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.