Thursday, November 19, 2009

Those two people who have bothered to look at my blog(s) in the past know that I'm not particularly diligent about keeping an active posting regime.

I tell myself that no one else is possibly that interested in what I'm writing/thinking about and it's an exercise in pre-diagnosed narcissism to think otherwise. I still think this is true.

However, I've decided that in a moment of opportunity, and to help spur myself onto better habits, that I'll use the ol' faithful Turtles n' Cream to stay accountable. You, misfortunate one, are haplessly strapped in for the ride.

Over the past decade I have had great joy in building a recording collection that consists of (mainly) CD's and LP's. It has evolved as my tastes have, (in with the Ohio Players, out with "Chocolate Starfish & the Hot Dog Flavored Water") and has come to include a healthy representation of past generations' Best while finding the artists today who I regard as important.

My goal will be to listen to every single recording I own.

There are albums sitting on the shelf that I have listened to once; some not at all. This will be an opportunity to re-discover what I already own and perhaps point my ears in some new directions and re-visit my favorites.
Above all, it will be a discipline for me.

I will be posting each album on here along with a few words about each as I progress.

I will not make myself listen "down the shelf" as listening to seven Led Zeppelin albums in a row would be...tedious..

Everything will be listened to once.

I will do my best to listen to at least one full record every day. There is no limit on how many I can do.

This should get weird...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Movie Review: Where the Wild Things Are
Directed by Spike Jonze
Starring Max Records, Catherine Keener, James Gandolfini, Chris Cooper, Catherine O'Hara, Lauren Ambrose, Paul Dano

Big screen adaptations of books work seldomly well. Adaptations of children's books are even more tenuous. Yet every once in a while there is an exception of such glaring importance that it reminds us why we attempt it at all.

Maurice Sendak's book, Where the Wild Things Are has a special place in the hearts and minds of so many children and adults, not so much because of the story (a mere seven sentences long) but because of the rich, evocative illustrations; a dark tapestry full of terrifying monsters that a young boy has sway over.

As a film, Wild Things has been in negotiation for over ten years, passing from studio to studio with director Spike Jonze firmly attached, but only with final script approval. Repeatedly offers were refused as agreement could not be reached between the director, writers and studio. It looked for a long time that it was an idea that was too big for Hollywood, where a few committed minds were going to see it done correctly, or not at all.

The film (thankfully) adds little to the book in concept. In storytelling, Jonze must add some elements to the characters in order to make for a feature-length film, but what he does use shows his understanding of his protagonist so well it is hard to argue with his choices.

Max (Records) is a 12 year-old boy spending his time the way most 12 year-olds would choose to: building snow forts, starting snowball fights and, in general, being the center of his mother's attention. But life continues its steady march, and Max is growing up, causing a lot of frustration and confusion in his mind. When tempers finally flare, causing Max to don his iconic wolf suit, it is a fight for his mother's attention. Max flees into the night, running until he finds a boat in which he sets sail until reaching the shore of where wild things inhabit.
Max quickly befriends, and then appoints himself ruler over the group of bizarre monsters, seeking to bring happiness and unity the group of Things. Eventually, though, things do not go according to plan, and Max leaves the island, returns home to a large piece of chocolate cake and his relieved mother.

It is the clarity with which both screenwriter David Eggers and director Spike Jonze understand Max that is the linchpin for this film. Perhaps having once been a 12 year-old boy is a necessity, but Jonze clearly captures the confusion, angst, frustration and desires of a boy who wants to make war, conquer, rule and be loved simultaneously, all while learning what is right and wrong.
Each of the Wild Things could easily be interpreted to be part of Max's own personality, and his adventure on their island to be an exploration of his own id. The prominent monster, Carol (Gandolfini) most closely resembles Max's emotions and understanding of the world around him, who solves problems by breaking things, and yet achingly desires to express his love to K.W. (Ambrose.)

The soundtrack, recorded by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs is sparse and innocent, and echoes clearly the sentiment Jonze is trying to convey with the film.

While Things is too cerebral to become an instant classic with families, this film is yet another example of why Spike Jonze is probably Hollywood's greatest off-beat director. Always unique while never losing sight of the truth of his characters.

Movie Grade: A-
Movie Review: Synecdoche, New York
Directed by Charlie Kaufman
Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Samantha Morton

If you've committed to sitting down and watching Synecdoche, you hopefully are already somewhat familiar with what to expect from a Kaufman project. His films have garnered a lot of critical praise, but they are a few yards off the beaten path of popular consumption.
That being said, if you can appreciate the ouroborosic nature of 2002's Adaptation, how Charlie Kaufman won an Oscar for his screenplay and gave equal credit to his ficticious brother Donald, then you maybe appreciate the blurred reality in which Kaufman exists. His strengths lie in wrapping a character in itself, folding it over and over again until neither the viewer or the character knows where it begins or ends.

Synecdoche marks Kaufman's directorial debut, which is a bold move, since in many ways Synecdoche is Kaufman's most ambitious script. With his previous projects, Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Kaufman certainly benefited from allying himself with directors of equally unique taste and ability. Malkovich and Adaptation were both helmed by Spike Jonze, while Eternal Sunshine was directed by Michel Gondry, both of whom cut their teeth directing music videos for some of music's most visually and aurally distinct artists. Considering Kaufman's effervescent self-doubt, his willingness to take over the director's duties is quite a coup.

Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Caden Cotard, a depressed, sick, self-hating but genius playwright who finds professional success while watching his personal life turn to dust. His disfunctional marriage ends (sort of) and his daughter becomes a tattooed prostitute in Berlin. Perhaps art is born of pain, (or so the film suggests) because Caden is given a prestigious MacArthur grant. Caden takes the opportunity to begin creating a theater piece of such honesty and pain that as his personal life continues to confuse and depress him, his theater piece becomes larger and larger. It becomes a place for him to reflect, control and manipulate as more and more of his real-life experiences find their way into his project. The apparently limitless funds available to Caden because of the MacArthur grant allow him to build a virtual copy of New York City inside an impossibly large warehouse which he populates with an army of actors, whom he issues direction to as he walks the streets of his created city, followed by an actor portraying himself who is giving orders to actors playing actor's in Caden's production.

Get it?

The spinning wheel of ideas has become Kaufman's trademark, taking recognizable elements and blending them together so tightly that audiences are forced to sit back and experience, rather than try and discern reality from fantasy. Synecdoche takes this to new levels, even for Kaufman, which may be the film's downfall.

With Kaufman's other films the restraint has been a director who perhaps shared Kaufman's vision, but still had to reconcile Kaufman's ideas with his own. When Kaufman is allowed to play on his own one starts to wonder how deep the rabbit hole goes. Philip Seymour Hoffman does an (of course) brilliant job putting a lot behind Caden's mask and letting him carry all of the weight that Kaufman can (and can not) express. As he is the only real constant in this film we are made to experience the world through his (Kaufman's) eyes. As with many of Kaufman's projects, he enjoys seeing how far an idea will go, following it through to it's conclusion. In the case of Synecdoche it ends with Caden living in a closet, taking direction from an actor portraying him and realizing that riots have killed virtually all of his ensemble cast. Only at the last moment is there a glimmer of sunlight as Caden considers the possibility of something else.

While this is certainly not a film for most people, for fans of Charlie Kaufman it is yet another window into the spiderweb of ideas that is the world in which Kaufman inhabits.

Movie Grade: B-
Movie Review: Couples Retreat
Directed by Peter Billingsley
Starring Vince Vaughn,
Malin Akerman, Jon Favreau, Jason Bateman, Kristen Bell, Kristin Davis

Its become a siren call for me to watch a film preview and fear that every worthwhile joke the film has was just scotch taped together inside of 30 seconds. Couples Retreat isn't that bad, but it comes close.

Our tale follows four less-than-happily married couples, each separately caught up in the day-to-day affairs that constitute life, each dealing with them differently, some less effectively than others. When the barren marriage between Jason and Cynthia (Bateman and Bell) hits an all-time low they recruit their circle of friends to attend a couples therapy retreat in the made-to-order tropical paradise known simply as Eden. There, under the sage guidance of Monsieur Marcel (a Jean Reno who is very comfortable in his own skin) they embark on a series of predictable treatment techniques to fix their marital ails.

The greatest flaw with this film is that it too closely resembles real life. The situations confronted by our troupe are things that would too commonly be encountered by the moviegoing audience that it makes the film suffer from a real identity crisis. It attacks its subject matter with as much as enthusiasm as buttered toast, director Billingsley apparently as tired with his subject matter as his character's marriages.

The script is capable, reuniting Swingers alum Favreau and Vaughn as they progress from the nightlife of Swingers to the midlife crises that is Couples Retreat. If the concept for this film were treated the way the script really intended, you would have a film that could really have been much more than it is.
But, we live in a post-Old School, post-Wedding Crashers era where Vince Vaughn means funny man, and a studio will bank on his puffy mug's ability to bring in key demographics that would certainly run from Couples like it were kryptonite if handled with any greater level of maturity.

The problem is that an audience is likely to have buyer's remorse, expecting one thing and getting another. We are expecting nudity, wild parties and cameos from our favorite litany of frat pack alum, instead we have a group of 30-somethings comfortably settling into marriage, choosing their wives, mortgages and crossover vehicles over booze-soaked bikinis and marginal decision-making. Wow, if that won't draw the audiences in, nothing will.

It's not that the resultant message of the film isn't positive: it's okay to grow up, get married, be in love and work on continuing to love your spouse, but I guess a part of me was hoping to see Will Ferrell run across the beach naked at some point.

Movie Grade: B-

Monday, October 26, 2009

Reed Timmer: A Dominating Moron

Did you ever know the guy in your class who had the parents who convinced their shining idiot offspring that he was God's gift to everyone he should ever meet? I think if I had a time machine I'd like to go back and not only kick the 8 year-old Reed in the shins, but give his parents the beat down they so richly deserve for producing such an excruciating example of arrogance, misplaced confidence and dorkiness.

Reed Timmer is one of the most memorable characters on the Discovery Channel's TV program Stormchasers. While the other major character built himself a low-grade urban assault vehicle for catching funnels on film, Reed and his band of dimwitted accomplices pile into an SUV, each wielding a hand-held camera and an apparent disposition for self-destruction.

What makes Reed different than the other storm chasers crawling the rural byways of tornado alley is his personality which makes him sound, look and behave like a lost frat boy, treating tornadoes like rush at the Theta house. His apparent oblivion to the fact that everyone else in the car is there for the exact same reason is made clear by his insistence on shouting out the obvious at every opportunity, yelling at his driver to look at the passing funnel cloud (because driving a truck in 150 mph winds is secondary to looking up into the clouds) and making it clear to all of the audiences of Discovery Channel that he will likely marry three times, end up in a lower-middle market TV station reading the five-day forecast all the while reminding his coworkers of how he got beaned in the head by a flying cow that one time...

I enjoy seeing personalities that I absolutely disgust from a long distance off. In this instance, I knew almost immediately that should Reed and I ever be forced to share a hotel room, soon after he went to sleep I would find myself trying to suspend a chest of drawers of his sleeping body, waiting for the instant he woke up the next morning before releasing the rope.
The problem is that I enjoy the TV series, for much the same reason that I enjoyed the film Twister. If only Reed could get himself so close to an F5 in his quest for a super awesome killer dominating close-up that he'd get hisself sucked up into a vortex the Discovery Channel would surely have the season finale that would guarantee the series' admission into a rare canon of television programs.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Movie Review: Year One
Directed by Harold Ramis
Starring Jack Black, John Cera, David Cross

Year One marks Harold Ramis' return to the comedic director's chair for the first time ssince 2002's Analyze That. The comic legend's participation in any project is enough to garner attention, but it was the inclusion of a new generation of talent that caught the eye. While the setting of the film is unique, the real draw is seeing so many comic powerhouses put in front of the same camera and letting them bounce off of each other.

The story focuses on buds Zed (Black) and Oh, (Cera) who are exiled from their village of hunters and gatherers for eating fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. There prehistoric road trip takes them through the earliest chapters of the book of Genesis, meeting Cain and Abel, Abraham and being sold into slavery in the city of Sodom. While a lot of history gets blended together, it's all used as a vehicle for the capable duo of Black and Cera.

While the film gets rolling quickly, with Jack Black's trademark style flying in full regalia, the chemistry between John Cera and Black really shows mobility. Whether or not the majority of their dialogue is written or improvised is either a testament to Ramis' script or the pair's lock-step approach to the characters.
Sadly, what starts out as quirky silliness descends into absolute stupidity before too long, and never picks itself back up. The jokes wear thin after too long and we are left hoping that another burst of genuine humor is going to slap us across the face, but it never comes. When the final object lesson/climax arrives we've strayed far enough off course that you pray for the end to come soon. What even gets worse is the desperate attempt at validity by injecting 21st century moral relativism into stories that most of us learned in Sunday school.

While Black and Cera are the film's stars, some of the most memorable characters and moments occur by the film's co-stars. David Cross plays Cain, who's recurring character is pretty funny, but the real hidden star in this film is Oliver Platt, who plays the high priest in the city of Sodom. Perhaps in another life he enjoyed existence as an opulent orgy-riddled upper-crust monarch, because he plays this role with such texture and color it's scary to think how easy he makes it seem.

For the copious amounts of crude humor and an over-all film quality that makes a steady decline this film is reserved only for late-night consumption on the cable networks.

Movie Grade: D
Movie Review: Paranormal Activity
Directed by Oren Peli
Starring Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat

Its been several years since The Blair Witch Project ambushed theaters - long enough to have exploded, lampooned and been canonized in the horror film genre, as well as a mile marker for the way films are made.
But most of the teenagers who shelled out their burger-flipping dollars to see Blair Witch have put college in their rear view mirror by now, which means a whole new generation of kids are ready to pay money to have themselves scared senseless by a scary movie.

So the fruit was ripe for a film like Paranormal Activity to come along. This film tells the story of a soon-to-be married couple in San Diego, living a seemingly innocuous existence who have just purchased a video camera to hopefully catch the things that have been going bump in the night on film. The recipe uses the same Blair Witch and Cloverfield M.O. in telling the story using "real" footage taken from the home tapes of Katie and Micah.
The story unfolds gradually, with the nighttime activity becoming more and more intense as Katie and Micah try and unravel the mystery behind their late-night visitor.

This film has been carried on a recent tidal wave of energy led by the film's website, asking fans of the film to "demand" the film be shown in their city. This has led from the film (which was filmed in 2007, but is only now receiving wide release) showing in very limited release to it claiming the no. 1 box office spot for the weekend of Oct. 25, 2009. Its marketing campaign is slick and viral, claiming to be the scariest movie you've never heard of, crawling its way up from the very bottom because of its virtues as a truly scary film. The people themselves (we are told) are the ones who have made this film the success that it is.

Let's be sure to give credit where credit is due; what Paranormal has been able to accomplish on a $25,000 budget and no big studio distribution is nothing short of miraculous, a feat which would be impossible in a pre-facebook buzz-building world. A good scary movie is just that: a good scary movie. Some of cinema's greatest works have involved some of literature's most horrifying creations, or birthed some of our most memorable monsters, created for the films themselves.

All of the films' promotion aside, the film suffers from some fatal flaws, not the least of which is its hardly the scariest film I've ever seen.
Paranormal tries to blend the Poltergeist with the Exorcist iin timbre, but while those films achieved a genuine human response of revulsion and horror, Paranormal takes entirely too long to taxi out onto the runway, open the throttle and get airborne. It's the little things that are supposed to thrill us, according to the director Oren Peli. A door swinging back and forth, keys being tossed onto the floor and lights being switched on and off are our crescendo to the main act, but frustratingly, between every ghoulish encounter are lengthy stretches of exposition the following day as our hapless denisons try and deconstruct the noises that are preventing their good night's rest.
The rhythm almost becomes comical, with each domestic argument during the day fading into another bedroom scene where, predictably, another strange series of sounds occur which send Katie and Micah tumbling out of bed in confusion, pointing the camera lens shakily down the hallway hoping to catch sight of the intruder.
Director Peli tries to create all of the drama through his actors' very capable, believable performances as two sane, ordinary people dealing with extraordinary circumstances, but the level of tension that he is able to conjure up doesn't come close to breaking the meter in the way that it ought to.

The film tries to explore every avenue of explanation it can think of to offer the audience a reason for the madness, but it (again) frustratingly never follows through with exploring any of these reasons, instead distracting the audience with another bump in the night.

By the time the first hour of the film laboriously closes you begin to realize that the pay-off may not be worth the wait. By the end of the film you know you were correct.
The only really truly freakish scene of the film is the closing climax which results in such confusion and frantic activity that you are truly disoriented, grasping for understanding as the camera tumbles to the floor. If only the whole film could've been treated with this level of visceral thrill it would've been fun to watch. As it was, it just became a labor of annoyance.

Movie Grade: C+

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Movie Review: Zombieland
Directed by Reuben Fleischer
Starring Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin

'tis the season, I suppose. October rolls around and horror flicks are the soup d'jour. And ever since Shawn of the Dead steamrolled genres a few years ago studios have tried to concoct the same recipe, blending humor and gore into an easily consumable dish.

Unfortunately, there are just too many elements of this film that don't pull their weight, demolishing any wit and charm that may lie in its path with the finesse of a blood-soaked chainsaw.

The story begins in a post-apocalyptic zombie-infested world where Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) is the only person left alive to do voice over. This in itself is tragic, but it does allow for Columbus to walk us through his list of rules for zombie survival (an enjoyable running gag that comes back repeatedly throughout the film) before running into Tallahassee (Harrelson) and his zombie-plowing Escalade. Shortly thereafter our heroes cross swords with a pair of sisters who are conning their way across the carcass-littered futurescape. Eventually our quartet gains each others' trust and they inexplicably head towards an amusement part in California, fueled by the promise of a zombie free area.

While some of the jokes are genuinely funny and well timed, most feel tired. A cameo by Bill Murray is probably the highlight of the film, a rare moment where the jokes seem to come effortlessly despite the script and direction.
On the horror-o-meter Zombieland scores a low 3.5 - 4. Even when the blood-drenched undead are sprinting towards the living there's little impetus for the audience to writhe and wiggle. Simply put, it doesn't seem as though director Fleischer has seen enough horror flicks to know what a good one should look like.

The grand finale takes place at the Pacific Playland amusement park, and it becomes clear that this was intended to be the great masterpiece of the film. The confrontation between the living and undead is at its height, but again, there isn't a fear that our heroes might not come out of this still pink and- well, alive. Even the undesireable Columbus scores the babe without hardly any effort.

For uneven script-writing, vague direction and for spinning its wheels once too often Zombieland fails to make the grade that would make it worth mentioning a year from now when you're in the mood for something scary.

Movie Grade: C

Friday, October 09, 2009

What Happened To My Lead Singer, Dude?

If you've watched the faces that populate rock n' roll (and all of its outlying subsidiaries) for a while you might've noticed a unsettling trend.

Being in the spotlight of fame has yielded many of fashion's most memorable moments, particularly for musicians, who seem to desire artistic expression over sensibility and grace. Even going back to the moppish cuts of the fab four was ridiculous in its own time.

But at least you could tell their gender.

Today there is a bizarre tendency for androgyny to be the flavor du jour. It isn't just the mascara that Nikki Sixx donned or the ozone-killing amounts of Aqua Net that Dee Snider eemployed. Its the... well here: you'll see what I mean.

Here we have a picture of Tokio Hotel frontman Bill Paulitz. That's right, Bill. This, my friends, is a dude:
Please contrast this with an image of the iconic James Hetfield of Metallica, doing what Metallica does:
Here we have AFI's lead singer Davey Havok looking a lot less demure than at other times in the band's history:
My reply to Davey:Lemmy Kilmister

But maybe it's not the dude's fault. Perhaps just being born with a fine bone structure and skin that looks good under rouge is merely a byproduct of our confused time which is scrambling to figure out which gender we're each supposed to be playing. Maybe it's just a couple of guys (or labels) recognizing the opportunity to capitalize on a market where the guy is prettier than his girlfriend. (I'm sure that won't cause any problems at all.)

But there might be another explanation. Maybe male superstar rock singers are looking like fish-faced pansies because the female superstar rock singers are letting themselves get a little weird. Exhibit #1:Lady Gaga

Exhibit #2:
Amy Winehouse
Appealing, no? Who says drugs are bad?
But don't worry, my children. We can sleep soundly as long as Henry Rollins patrols the perimeter of musical masculinity, keeping it safe from all who seek to harm.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Look What the Cat Drug In...

Minding my own business tonight, quietly trolling around my humble domicile and I venture into the front room to find my cat attentively harassing some bug that had the poor fortune of crawling through my door.

After a moment's inspection, however, I notice that this isn't just any bug. It appeared as though my cat had cornered a small carnivore - an insect that appeared that it just might eat my cat, and not the other way around. Every end of its (comparatively) large body seemed pointed, poised and intent on inflicting merciless slaughter of its furry assailant.

Instead of helping out my stupid feline I did what any thoughtful parent would do: I grabbed the camera.

After a little inspection it appears that this particular monster might be a variety of mantis.
Unfortunately my interwebular search took too long to save this guy from the clutches of my furry protector. I'll probably find pieces of him turning up in my laundry for a while.

Me thinks it might be a good time to star shutting my door in the evening hours.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Film Review: It Might Get Loud
Directed by Davis Guggenheim
Starring Jack White, The Edge, Jimmy Page

The Premise:
Documentary filmmaker Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) directs guides three living legends of the electric guitar through their thought processes and memories of playing some of rock n' roll's most memorable tunes. It Might Get Loud certainly is not a film designed for popular consumption, but to those who are fans of Led Zeppelin, U2 or the White Stripes, the documentary is probably required reading.

It should never be said that Jack White sits still for very long. Since this film was shot in early 2008 White has released an album with a brand new band (the Dead Weather) while still keeping the Raconteurs active, recording the title track for James Bonds' latest, playing Elvis in John C. Reilly's Walk Hard, opening his own studio space in Nashville and having a second child. It Might Get Loud seems like it would be an easy afternoon in Jack's world.
Halfway through this film one can't help but wonder if this project didn't start out with another, more sinister design. During the introductory scenes Jack White admits to the camera that he's going to try and trick Jimmy Page and The Edge into giving up their secrets.

The film never adopts this device, however, and quickly slips into a more biographical examination of the three guitarists, following The Edge around Dublin, Jimmy Page back to the mansion where they recorded IV and Jack White through the backwoods of Tennessee in a vintage Pontiac. (I know, I know.) Therein lies the problem: while The Edge and Jimmy Page seem to show the camera around their personal lives with a certain degree of humility, Jack White seems to adopt a persona for the film, claiming he's continually "looking for the struggle" and telling a nine year-old version of himself to pick a fight with his plastic guitar.

After forty-five minutes of this meandering one can't help but wonder if this film started out with a far more colorful intention, one where Jack White is allowed to 'play' more and truly catch The Edge and Jimmy Page off guard. This version of reality is aborted, perhaps out of necessity or out of professional or personal courtesy to the other musicians involved. What we're left with is an interpretation of three legends of rock 'n roll, two of which are down-to-earth, creative minds who walk us through their processes, and one cartoon character full of self-importance, strutting a narrow line between art and mockery.

Interestingly, it is the portions of the film focusing on Jack White that make the film watchable. I scarcely think there are parts of The Edge or Jimmy Page's stories that were told for the first time in this film. In one sense it is White's comparative obscurity to the masses that make his story more interesting to tell. But when Guggenheim dutifully splits screen time between his other two subjects interest lags and the film feels more like a History Channel program.

While a must-see for the die hard fan, this film will probably collect a lot of dust before it's pulled off of Blockbuster's shelves. Too scattered to be a good documentary without any controversy or nuance, this is a film really for enthusiasts only. Zeppelin and U2 fans will have to choke back on a lot of White's pomposity, but that's the heart of rock n' roll after all.

Movie Grade: C
Film Review: Pandorum
Directed by Christian Alvart
Starring Dennis Quaid, Ben Foster

The Premise:
Corporal Bower (Foster) awakes from an extended hyper sleep aboard an intergalactic Noah's Ark bound for an Earth-like planet a mere 123-year voyage away. But Bower has awoken prematurely for an unknown reason, and sets about to restore order to the ship (with the help of Quaid's Lt. Payton) which has fallen into a state of chaotic anarchy for a couple of eerie reasons.

The real misfortune with Pandorum is that at its very core lies a great story. The execution is what dooms this film to mediocrity from the get-go. It would seem that screenwriter Travis Milloy and director Alvert chose to go after the 12 - 18 year-old male demographic first, as it is arguable that most teenagers could care less that Pandorum blunders its way through any piece of exposition that it comes across. The great majority of the film feels like a Halo-infused binge, with chaotic action sequences that belie any cohesion or continuity and every other scene meant to build up tension being rushed through so someone can pull a knife and start swinging.

The inevitable comparisons to other sci-fi films is a poison of the filmmaker's choosing, the two (or so) most immediate comparisons being Alien and Sunshine. A combination of the two basic plot elements of these films are woven together, but not convincingly or evenly. The film feels far too much like Alien for the first two-thirds of the film, and only begins to explore the psychological devolution (รก la Sunshine) of its characters with any interest during the last 30 minutes or so. (Incidentally, right around when the film begins to get really interesting.)

But there are very few tricks left to be played in the sci-fi thriller genre. Most of the cards have already been used, so if a filmmaker chooses to play his hand, it'd better be good. While Ridley Scott mastered the art of a simmering tension with Alien, and Danny Boyle allowed his crescendo of madness to reach its blistering climax in Sunshine, Pandorum wants to coast into town on the vapors of those films, hoping an audience will fill in the blank during lazier moments of the film's construction.

As mentioned earlier, the true plot waits far too long before unfolding for the audience to see, and by then its too late. If only Alvart and company hadn't been so distressed about coming off cool they could have really crafted a modern sci-fi classic. As it is, its only a shadow of greater films that have come before and will only serve as as reminder of those greater than itself.

Movie Grade: B-

Friday, September 25, 2009

DVD Review: Flight of the Conchords - Season Two

If you're a fan of New Zealand's fourth most-famous folk rock comedy duo and you don't subscribe to HBO then the release of their second season on DVD maybe your first chance to see what the boys have been up to.

The short version: they've been doing great work.

Season one ended with band manager Murray (Rhys Darby) finding success with his second band and their monster hit "The Doggy Bounce." Season two picks up where we left off, with Murray in a magnificent high-rise office still trying to manage the fledging Conchords (Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie) while enjoying the success of the Crazy Dogggz. Things are quickly set right, however, and we soon find ourselves with the routine of band meetings crouched over Murray's desk at the New Zealand consulate.

While the second half of the first season saw Clement and McKenzie trying to write a larger world for themselves by taking the 'Chords on tour, etc. it did lose part of its Seinfeld-esque appeal - an familiar episodic world where Jemaine and Bret get themselves into inconvenient circumstances, but hardly ever trouble.
It would seem that they learned their lesson in season two - there are many episodes which should be regarded as their best work yet - allowing their natural characters to unfold and interact with the cast of characters they've created. It would seem that everyone has gotten comfortable in the show's identity and is enjoying exploring their world.

There are some interesting extras including a short making-of documentary with interviews with Jemaine and Bret as well as faux commercials for Dave's pawn shop.

Favorite episodes: The New Cup, The Tough Brets, Unnatural Love, Wingmen

Movie Rating: A

May We Take a Moment to Remember... exceedingly awesomely horrible the film Commando is.

This should come as no surprise to the 52% of the population not sporting external genetalia, but it is sometimes useful for the rest of us to put such films as this in perspective, for good and bad.

Unlike A-hnold's two greatest films, Predator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day, where Arnold almost seems to accidentally stumble into films where there's a great story happening, Commando is the exact opposite of that process. Sure, it's one of the early macho action movies, but when something can be done really well (Die Hard, Aliens) then it makes it all the harder to swallow the popcorn for the less fortunate of the breed. (Hear that Speed? I'm coming for you.)

Commando is the tale of retired special-ops warrior John Matrix (Schwarzenegger) extraordinaire, happy to spend the rest of his life caring for his daughter and chopping wood in a tight shirt when his daughter is kidnapped and his unwittingly flung back into a world of violence and intrigue he thought he'd left behind.
Sounds intriguing, right? Not really.

Dialogue is painful, especially involving an Arnold that was yet to clean up a lot of his dialect. In fact a good many portions of the film feel like they were overdubbed entirely. Rae Dawn Chong, who plays interest(?) in this film is half-drug through the film, fighting any natural instinct to act any other way than helpless. But it's okay, because she's got Arnold, remember?

Daniel Hedaya plays a restrained mastermind villain who eventually gets pumped full of lead (who doesn't) but the real Bad Guy that Arnold gets to knife fight with is a former comrade-in-arms who speaks with some form of British accent and wears a chainmail shirt. (Apparently all of America's special ops crew are from European nations.)

Played by Vernon Welles, Bennet is everything Matrix is not. Fat, annoying, ugly and probably some of the worst Bad Guy instincts ever seen on screen. How he manages to hold off an attack from A-hnold for more than 1.5 seconds is a cinematic secret. Perhaps it was the giant serrated hunting knife he carries around that improves his warrior skillz.
And the chainmail. It conveniently protects whilst it covers the extra 30 pounds he brought to the set with him.

Apparently Commando was shot on the leading edge of special effects relating to pyrotechnics - or, more specifically, how to get dudes to fly through the air when a grenade goes off. At one point of the film grenades outnumber air molecules as they fly through the air, and every time a detonation occurs at least two fake-mustachioed Bad Guys do mid-air somersaults into some bushes, conveniently planted years earlier in case they were needed to break someone's fall.
I've watched enough "making of" TV specials to know about the pneumatic catapults used to create the illusion of tossing hapless victims around, but I guess they never considered doing it fifteen times in the span of 2 minutes might give audiences enough time to ponder if there was something...amiss. Apparently you will always be flung into a head-long somersault regardless of where the explosion occurs.

Among other awesome annoyances: apparently phone booths can be lifted out of the ground, kidnapping women in parking garages will make them your co-conspirator and yellow Porsches will still work after you've stood them on their side.

Commando is a rare film that fits an unusual category: simultaneously one of the worst, most annoying action films made but also a film that is kind of like sushi: when you crave it, ain't nothin' else gonna fill that hole.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Movie Review: Extract
Directed by Mike Judge
Starring Jason Bateman
, Kristen Wiig, Mila Kunis, Ben Affleck, J.K. Simmons

Mike Judge's first film in three years moves back towards the flavor of Office Space, arguably Judge's most successful film. 2006's Idiocracy suffered mismanagement at the hands of Fox Studios and made Judge resresolute in assuring that the next film he made would be made his way.

Enter Extract. A tale of a medium-sized flavor extract factory owner, Joel (played by Bateman) who seems to have a lot in common with Bateman's alma mater Michael Bluth. His marriage to Suzie (Kristen Wiig) is in a rut and in a moment of weakness, admits his desire to have an affair with a new employee Cindy (Kunis) to his bartending, barbiturate popping stoner buddy (Affleck.) Still, he loves his wife and feels compelled to honor his vows. Unless, of course, she could be compelled to break the vows first, thereby freeing Joel from any guilt by cheating with Cindy. Not surprisingly, the plan goes awry, and Joel, who didn't think he would care that his wife would have an affair is wracked with guilt and remorse at hiring quite possibly the dumbest gigolo in the tri-state area. To make matters worse, he learns Cindy isn't quite who he thought she was all the while dealing with a potential lawsuit at his company involving a shattered testicle.

To read a synopsis is to think that there would be plenty of good material ripe for Mike Judge's particular talents. The plot for Office Space sounds about as interesting as the back of a milk carton, and yet it is full of now-legendary comic moments. Sadly, Extract doesn't benefit from the same comic prowess. The jokes feel like they should be much funnier than they are, and a lot of the movie is spent waiting for the big punch line to arrive. The performances are all adequate, although none could be regarded as stellar or even a marker in any of the actors' careers.

Considering how popular Mike Judge's projects have become in Hollywood he certainly had his pick of talent for this film. For one reason or another, however, the ingredients don't make for a good recipe this time.

Movie Grade: C+

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Reason no. 352 to be excited

November 27, 2009 will see the release of a new project featuring the Akron blues duo The Black Keys teaming up with eleven different hip hop acts under the project name of Blakroc.

Guests include Mos Def, RZA, Q-Tip, Ludacris and others. All musical tracks provided by The Black Keys.

SShould be a rockin' good time. Visit their website to view webisodes and a trailer.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Movie Review: Inglorious Basterds
Directed by Quentin Tarintino
Starring Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Eli Roth, Melanie Laurent

What's wrong with this picture: Quentin Tarantino, director of such films as Kill Bill vols. 1 & 2, Death Proof, Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs decides to make a period film involving Jewish GI commandos sneaking into the heart of Nazi-occupied France and beating any German soldier they find to a bloody pulp with baseball bats. Even 60 years later it still sounds gratifying, right?

The answer is there is absolutely nothing is wrong with that picture. On paper.

Tarantino, known for his lovingly crafted over-the-top homages to his favorite film styles (i.e. all of them) tackles a new beast: the period war drama. Sadly, while his previous films all possess a certain flair and panache that can only be described as 'Tarantino' Inglorious Basterds feels shockingly unsure of itself and uncommitted.
Gone are most of the trademark soundtrack cues that Tarantino has become legendary for - but even more disappointing are the few examples of recycled music held over from previous films.
The camera work is only notable for its lack of any sort of fast-paced tricks or stylization.

Perhaps most disappointing in this film are the uneven performances given by the starring cast.
Brad Pitt has never felt more cumbersome and outwitted, chewing his way through a supposed Tennessean accent with about as much flair as a bird walking backwards. He's at his funniest when trying to fake an Italian accent. Eli Roth, friend of Tarantino and director of campy horror hit Hostel plays Sgt. Donny Donowitz, or the Bear Jew, as his terrorized Nazi counterparts name him who enjoys the ritualistic bludgeoning of his enemies skulls with a stained Louisville Slugger. Roth is a distant reminder why not just anyone should be put in front of the camera to act, in much the same way as Tarantino used to try his hand at prominent roles in his own films (From Dusk 'til Dawn.)

Still, Pitt and Roth's haphazard careening through this film is counterbalanced by a mountain of unknown talent, the most important of which is Christoph Waltz who plays the Gestapo Col. Hans Landa with such evil delight that one can only hope that he will be deservedly remembered when the Oscar season returns. Melanie Laurent plays a Jewish woman hiding in plain sight who, for the purposes of Tarantino's universe, is permitted to exact the form of revenge on the Nazi high command that Eisenhower would've gladly given his left eyeball for. Her performance is brilliant.

To say that Tarantino takes liberties with the history of World War II is to put it mildly. While it is certainly par for the course in Tarantino's universe, it makes the less engrossing scenes in this film stick out like bandaged thumbs, and why I have to consider Inglorious Basterds Tarantino's worst film to date. Inconsistent performances and a lack of identity will make Basterds slide into the shadows of Tarantino's many superior works.

Movie Grade: C

Movie Review: 9
Directed by Shane Acker
Starring Elijah Wood, Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, John C. Reilly

The idea behind "9" has actually been simmering on the stove since 2005 when the 11-minute short of the same name was nominated for an Academy Award, so while the story is new to the majority of moviegoers, director Acker has had his burlap hero fighting mechanized creatures for several years now.
9 being only the fourth CGI animated film to garner a PG-13 rating means important things for a film industry that is trying to grow up with its audience while simultaneously capitalizing on the profitable territory that adult-themed graphic novels have staked out. If studios are able to make films like 9 succeed it would mean an entirely new world of storytelling; one where cartoons may not seem like such kidstuff any more.

While 9 is beautifully animated, and intricate in detail, the basic storytelling is flawed. Acker seems to have rushed through some of the scriptwriting processes, trading real depth and feeling for sensory stimulation. The end result is a movie that feels wooden and distant. While we know to root for the good guys we have little more invested in their plight except that they aren't the ones with red eyes or leathery wings. No more explanation than is necessary is offered as to the origins of the creatures' world, which makes sense up front, but leads to a detachment from the character's plight as the filmmakers struggle to make their audience care about the imminent danger they find themselves in.

9 feels more like a treatise on what could be accomplished but less a film in its own right. The technical wizardry is quite astounding, especially when you consider how far CGI animation has come in the last ten years. Perhaps we'll have to wait until James Cameron's Avatar to discover what a masterful melding of CGI and storytelling will look like.

Movie Grade: C+

Thursday, September 17, 2009

After a mere 17 month hiatus I [loftily] plan a raging comeback for T&C.

I know, I know. It's as if all the air has been sucked from your lungs.
But please, show restraint.

My disaffection for many of the popular 'social networking' sites has been growing. So much so that I am on the cusp of forever leaving the legion of drones and seeking out a more unique online identity - one that might more accurately reflect my personality and stupidity than any paint-by-number format ever could. (This is about the time when you notice Blogger's pre-fab template.)

Anyway, this is just a quick 'hello' and a shout-out to see who all is out there.

Too bad. I already know the answer to that one.