December 30, 2008

So Tough To Kill!

You know, I gotta stop making ultimatums before I see the finished product. Before tonight, I was all set to name 2008 as, "The Year of The Comic Book Super Hero." The Dark Knight was the best comic book adaptation ever. Hellboy 2 combined a ton of stylized action with Guillermo Del Toro's unique sense of style. Iron Man resurrected Robert Downey Jr. and kick started a brilliant franchise. The Incredible Hulk was good enough, and Wanted was just plain fun. It was all looking so gravy. Then The Spirit came along. Heh, heh, I'm gonna have to come up with a better, more appropriate title for this year.
The Spirit takes place in Central City, in some weird, screwed up version of the 1950s where the people have cell phones. So, there's this guy, called The Spirit, who is dead, I think. Well, he is technically dead, but he still manages to jump across the rooftops, beat the crap out of criminals, and seduce the pants off every woman he meets. But, since this is a comic adaptation, there needs to be a villain. The said villain is called The Octopus, so called, because he has eight of everything, which isn't actually true, but whatever, we'll role with it. Then there are some girls with connections to The Spirit. There's his doctor. There's the old flame. There's The Octopus' henchwoman. There's the... oh, christ, I can't go on, this shit is bananas! The story is based on a line of comics by Will Eisner, and if this movie is any indication, it's pretty  haphazardly put together. 
Gabriel Macht plays The Spirit, and I quite liked him, actually. He's pretty monotone, keeps one expression for the whole time, and has no chemistry with the females. And he monologues... like, all the time. Dear God, please stop the monologues! But, he's supposed to be dead, so I bought it. There are three main girls caught up in the mix. Sarah Paulson plays Ellen Dolan, The Spirit's, uh, physician. Pretty much every scene she is in is ridiculous. She's bad, let's leave it at that. Scarlett Johansson plays Silken Floss (yes, that's her name), The Octopus' sidekick, who has a really bad habit of explaining the bad guy's master plan right before the put the hero in a situation where he can escape. Johansson is also really bad. Again, let's leave it at that. And there's Eva Mendes, who plays Sand Saref, world class jewel thief and old flame of The Spirit. Her only real contribution to the film is that she shows some skin. Really, the only purpose the women in this movie serve is providing pure, unadulterated eye candy. All you feminists, eat your heart out! And Samuel L. Jackson, as The Octopus, really overacts. In this year's Scenery Chewing Awards, he takes Best of the Year, Best of the Decade, and Lifetime Achievement. It's entertaining, to be sure, but come on, Mr. Jackson. What happened to you doing roles in movies like Pulp Fiction, Unbreakable, and Patriot Games. Man, you are a sellout!
So, director Frank Miller is really good at making a good looking film, and that's about it. Like Sin City and 300, which he created, The Spirit is drenched in style. The two main colors are black and white, which makes the red tint of blood, or the bright glow of gold pretty much jump off the screen and punch you in the face. It's awesome. But, when it comes to making a story not steeped in cliches, crafting characters we can care about, and coming up with some witty scenarios amid all the bloodshed, he kinda fails. Sure, the movie looks great, but we've come to expect that from him. It's fucking Frank Miller! But he also wrote the script. He comes up with some weird premise involving the blood of Hercules, or something. It's not really explained. Come to think of it, a lot of things in this movie are not really explained. Like, why the hell is Samuel L. Jackson dressed up like a samurai in this scene? And then, why the hell is he dressed like a Nazi in another scene thirty minutes later? Expect headaches. Miller also took a lot of cues from the movie of Sin City, namely the crazy amount of narration from the hero. But, in Sin City, Robert Rodriguez had the sense to cast actors with some sort of emotion in their voices. Miller made the wise choice to cast a monotone actor as the hero. There are so many things wrong with this, from crap script and casting, to an overbearing use of special effects. Oh, so many problems.
Like I said, The Spirit single handedly ruins 2008's chances to be a flawless year of comic book adaptations. Granted, most of the other ones were so good, the title will probably stick. But, I still hate this movie. Somewhere, in his grave, Will Eisner is crying.

December 13, 2008

When a President Does It...

With Oscar season in full swing, it's no surprise that the movies coming out will be some of the best of the year. Of all the heavy award contenders hitting the theaters, probably the best is Frost/Nixon, an astounding film that will get nominated for some big awards and easily finds itself in my Top Ten.
The year is 1974, and Richard Nixon has just resigned the office of the President of the United States in the wake of the massive clusterfuck that was Watergate. Many Americans are outraged that the man who committed, quite possibly, the worst crime in the history of the nation will walk free. Enter ambitious and carefree talk show host, David Frost. Frost gets the brilliant idea to interview Nixon, hoping to rake in the numbers, and give him his ticket back into American television. At first, Frost's goals don't stretch far from, make lot's of money and achieve fame and fortune. But soon, the interview becomes much more then that. Soon, Frost and his team are driven by one ulterior motive, to give Richard Nixon the trial he never had. The screenplay is based off a Tony Award winning play by Peter Morgan, which was based on the actual interviews of Nixon conducted by Frost. It moves at a breakneck pace, keeping the viewer riveted to the screen as you watch these two clash and the sparks fly. And, oh, do they fly.
Frank Langella and Michael Sheen both reprise their roles from the stage as Nixon and Frost, respectively. They do not so much as imitate the people they are playing, but embody then. Langella especially is amazing as Nixon, giving a powerful and forceful performance. He becomes Nixon, showing us the conflict and regret behind the cold exterior that he showed the world. Langella will get an Oscar nomination, and he may very well win. I think Sean Penn did a better job in Milk, but if anyone is going to challenge him, it will be Langella. Michael Sheen is also sensational as the fun loving and quick witted Frost. Sheen is right at home in these political controversy films. This is a far different role from his turn as Tony Blair in The Queen, but it's just as engrossing and fun to watch. The other main role, and, I think, the best performance of the movie, falls to Sam Rockwell as James Reston Jr., the man who spearheaded Frost's investigation of Nixon. Rockwell is fantastic as, it seems, the only man on Frost's side who initially wants to bring Nixon down. He gives us some of the film's few laughs, while simultaneously giving us most of it's heart. Oliver Platt, Matthew Macfayden, Kevin Bacon, and Rebecca Hall also all turn in great performances as other players behind the scenes. 
Director Ron Howard has never disappointed, from Apollo 13, to A Beautiful Mind, to The Da Vinci Code. (Yes, I liked The Da Vinci Code.) Frost/Nixon blows them all out of the water with it's quality and attention to detail. Howard is very aware of the time that the story is set in. Anti-Vietnam War sentiment absolutely drenches pretty much every scene, as does the new found love of famous people that was emerging. It's a pleasure to see Rockwell shout down Frost for not caring about convicting Nixon, then becoming star struck by the likes of Neil Diamond and Hugh Hefner. Everything from the clothes and hairstyles, to the cars and camera equipment used evokes 1970s America, and America tired of war and losing faith in their government that they had come to trust. I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about it.
If I have to criticize the movie, and I do, I would say the small, little romantic sub-plot involving Frost and Rebecca Hall's Caroline Cushing could have gone so much further. I understand it's not the focus of the film, but it doesn't seem to have any purpose in the state it's in. Granted Hall does a good job, and she and Sheen have real chemistry, but with all the political and social commentary being thrown in the mix, it just seems like an afterthought. Do not let the lack of romance dissuade you though. The movie is no less fascinating with the lack of some sexual activity. 
It will be a colossal shock is Frost/Nixon does not get some recognition come February 22. At the time I am writing this, it has been nominated for 5 Golden Globes, with Howard and Langella each snagging one. It's up against some heavy competition, but it is good enough to pull through. Seek out this most extraordinary movie. It is well worth your $10 and 2 hours. 

November 29, 2008

Zero Percent Fat

It would appear that gay civil rights is all the rage right now. What with the Prop. 8 controversy four weeks ago, to just last weekend, when Were The World Mine offered a fantastical look on what it was like to be a homosexual, gay rights has been in the forefront of a lot of people's minds. The new film, Milk, tells the true story of the man who fought to get equal rights for his fellow gays, and it is a very faithful adaptation of his crusade. It's also sensational.
In 1970, Harvey Milk was working for an insurance company in New York City. In 1977, he was elected to the office of City Supervisor for the City of San Francisco. He was the first openly gay man ever elected to a public office. A year later, he was dead, gunned down in his office by a fellow co-worker. The set up is that Milk is recording his memoirs on tape, relaying the information to the viewer. Many pivotal and important events in the fight for gay rights are documented here, from Milk's defeat of the Briggs Initiative, to the 1978 San Francisco Gay Freedom Day March. At just over two hours, the movie is the right length, covering everything, but not dwelling too long on something. It moves at a breakneck pace, keeping the viewer completely enthralled in what is going on. 
Sean Penn plays Milk. Is there anything I need to say about his performance. No. Just by watching a trailer, you know that he is brilliant. From Milk's mannerisms, to his accent, to the way he dressed, walked, blinked his eyes, whatever, Penn nails it. He is so good here, from his humorous conversations with his campaign team, to the heartbreaking ending. Will he win Oscar number two for this? Bet on it. Emile Hirsch plays Cleve Jones, the man Harvey turned to when he needed a crowd. Coming off his astounding performance in Into the Wild, and his ok performance in Speed Racer, Hirsch reminds us, yet again, why he is a serious player in Hollywood. James Franco plays Scott Smith, Milk's lover who moves to San Francisco with him. With this and his hysterical performance in Pineapple Express, Franco is having a career year, making us forget about his pretty boy stints in Flyboys and  Annapolis. He will also be another serious player, come Oscar time. The last big role falls to Josh Brolin. He plays Dan White, a fellow supervisor of Milk's, and ultimately, the man who murdered him and Mayor George Moscone. Brolin proves, yet again, that he is, quite possibly, the best actor working today. His performance as the conflicted and troubled White, while certainly more contained then his scenery chewing performance as George W. Bush last month, is fantastic. Pretty much every single actor featured here is astounding. Expect to see Penn's, Hirsch's, and Franco's named mentioned when the Oscar nominations are announced. 
Director Gus Van Sant is master worker. This is certainly his most ambitious project, and easily his best. Yes, that's right. I said it. Milk is a better movie then Good Will Hunting. You heard it here first, folks. Now, I knew Van Sant would be able to handle the story of Milk with deft hands and an open mind, but what really astonished me is his attentions to the little details. Everything, from the clothes, hairstyles, and mannerisms are all displayed exactly as the were. Now, I guess these can all be attributed to the costume designers and hair stylists, but, hey, at the end of the day, they all work for him. Another thing that he handled really well was the integration of actual footage into the framework of the film. It is seamless how he takes actual, documented footage of a march, and intersperses it with footage that he filmed. It sounds a bit crazy, but it makes the story even more grounded in reality. And then, after all that, Van Sant manages to deliver one of the most heart wrenchingly sad endings to come along since Schindler's List
Milk is one of those movies that see the light of day only every so often. It's a bit uncanny how it is appearing when all this shit with Prop. 8 is going on, but it is relevant. It's sad; terribly sad, less so because the story ends on a sad note, and more so because this movie hammers home the fact that, after all the things Milk did, almost nothing has changed. The same arguments are still being used; the same problems are still arising. It's bullshit, I know, but that's life. Thank God we had people like Milk to give us some hope. 

November 22, 2008

All The World's A Stage

Wow. It would appear as if I have gone soft. No really. I just got out of Were The World Mine, and I actually felt happy. I usually never feel happy after I leave a movie. I am usually brooding on the films deeper meaning, or in a fit of rage that I had just spent $10 on a piece of garbage. But, Were The World Mine was the exception. All it is is a small love story/ musical that left me with a smile on my face. It has it's problems, to be sure, but they don't detract from the overall giddiness you'll feel when you leave.
So, there's Timothy. Timothy is having hard times at school, hard times at home, just hard times in general. Most of this stems from the fact that he is out as gay, which made his father leave him and his mother, and giving the boys in school a chance to give him tons of shit. If it weren't for the fact that he had two really good friends, he would probably be pushing up daisies. He is also prone to delving in musical daydreams, usually involving the topless figure of his crush, the school's star rugby player. When the Shakespeare teacher casts him as Puck in Midsummer Nights Dream, he gets a bright idea. He is going to pull a Puck, and make everyone in town fall in love with each other, only there's a catch. Everyone is gonna be gay, so they can walk in his shoes for a little bit. Mischief ensues. 
Tanner Cohen plays Timothy. He's fairly unknown, like everyone in this, so it's easy to accept him as this character. He does a good job, bringing some real emotion to a character that could have easily been exploited. Zelda Williams (daughter of Robin) plays Timothy's best friend, Frankie. She is a self described "heteroflexible", meaning, she's straight, but shit happens. She has been legally emancipated at the age of fifteen, and as such, spends most of her walking around with her guitar. Williams is very good as this spunky, very cool kid. It doesn't hurt that she writes good songs. The other main role falls to Wendy Robie as the Shakespeare teacher/play director, and she is sensational. Like Steve Coogan's drama teacher in Hamlet 2, Robie bears strikingly resemblance to any theatre teacher who loves what they do. She has so many lines that could've come off as stupid or insipid, but her hands, they come off as gold. Solid gold! All the other supporting parts are good as well. 
Director Tom Gustafson has one wild imagination. Seeing as most of the musical numbers are in the Timothy's head, the director is free to go nuts and deliver something unlike any thing we've seen before. They are all very flashy and frenetic, and you can't help but love each and everyone. Now, you may think that with all the emphasis put on the musical numbers, the heart to heart stuff and regular dialogue would fall flat. Not so! The characters are given all the space they need to become fleshed out. We really sympathize with them in the end. 
Now, onto the most important part of a musical, the music. The music in Were The World Mine is not going to win any awards, but it will keep you entertained as you watch. At one point, there are the fantastical dream sequences, and at others, there are songs set in the real world, and in real time. It's kind of like Once in that regard. Most of the songs are well written, with many of them borrowing actual text from Shakespeare himself. Does that sound crazy? I thought so too, but it works, to a an alarming degree. Since most of the music is great, it's a shame that the finale (sung by Williams, no less) fails to deliver that punch needed in finale. Oh, did I just name a flaw. Oh well, I guess I should name some more. 
First off, there's pacing. The movie starts off great, with a dodgeball game turned into a operatic daydream, and then it just stalls for 45 minutes while we get to know everyone around Timothy. Timothy doesn't engineer his brilliant scheme until about an hour into the movie, and that, in turn, makes the rest of it seemed rushed. I wish they had spent more time with everyone falling in love with each other, rather then dwelling on Timothy's mom and her pathetic attempts at lotion selling. Also, some of the supporting characters are way too over the top and cliched, like a homophobic gym teacher, or a Bible spewing parent. They don't read as real people, and read as the archetypes that you need to put in a story like this. And don't even get me started on the ending. Let's just say that there was only one way this movie was going to end, and that's how it turned out. 
But the main thing that might dissuade people from seeing Were The World Mine is that the film is gay. Like, aggressively gay. This isn't a problem at all, but, well, let's just say that there are a lot of scenes involving dudes in tight shirts and glitter. I personally loved because of this, seeing at it was something I usually don't get the chance to experience. But, you know, there are those people out there who are not easily swayed, and they may not like it because of that. But, please, get past that and grow up. In this day and age, I think we can handle a movie that deals with something you'd rather not deal with. And Were The World Mine is a movie that, I think, people will get, and enjoy. Whether you be gay, straight, or somewhere in between, you should seek out this movie. You will thank me later. 

November 21, 2008

Lion Falls in Love With Lamb. Stupid Movie Goer!

Uggg. I haven't been looking forward to this. Like that little speck in the sky that is the massive asteroid that will eventually end all life on our planet, Twilight has been looming over me, ready to destroy me with it's supposed earnestness and sweet love story. I saw a trailer of this a while back, and thought, "Dear God! Could they make that movie look more depressing?" I saw it as some cheap, poorly made fantasy story about forbidden love, only it would be the exact same thing we had seen before. And it turns out I was right.
Twilight's premise can be summed up in a few short sentences. Angst ridden teenager moves to Depressistan. Teenager meets and falls in love with recluse boy. Turns out boy is a vampire. Shit happens. Ok, fine, that's a bit harsh. Here are the details. Angst ridden teenager Bella Swan moves to Forks, Washington to live with her dad. At school, she meets Edward Cullen. Her emotions toward Eddie are a bit mixed, seeing as she is mesmerized by him despite the fact that he acts like a huge dick to her most of the time. It turns out that he is a vampire, and he really wants to drink her blood. So he's being a dick to push her away. Yeah, but Bella's not gonna take that. Eventually they fall in love. Everything works out alright, you say? Ha, foolish human. By some strange coincidence, another pack of vampires comes to town, and they really want to drink Bella's blood. Vampire violence and cheesy love ensues. On the surface, it looks original, but as you progress, it's just a hip, more emo version of Beauty and the Beast. It doesn't really bring anything new to the whole "forbidden love" style of story telling, and I, due to the fact that I am dead inside, found the love story to be completely ludicrous, and actually a little creepy. There are some good moments, but I will talk about them later.   
Kristen Stewart plays Bella. I've heard from a friend of mine that the character of Bella is not supposed to be pretty. So, I guess that aspect of the story got thrown to the dogs, because Bella is quite a looker in this one. She actually does a pretty good job, conveying the right amount of emotion when she needs to. So she basically needs to look distressed for the entire thing. But, she does a decent job, despite the script and direction. Robert Pattison plays Edward. You may remember Pattison from the way his body pirouetted through the air as he died in Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire. (Speaking of which, the new trailer for Harry Potter is attached to this.) And guess what. He did a much better job in that movie then he does here. Sure, he is beautiful, but, unlike Stewart, that is the only thing he has going for him. You see him walk into the frame, and all you can think is, "My God, he is so white!" There is something wrong with a movie when all you can think about is the main character's skin color. There are other supporting roles, but they're not worth mentioning. I will say that Cam Gigandet does a great job as the bad vampire. He looks like he would suck your blood, unlike Edward. 
Director Catherine Hardwicke is not the most likely choice to direct this. On reflection, she probably shouldn't have. Her best movie was Lords of Dogtown, which saw Heath Ledger and Emile Hirsh skateboarding and being cool. This movie could not be more different from that. Instead of the vibrant colors she used in Lords, Hardwicke is employing the My Chemical Romance color palette. That is, gray, white, gray, a little red, gray, some other colors, and gray. This is probably the most visually depressing film I have seen this year. The fact that all the other characters, with there just short of albino skin, almost blend into the background doesn't really help. I don't know what you think, but it helps your movie if you can actually see the characters. The special effects are pretty bad as well. They consist of a vampire running real fast, jumping to enormous heights, or grappling with another vampire. The technique used is simple. Blur the image of the character as he runs, so it looks like he's running fast. You' think they could do better. This movie probably had a huge budget, and by the looks of it, most of that went into voice lessons for Pattison, so that he could cover up that sexy British accent of his. This is not a well directed or visually compelling movie, to say the least. 
Now, and I going a lot of crap for this, despite the fact that it is a love story, and it's meant for "young adults," it is still a vampire story, and that is the movie's biggest flaw. It doesn't feel like a vampire movie. A vampire movie should scare you, a lot. Hey, Dracula was technically a love story, but Dracula managed to scare the shit out of me. Hell, even Queen of the Damned does a better job at giving us potentially life threatening and dangerous beasts. And, for those who care to know, Queen of the Damned sucked. Anyway, Edward goes on and on about he is a monster, that he's killed people. Forgive me, but it doesn't look like he's killed so much as a gerbil in his entire immortal life span. Yeah, I know, I know, I know, this is a different type of vampire, but I don't care. Give me some proof that this guy would rip my head off, drink my blood and enjoy it, and maybe I'll hop on the band wagon.
Now, I said I would talk about the good scenes. There is one good scene that I liked. A dude has his head and appendages ripped off and burned. Delicious.
But, you know what? What I am saying has no bearing on how people will view this. Twilight will make absurd amounts of money. It will probably spawn a clothing line, lunch boxes, beach towels, Hasbro action figures, and more. You have already decided if you love Twilight or not. It will appeal to it's fans; they will just eat it up. I know I'm not the target audience, but then, I do not consider myself the target audience for any film. I review based on the quality of the film, not because I was biased toward the thing before I even went in. So, if you are already a fan, go for it. Damn the torpedoes. For the rest of you? Rent Interview With a Vampire. 

November 15, 2008

The Epitome of Masculine

Oh my. It's been awhile, hasn't it? Yeah, sorry about that. It's been a busy few weeks, and I have been kept away from the theaters to see movies like Changeling and Zack and Miri Make A Porno. But, c'mon. There is only one movie out this month that you, or anyone else, cares about. Well, here's the verdict. 
Quantum of Solace, being the first true sequel in the James Bond saga, starts off about 10 seconds after Casino Royale ended, with one of the most ball's tightening awesome car chases ever. After shaking off his pursuers, Bond meets with M and the hostage he was transporting, Mr. White. After a quick interrogation, we learn that the organization that Mr. White works for is everywhere, prompting Bond to go globe trotting trying to find out who they are. The organization is kind of like SPECTRE, only more nefarious and more eco-friendly. Bond himself, however, is not motivated by finding the organization, but rather finding the people who killed his lover in Casino. Soon, he stumbles upon a plot involving eco-titan Dominic Greene and a Bolivian general. They want to stage a coup so they can seize a valuable resource somewhere in the desert. Bond's female ally in this one is Camille, a sexy and tough woman who undercover in Greene's organization for her own goals. Crazily brutal violence ensues. 
Daniel Craig is back as Bond. He has really come into his own as the British super spy, bringing a Bourne-esque realism to the role. This movie doesn't really let him explore the character of Bond as much as Casino Royale did, but he still manages to get some human emotion out of the character; much more then Pierce Brosnan ever did. Olga Kurylenko is Camille, and while she doesn't hold a candle to the wit and sexiness of Eva Green, she does a fine job as the feminie badass, and I believe she is the first female lead in a Bond movie that does not go to bed with the man. Mathieu Almaric plays nefarious baddy Dominic Greene. The first thing you notice about him is that his eyes bug out of his head to an alarming point. I guess it's to make up for the fact they were mostly closed in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. He is more of a creepy villain along the lines of Gustav Graves rather then a truly evil one, a la Goldfinger. He's not the best, but he's not the worst, certainly better then that media tycoon in Tomorrow Never Dies. Judi Dench is back as M. She does the same thing she has done in the last five movies. But, that doesn't matter. She was great in those, and she is great here. There are two returning characters from Casino as well as some new ones that I didn't deem important enough to discuss. 
Director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, of all things) is absolutely frenetic with his action scenes. The camera jumps around like it's just had ten double espressos, the stars perform crazy physical feats, and the body count is about double that of Casino. This is an action movie, through and through, and therein lies Quantum's main issue. It relies too heavily on the action instead of the characters to forward the plot. This is not an uncommon thing for this franchise, but after the Casino Royale did character growth so well, it's a little disappointing. That's not to say that the amount of action should dissuade you from seeing it. Far from it. The action is so well done that it almost makes up for the lessened attention to characters. There are tons, literally tons, of "OMIGOD DIDYOUSEETHAT!!" moments in the film. Some action scenes seem like they were thrown in for shits and giggles, like an uninspired plane chase, but the rest are really well done and exciting. They make the movie entertaining, and that's the most you should expect from it. 
On a side note: The new theme song, "Another Way To Die," performed by Jack White and Alicia Keys, and written by White, gets a resounding "eh" from me. It's not that it's a bad song, it's just it's hard rock roots don't fit well with Bond mythos. It's certainly not as good as Chris Cornell's "You Know My Name," but, I guess it gets the job done.
Is Quantum of Solace the best Bond movie ever? Hell no. That will always be Goldfinger. Is it the best of the Daniel Craig Bond movies? No. What it is is a coldly efficient and hardcore action movie that further cements the new Bond into the bottom of our hearts. You walk out of the theatre feeling as if you senses have experienced a thrill ride; you will understand where the confusing title came from; and you will be eagerly anticipating the next foray in MI6 espionage. Daniel Craig hasn't dethroned Sean Connery yet, but, if he keeps up the way he is going, he is well on his way.     

October 26, 2008

Cops, Bullets, Corruption, and Swear Words!

It's a fairly uncommon thing to see a good, compelling cop drama these days, what with the influx of stinkers like Street Kings and Max Payne hitting cinemas like an infectious disease. Which makes all the more refreshing and awesome when a somewhat decent one comes along. The last great one was The Departed, and, while the new movie, Pride and Glory, is not as good as the 2006 Best Picture winner, it is certainly the best come along since then.
Pride and Glory tells the story of three cops. Brothers Ray and Francis Tierney, and their brother in law, Jimmy Egan. When four cops who are under Francis' command wind up dead in a raid gone wrong, all three begin investigating, each with different motives. Ray is squeaky clean cop who would turn himself in if he did something "not by the book." Francis wants to find the killer for personal reasons, seeing as the men died under his command. Jimmy, on the other hand, is going after the killer for different reasons. I give away nothing by telling you that Jimmy and his crew are more crooked then a fault line. Soon, Ray discovers this, and is then faced with the dilemma of taking down his sister's husband or covering it up so everyone can go home happy. The story was written by director Gavin O' Connor and Smokin' Aces writer Joe Carnahan. If Quentin Tarantino wrote a cop procedural, this would be it. The dialogue is fast and furious, and full of the f-bomb. There are some elements that seem a little out of place, like how every junkie on the street seems to know where the bad guys are, and the bar room brawl/city wide riot of a conclusion seems a tad conventional, but all the gripes can be forgiven when the story and characters are this deep. 
The casting is great here. Edward Norton plays Ray. He does a fantastic job and is able to display some shocking depth as everything falls apart around him. It's great to see him bounce back after the disappointment of The Incredible Hulk. Colin Farrell plays Jimmy. With this and In Bruges in February, he is having a career year. He is at one point a family man with two kids and a loving wife, and at the next, a sadistic, financially motivated enforcer who is willing to deform a baby to get information. I'm serious about that, by the way. Noah Emmerich plays Francis. He is also on a winning streak with his work here and in Little Children in 2006. He is very good as the guy whose motivations are never clear. You never really know if he is crooked or not. Jon Voight plays their father and police captain. He is pretty much just the voice of reason as these three brothers destroy their lives. All the leads are very good, and they make the premise seems very believable. 
Director Gavin O' Connor does a great job for a first timer into this genre. His last movie was the hockey picture Miracle, and that breathed new life into the uplifting sports drama. He must like to take a tired and worn out genre and give it a new edge. And guess what. He's two for two. He employs some really good use of the shaky camera technique, a really good color palette, and the appropriate amount of bullet in head violence. The violence is not drawn out, and it comes in sudden, brutal, increments. It worked in Scorcese movies like The Departed, and it works here. Come to think of it, if O' Connor keeps it up with these type of cop dramas, he could very well become the next Scorcese. He certainly has the chops to do so. 
Pride and Glory is, hands down, a good movie, and certainly the best of it's type to come around since Leo and Matt tore up Boston in The Departed. I am worried that, with all the popular movies like Saw V and High School Musical 3 coming out, that this will be overshadowed and passed over. I pity anyone who does not seek it out. It is well worth your time. 

October 25, 2008

Neon Interventionist Windowsills

Making their follow up an even better album than the debut CD that was one of 2004’s greatest albums was one heavy task for The Arcade Fire. All I can say from listening to Neon Bible over and over and over again is; they have done it. They moved past the childhood anthems of Funeral and created an accessible, broad album that is just as good, if not better than their 2004 hit. The combination of a powerful organ, violins, keyboard, guitar, horns, and masterful percussion creates complex, multifaceted music that is purely orgasmic. After a strong and heavy drum and guitar set on Black Mirror the album moves onto its first instant hit, “Keep The Car Running”. The mood is vibrant and happy and one can virtually feel the energy that The Arcade Fire puts into every second of this song. Neon Bible seems like the Grandchild of Intervention when one looks at every part of Intervention. It is easily one of the most accessible songs on the album and one of the best. It starts off with the brilliant sounds of an organ. The reason I love this song isn’t because of the profound lyrics or the use of every resource of Arcade Fire but rather because of the progression of this song. It moves from a lone organ to a full ensemble and how the acoustic guitar is still able to stay a prominent over the wonderful strings and continual organ. We are only 4 songs in and Arcade Fire has already shown that their 2nd album is nowhere close to failing the hype that followed its creation. Now I can keep rambling on about every song and how each one is a masterful sign of the band’s creativity but I’d like to do something different. Well first let me say what a cracker jack of a song No Cars Go is. One listen is all that is needed for it to hook you. Let’s look at how much Arcade Fire has changed from Funeral. On the CD Funeral, The Arcade Fire looked inside themselves and sang and played about childhood, inner happiness, and deep loss. On Neon Bible they branch out and go beyond themselves to create an album that tackles issues beyond themselves like military, entertainment, and the church. Now they never say “Fuck the Man!” or anything like that in the album but one could argue that they say the equivalent through creativity and fantastically layered songs. The whole album sends a message on a worldly scope that sends shivers down anyone’s back. The way this whole album works so brilliantly is due to the progression and track list of the album. The Arcade Fire builds up, fall down, build even higher, then slowly let you down with the song “My Body Is A Cage”. Now that I have gone through all the things that I completely love about the album, I will touch on a few minor parts that brought the album down from its full potential. First of all while songs are nice to listen to, “The Well And The Lighthouse” and some other parts of songs seem to be directly taken from either folk stories or other sources of ancient origin. While this can show how the group is branching out even further, it really detracts from personal feeling and how they are trying to put across a message. Which brings me to my next point: the songs by themselves. While I could listen to Intervention, No Cars Go, or Windowsill for hours on ends just on repeat, every single other song seems to be greater with the support of other songs to fully push the message. While I applaud albums GREATLY for putting out a fantastic message (cough cough OK Computer) when songs can’t stand by themselves as well without the next song to finish the point. These are only small cons to an amazing album. An album can never be completely compromised by a mere song order (even though No Cars Go should have been the obvious closer for this album). In conclusion, this album is stellar. Purely amazing with energy erupting from every pore. If you do not have this CD you need to get it right now. Whether you are an indie fan or not this group of 7+ people will have you getting up and jumping around to your favorite song and you will get chills down your back every time you listen to Windowsill. Every song will bring on a new feeling of awesome. And if you EVER have the chance to see them live, DO IT. Take it from me that it will be one of the greatest experiences of your life. 

9.4 – Pure Bliss 

By Andy Holden

Like Shoving Freedom Fries Down Your Throat

A question of ethics is running through my mind right now. Is it ethical to release a biopic of someone, criticizing and satirizing the acts they did, while they are still performing those acts? I would probably say no. Oliver Stone, on the other hand, never even knew of such a question when he made W. or dubyah. That's ok, because satirizing George W. Bush, in any form, is alright with me. Stone's new film pokes fun at a lot of the actions taken by our President, but also manages to give the man a conscience that, while most likely not true, makes me want to forgive him for all the mistakes he's made. This is a biopic of George W. Bush, for Christ's sake. Do I need to explain much? It's just a standard retelling of his drunken fraternity days, to his run for Governor of Texas, to his first term as President, all culminating with one, giant mistake. We all know what that mistake is. Just by watching a trailer of W., you know that the casting is genius. Josh Brolin plays Bush, and, my God, he is good. He nails Bush down to every last heh heh. He is one point hysterically funny as he talks about giving up sweets as a sacrifice to show solidarity to out troops, and at the next a conflicted man who only wants to impress his father. An Oscar nomination for sure. He is very good, and is the reason you should spend $10 to see this. Pretty much all the other roles fade away compared to him. Elizabeth Banks plays Laura Bush, and she's good. Toby Jones plays Karl Rove. He turns on the slime and the charm as the man who advised Bush and his daddy. Richard Dreyfuss plays DIck Cheney before his duck hunting days. He is very good. Jeffery Rush plays Colin Powell as the essential, Republican with a conscience. He is also very good. The only rough patch in the cast is Thandie Newton as Condoleeza Rice. Everything about her character is so meticulously modeled after the real Rice that you get the sense she is trying to hard. The rest of the cast includes James Cromwell as Daddy Bush and Ellen Burstyn as Mama Bush.
Oliver Stone directs this movie like a parody of an Oliver Stone movie. In the movie, Bush is seen having a dream of standing in the middle of an empty baseball stadium, but still hearing the roar of an approving crowd. It's pretty trippy and feels very, well, Oliver Stoneish. I get the sense that Stone was a little depressed that he couldn't do things like that in World Trade Center, so he ratcheted up the surreality to appease his fetish. Those scenes are cool, but they are unnecessary and don't fit with the rest of the movie. But he does make some deft and smart choices when tackling this story. For one, the plot is chopped up so that the scenes of Bush's booze drenched frat days are interspersed with scenes of his Presidency. It's not told in order, so we don't see a whole hour of tedious staff meetings. It stays interesting. He also gives Bush a character that makes you sympathize with the man, even if you don't want to. According to Stone, Bush was always second in his father's eyes. He very much wants to be accepted by his dad as a successful guy, but his dad seems so preoccupied with other things. This leads Bush to invade Iraq; to please his dad by taking down Saddam Hussein, with whom his dad harbored a grudge. It becomes apparent right from the get go that he is just a idiot who gets in over his head. Not for his lack of trying, however. He is fed the wrong information, and is alright with calling his staff on that fact, i.e., no nukes in Iraq. He is just human, and, despite how you feel about the real man, you will feel a bit sorry for him when the movie is over.
W. is not a great movie, it's just a good one. It strikes close to home in this day in age, what with the election and the general abhorring of our president in out country. It's has great performances, a deep and conflicted lead, and some good tongue in cheek humor. Oliver Stone turns a good film, not his best, but certainly one of his most well put together.


October 24, 2008

Pain to the Max!

High hopes and dreams have been shattered here tonight folks. Big ones. It's common knowledge that adapting a video game to the big screen is a one way ticket to hell for your movie. Not one good game-to-movie project has ever been conceived, and some are so bad that they have gone down as some of the worst movies of all time. Max Payne seeks to remedy that, and it has the potential, which makes it all the more disappointing when it becomes clear that it does not even come close.
Max Payne has a bad life. He's a NYPD Detective whose family was killed a few years ago, and, naturally, he's been searching for the killer ever since. When a series of grisly murders occur in the city, Max discovers links to his family's murder in the all bloodshed. This leads him to a conspiracy involving a powerful corporation, a street drug, and people he thought he could trust. He then goes on a rampage, if you can call it that, to bring the wrongdoers to justice. Along the way he is helped by the sexy and deadly Mona Sax. Being a fan of the game, I must say that I am horrified by how far the plot of the movie deviates from the source material. In the game, there were compelling side plots involving a masked assassin and powerful crime family. They are no where to be seen in the movie. The movie is just your standard crime story where a cop discovers something huge while investigating something small. Yawn! Oh, by the way, those winged creatures you saw pulling guys out of windows in the trailers. Yeah, there's an explanation for it, and it's stupid. Really stupid. Don't be surprised if you are confused as to what the hell just happened when you step out of the theatre; Nothing is resolved in the end.
Mark Wahlberg plays Payne, and you know he only got the role because he looks like the guy on the cover of the video game box. He knows this too, seeing as he phones in the whole thing. He is flat and uninteresting. You don't care what happens to him, which, in case you don't know, is a bad thing for this type of story. Mila Kunis plays Mona Sax. She does an ok job for the five minutes she's on screen, but the performance is too cold and unmemorable to leave a mark. It's not worth talking about the other roles. They all show up for a grand total of 20 minutes each. I wish we could have seen more of the other characters instead of just looking a Wahlberg brooding the whole time. This is not a good example of his talent, and he should probably stop taking roles like this if he wants to get back in the limelight.
As I watched this thing, I became almost positive that director John Moore did not even look at the source material when he made this movie. Granted he brings a really good visual sense to NYC that makes it look like a cold, hard, and depressing world, which works for the story. But everything else is such a far cry from the game that you can't help but wonder if he even saw a video of the game being played. Moore's direction is stiff and lifeless. His action scenes are boring and too far in-between; his dialogue scenes are hammy and poorly written, and his special effects scenes are haphazardly put together and badly designed.
The most disappointing thing about Max Payne is that it had the potential and source material to be a legitimately good movie. Where as all the source material of other game-to-movie adaptations dealt with monsters or fantasy, Max Payne: The Game, told a real world story that was actually really well written and interesting. There's none of that in the movie. Also, the action in the game was constant and incredibly fun and stylized. It was influenced by John Woo films like Hard Boiled, and saw Max diving all over the place and shooting thousands of bad guys. Max, in the movie, shoots about ten people, and I don't think his feet leave the ground once. If your going to make an adaptation of something, be sure to include the thing that made that something special. Without the stylized violence and intriguing story line, Max Payne is just another boring "cop on the edge" picture.
In case you haven't figured it out, Max Payne: The Movie, pisses me off. I am mad that they did not do a better job with this. There is no excuse. Moore and Co. had all the things they needed to make Max Payne good, but I guess they decided it wasn't cool enough or something. If you want to experience a good version of this story, buy an Xbox, and play the game. To Max Payne's credit, it is the best video game adaptation to ever come along. To it's discredit, that's like saying Ebola is better then Smallpox!


Here's the Deal!

So, I've decided that, while it is fun and accessible, reviewing on Facebook is a tad unprofessional. Not that being on Blogger is anymore professional, I just thought it was the next step forward. Things will progress as normal however, so fret not. Reviews will continue to come through, with music provided by Andy and movies provided by me. Thanks for tuning in.