans. The Incredibles, it is. Hair is tricky. Ratatouille, then. Owen Wilson and Larry-the-Cable-Guy as believable leading men? Impossible you say?

But as technical achievements go, Wall-E is a freaking event. Not only have they created characters and environments that are able to seamlessly integrate with live-action photography (yes, I know Happy Feet did that too, but it looked fake and the movie was crap), not only were they able to convey a complex story about courage, devotion, and loneliness through a character whose vocabulary is limited to "Wall-E", "Eve", "Mo", "Directive", and "Ta-da!", not only did they infuse a story with an environmental message that doesn't brow beat an adult audience, but they do it all with such style and flair that it's worth seeing in big-screen grandeur in spite of the kids that watch it and the kid-tailored putrescence that precedes it.

And breath.

The highlights: The first twenty minutes are remarkable, they convey an imminent sense of emptiness and solitude, and introduce and endear us to our hero: a little mobile trash compactor who could be the love child of Johnny 5 and a toaster oven. The characters walk a fine line: acting enough like machines to be believable as robots, but acting enough like humans to be sympathetic and interesting characters. Wall-E is brimming-over with personality (no surprise--have you seen the short film Pixar did with the lamp?). The environments are rich and detailed and there are subtle tips of the hat to sci-fi masterpieces (2001: A Space Odyssey gets a few well-earned nods). The Thomas Newman score is delectable, and it's just a damned fun ride from start to finish. Even the ending, though somewhat predictable, is a bit wrenching. But more than anything else, it's smart and thought-provoking.

The lowlights: After the emotional and visual powerhouses of Acts 1 and 2 of the film, Act 3 is a little bit of a let-down. It's a sublime and fast-paced let-down, and it beats the pants off of anything in, oh, say, Madagascar, but it just doesn't quite measure up to the first two-thirds. It's still incredibly fun, though.

Overall: Wall-E is a near-perfect master stroke. Rather than the pleasant surprise of an unexpected gem (Shrek 2 comes to mind), this is an expected gem, another brilliant film from a company that has established itself as a maker of brilliant films. It may, in fact, the be only bright feather left in Disney's filmic cap.

Of course, I just saw the trailer for Beverly Hills Chihuahua, so I'm a bit jaded.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

RIP: George Carlin

So George Carlin is dead. The world utters a collective "Shit!" at the loss.

I couldn't help but notice how much a young George Carlin looks like Jason Lee. I guess we know who'll be playing the lead when Kevin Smith makes the Carlin biopic.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

They Say It's Your Birthday

Remember when Elizabeth Shue sees herself in the doorway during Back to the Future 2 and screams "I'm old" and faints.

I'm totally not having one of those moments today.

I'm 28 today. Go me. I'm approaching the big 3-0 (and someone once told me that 30 is the new 40, although for the life of me I have no idea what the hell she was talking about).

Celebration will involve, in it's entirety, dinner out. As it stands, my birthday is the closing ceremony for the 3-day binge of birthday parties in my household. Abby's birthday is two days before mine, and I suspect that when she and I start planning a family, we'll be aiming for June just to keep things simple. Should make for some interesting Septembers. I digress.

Saturday for Abby trumps anything that might happen for me today. In addition to wedding photos and steak dinner (my woman loves her red meat), her Master's diploma and stimulus check both arrived that day. Well done, indeed.

And I'm fine with all that. I'm well past the point when birthdays are a big deal. All I can say is that 28 feels an awful lot like 27, but not nearly as much as 27 felt like 26. Weird.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Billy the Fish?... oh, William of Wales, I Get It

So Prince William of Wales was made a Knight yesterday, June 16th, just 5 days before his 26th birthday.

Because, really, what do you get a boy who has everything? He already has a flower named after him.

Per Wikipedia, he is officially styled "His Royal Highness Prince William of Wales", although his parents used to call him "Wombat"... his RAF callsign was "Billy the Fish"....

While there are many things that I admire about the English system of government, the royalty is not something I would ever want to try here in America, unless, of course, we can start making references to George "Wombat" Bush.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

This Beautiful Mess

The Sixpence None the Richer that I love is not the SNtR that you know. The band you know put out a bunch of pop-ballad garbage that earned them notoriety from the "Dawson's Creek" gang. But before they collapsed into drivel, they had some meaningful work, which I've been re-discovering lately. I heartily recommend (to anyone) 1995's This Beautiful Mess, an alt-rock gem, heavily inspired by The Cure. It's lilting, clever, sophisticated, and frank. In many ways, it stands as a stark contrast to 1997's eponymous album that featured the 1999 single Kiss Me and launched the band into disposable pop-fluff stardom. It's worth noting that the interim involved changes in line-up and management.

Just as a side note, while Sixpence in '95 was a Christian band, TBM is not the kind of album that ostracizes non-Christian listeners. Christian-to-mainstream crossover hits were popular in the mid 90's (see also Jars of Clay, Amy Grant, et al). So you frequently ended up with vaguely religious non-singles and a few songs that obliquely referenced biblical stores or events (See Flood or in this case The Garden).

The first thing you'll notice about the album is that it's quiet. But that's okay--it's not mastered poorly, it's just not compressed within an inch of it's life. Your ears will thank you. Yes, it's a little quieter over all, but it's dynamic, it's lively, it has definition. It breathes. Just cautiously rotate the volume knob clockwise until it reaches a comfortable level, then turn it down a few degrees because once it will get loud in just a second. The beginning of the song is very quiet and soothing, just to mess with you.

Some highlights:

Angeltread - the opening track, one that really draws you in. It oscillates between scintillating and scathing as the verses lull and the choruses soar. Very dynamic.

Love, Salvation, the Fear of Death - the intro riff is an attention-grabber with the delayed bass/guitar interplay.

Within a Room, Somewhere - another title that leads me to believe that the lyrics were written by someone with a poetry background. This is the best song off the album and it has a great instrumental outro. For devotees, there's a demo version of this song with an even longer guitar break outro on the Tickets for a Prayer Wheel EP. This song really showcases the soundscape of the album: jangly guitars mixed with nasty guitars mixed with atmospheric guitars and just enough space left for Leigh Nash's tasty soprano vocals.

Circle of Error - this is the one you'll be singing to yourself after the album is over. It's placement as track 6 of 12 is, in my humble opinion, the result of a Side-A/Side-B mentality left over from the days of the cassette tape. I wonder if, were the record produced today, if it would have been pushed back a few tracks to bridge from Act II into a finale, rather a bookend shoved into the middle because the of mandates of the format.

That said, the album is front-loaded with the more memorable songs, and the back, while exquisite, is a bit more evanescent right up until...

I Can't Explain - This is how you close an album, with a high-powered coda. After a much slower, more introspective second-half, this track kicks the disc back into top gear. The ending of the song also demonstrates some of the fun things a mix engineer can do with tape flanges, but I won't spoil it for you.

So if you get the chance, give this album a listen, because it far exceeds anything the band did afterwards, and because good new music is so hard to find. It's nice to know that maybe there's some good old music you haven't discovered yet.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

New Beck Soon

So Beck has an album due out September 20th. As yet un-named, it was produced by Danger Mouse (of Gnarls Barkley fame).

I'm stoked.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

An Open Letter to the Foreign Purveyors of File-Host Sites

So you want to make some money on the internet. Be my guest. You find that there's a lot to be made in porn. Groovy. To each his own. Live and let live, I say. And so you advertise "adult" stuff when you host files/videos that would be categorized as Not-Safe-For-Work.

And you want to take it a step further and use cartoon characters in these ads that would be familiar to American audiences. I gotta be honest, I find the depiction of popular cartoon characters engaged in explicit sexual acts to be vaguely unsettling, not to mention a bit distracting. It would be one thing if there were some artistic statement being made. Maybe if Mickey Mouse were corn-holing the Statue of Liberty or something. But no, this is pretty shameless commercial exploitation, which I don't have an inherent problem with, but you have got to start doing a little more research. Let's take a look (metaphorically speaking--I'm not actually going to post pictures here).

Peter and Lois Griffin a la Family Guy, well, it's not like they don't have sex on the show. Fine, whatever, I can dig it.

Mario and Princess Peach a la Super Mario Bros. Wow. Again, not really my thing, but it makes sense, it reaches your audience of nerdy, lonely men. It's certainly not the first time anyone has drawn Peach in the buff.

But I have to draw the line at Lisa and Bart Simpson. You've drawn them as adults, so it's not cartoon kiddie porn--way to sidestep that one. But at the end of the day, you still have a picture of a girl fellating her brother. And for that to pop up (so to speak) at the side of the screen makes it fairly difficult for me to watch... well... anything. Maybe you could substitute the Scooby-Doo gang, or something else that is less immediately sick and wrong.

Just a thought,
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