Monday, October 31, 2011

Boo

Yep it's time for another Cheap Costumes with Elessar. This year: The Dude.


Yes, I know it looks shitty. But that's just like...your opinion. Man.

Review: In Time

In Time is the latest entry into the well used bad future sci-fi, more specifically the kind where the aspect that makes this future bad is being used as a metaphor for some current problem. In this future everyone stops aging at 25 and at that point the time you have left is currency. Hence the poor mostly have just enough for the rest of their day and the rich have enough to live for thousands of years.

If that sounds like it has a blunt anti-capitalism message coming, well give yourself a cookie. Justin Timberlake has the lead as a poor man with Strong Moral Fiber (trademark) who lucks into over a century in time and uses his skills at gambling and charming to push his way into high society. While there he meets the rebellious daughter (Amanda Seyfried) of a local billionaire and together they start a Robin Hood-esque crime spree.

Okay so the movie has Something To Say (trademark) about the evils of unrestricted capitalism, but that's really not too irritating when you actually watch the film, although it might be more so if you have a problem with it's message. One of the things that works about it is, despite having a rather blatant message, it manages to deliver said message without ever feeling preachy, a trait it shares with the director's last film, the SPECTACULAR, but underwatched Lord of War. So once you've removed the risk of failing due to message mongering, it's up to the movie itself to hold itself up.

And on that note, the news is good. 2 of the director's last films were the aforementioned Lord of War and another underwatched classic Gattica and while he's not doing as good a job as he did in those two, he does a solid enough job that the movie works in all the ways it needs to. The screenplay is solid, nothing Oscar Worthy (trademark) but a good piece of work that seems far more interested in seeing how the world works then in wondering how it could be fixed.

The actors are all turning in good performances. Justin Timberlake is a solid action hero, once again proving that we should all get over him being in N'Sync (though we are contractually obligated to hate the other former members more). Cillian Murphy does a great devoted cop as villain bit, proving once again how under used he is. Amanda Seyfried is a little more disappointing as The Girl (trademark), but she does what she can with the admittedly light material. Of course part of the fun of a universe where everyone stops aging at 25 is that everyone gets to be cast as a gorgeous mid-20's actor, something which the movie takes full advantage of (Olivia Wilde plays Timberlake's 50 year old mother, which sounds like a Freudian nightmare).

If there are letdowns, it's in the 3rd act, when the slightly breezy storyline starts to take its toll. A couple of character turns seem to come out of nowhere, a running subplot concerning Timberlake's father sorta fizzles out and a large part of the last bit of action hinges on a number of deus ex machinas. But as I said, when it works it works, and this one mostly works. So I'm going to call it recommended. It's not perfect, but so few things are and if you don't want to go see an Oscar Movie (trademark), this is definitely the one in theaters for you right now.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he's calling Olivia Wilde in this movie the ultimate MILF.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Halloween Films

Yes, it's another edition of missed movies, but focused on Halloween. However, since I already did a horror example, I figured I'd focus on something else this time: Films that might not be horror films but have some connection to horror or a similar vibe.

Ed Wood

I could stock this entire list with Tim Burton films, because he rarely does direct horror but so many of his films have that vibe. However, since Ed Wood is his best film I figured I'd draw everyone's attention to it. Anyway, how many of you have heard of Plan 9 From Outer Space? The original terrible but hilarious film, Plan 9 is a staple of any worse-ever list, and Ed Wood is a biopic about it's director, Edward D Wood Jr.

This sounds like a setup for a cruel joke at the expense of the lead character, but the film never takes that route. Indeed, one of the greatest parts about this film is it never seems to want to be cruel to it's lead, despite his obvious lack of talent. It regards him as an inhumanly optimistic, naive film geek who just happens to lack anything resembling talent.

From there it's an incredibly well made film, with a great screenplay and incredible performances from everyone from Johnny Depp to Martin Landau to Juliet Landau (aka Drusilla from Buffy). It even manages to have all the good things about Tim Burton's direction without ever falling into the traps that bring his work down.  It garnered great reviews at the time and even managed to pull in a couple Oscars, but was a HUGE commercial failure at the time, so not a lot of people have heard of it. So if you're looking for a forgotten gem of a movie, you should definitely seek this one out.

A Boy and His Dog

How many of you like the Fallout games? Well this is pretty much Fallout the movie. It's the future, things have gone to shit, etc. You've seen this kind of movie in the Mad Max but one thing that Mad Max didn't have was a sarcastic telepathic dog. No really, this movie has a telepathic dog.


This one comes with a tentative recommendation, as it can get quite nasty (I'm talking nasty enough to make Eli Roth flinch) and occasionally veers into what seems to be sexism. But if you can suffer through the gore, the really icky aspects and more than few jarring shifts in tone, it's a brave and original film with a lot going on under the surface.

Little Shop of Horrors


Based on a well received off-broadway show (which itself was based on a not-terrible Roger Corman film), Little Shop of Horrors is a fun little comedy musical. The story is about a 20 year old living in a shitty neighborhood who finds a strange plant in a local shop and proceeds to use it to make the flower shop where he works a success, but finds that it only grows when it's fed blood. And you can pretty much guess where it's going from there.

It's directed by Frank Oz (in his first break from the Muppets as a director), and while it might lack the polish of some of his later films, when it works it really works, and there's a lot of fun with the three ladies acting as Greek Chorus. So if you're in the mood for a well made and amusing musical, definitely seek this one out.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Review: The Rum Diary

Adapted from a novel by Gonzo Journalist (and personal hero) Hunter S. Thompson, The Rum Diary is the third attempt to adapt the often unconventional works of Thompson to the screen, following Where the Buffalo Roam and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, neither of which were as successful as they wanted to be. And while The Rum Diary works it's ass off and isn't entirely disagreeable, it still can't quite get there.

Now, I don't want to be a jerk about this. The movie is well made to a point, well written and well acted and more importantly it finally puts Johnny Depp back on a slightly more serious career path after some...let's call them missteps, all of which make it well worth seeing. But it fails at several key points, the first and most important being the problem I identified when it was announced: That very little actually happens.

That's really the hardest problem with adapting Hunter Thompson works to the big screen: He lacks a direct plotline (this is much more evident in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas but that's a discussion for another time). In the book of The Rum Diary for example, very little actually happens for about 2/3rds of it. The main character (a NY Journalist named Paul Kemp) wanders around, drinking absurdly heavily, meeting a variety of well characterized people (who I suspect were based on people Thompson knew). There are a couple of minor altercations, but ultimately the plot doesn't kick in until the last act, when a pair of mildly forshadowed things happen, there's some event and then the novel just sort of ends.

The movie works all that over by jacking up some minor events in the middle into the closest thing the movie has to a conflict, trying to hammer Aaron Eckhart's Sanderson into a villain, pushing the light romance angle for all it's worth and bringing in Thompson's own politics into the character in order to give the film a point (and fans of Thompson will be amused by Kemp's thoughts on the American Dream, or his hatred of Richard Nixon). The problem with it's choice of conflict is that the characters are ultimately unable to do anything about it and that Puerto Rico is essentially the same as when Kemp arrived as when he left.

The acting is the best part of the film, with Depp in particular working his ass off, ultimately coming the closest of anything to making the movie more than the sum of it's parts. Aaron Eckhart proves once again that he's one of the most criminally underused actors working in Hollywood right now and Michael Rispoli does a great job as what amounts to a more serious version of a comic sidekick. And Amber Heard is so good in this that I'd almost call her the movie's biggest find...if she hadn't already proved how talented she was back in 2006 with All The Boys Love Mandy Lane. Oh well.

The direction is visual and stylish, doing a great job of capturing the feeling of the time and place. This is director Bruce Robinson's first film in 19 fucking years (those of you with a taste for British comedies might remember him from Withnail and I) and it'd be really great if he could be back after all this time. He also wrote the screenplay, which occasionally veers off into attempts at message mongering (which stops the film cold every time), but mostly hangs around working at being a comedy, at which it's reasonably successful. It also manages to fall into the Fear and Loathing trap of losing discipline around the middle, but it manages to hold together enough to get past it and keep going.

This is one of those mostly negative reviews that I hate to give. Everyone involved is working so hard and I'd like so much for it to succeed that I feel that I'm being unfair. I suppose my feelings are essentially grounded in that the film could be so much more. But you review the movie you've got, not the one you want, and taken on it's own merits, it's an agreeable and mostly well made comedy, with it's share of flaws, but then what doesn't. So you know what, f you're in the mood for it, then I say see it.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he still wonders how Thompson ever made it to 67.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

DVD Review: The People vs. George Lucas

Yeah, DVD reviews are gonna be happening from now on. Fairly unavoidable what with my schedule and such, but I'll still try to keep them to a minimum and try to keep them short (my reviews generally run about a page, these'll probably go about half).

Anyway, if you're a fan of Star Wars and spend a certain amount of time on the internet, you're probably aware of the somewhat...complicated relationship the franchise has with it's fans. Quick version on my end:...Yeah, the original trilogy is one of my favorite films series of all time (in particular Empire) and I completely understand the hatred leveled at the new films and the Special Editions. But you'll never hear me saying that George Lucas raped my childhood.

Oh yeah, for those of you out of the know, hating the versions and the prequels has become a full time obsession, as full time as loving the originals was. And The People vs. George Lucas sets out to timeline and document the love-hate relationship in it's entirety, as well as discuss it's broader artistic, cultural and financial implications.

Those of you out there expecting a hate filled rant like the still justifiably lauded Red Letter Media reviews will be disappointed. It's actually quite a fair documentary, interviewing people with opinions on both sides. And not just fans, real filmmakers and writers (plus Neil fucking Gaiman) give opinions in support of both sides.

It's also well directed, keeping good pace and being mostly well presented. I don't want to oversell it, it's not perfect. It's very slow to get started and it's not particularly friendly to outsiders (if you're not familiar with the subject matter, it doesn't go out of it's way to introduce it to you) and in terms of 2011 documentaries it's nowhere near the level of Tabloid. But still, it's a well made and agreeable documentary that approaches it's somewhat touchy (in nerd culture) subject. If you're a Star Wars fan and are looking for an interesting take on the creator fan interaction in the case of Star Wars then this is well worth a look.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he just realized he forgot the sign off.

Recommended Reading

Holy crap, has it really been 17 days since I last updated this? I'm so sorry guys, I began classes at NYFA on the 13th and it's something of an exhausting schedule. I'm gonna try to make it up to you over this weekend: I'm seeing Being Elmo on friday and I'm gonna try to squeeze The Rum Diary into my weekend somewhere, plus I'm hoping to pick up a copy of The People vs. George Lucas sometime this week and that might merit a mention/review, plus I want to see Anonymous and Martha Macy May Marlene and In Time and The Skin I Live In and Jamie and Jessie Are Not Together and DAMN the year end art film deluge.

Anyway, the reason I'm here isn't entirely to apologize for being a lazy bum. I mean, that's there, but it's not ALL of it. I'm here to recommend a book which I just finished reading and I thought some of you out there would find interesting: John Dies At The End. It's a profoundly strange book that reads little like Douglas Adams knocked up HP Lovecraft and the result was raised by Tim Burton. I'm not going to describe the plot, not least because fully understanding the plot will take at least one more reading. But if you're looking for that rare thing that manages to mix horror and humor without damaging either than John Dies At The End is for you. And hey, they're making a movie with the guy who did Bubba Ho-Tep directing, so maybe it'll be good.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Review: Real Steel

...Oh don't look at me like that. I wanted to see Ides of March but the theater I went to wasn't showing it, so it was either this or see if Seth Rogen could pull a Jonah Hill and not piss me off when paired with a better actor. So I went to see this instead.

So the premise is, it's the near future and human boxing has been replaced with robot boxing. Hugh Jackman is a guy who trains and controls robots to box, but he really, really, sucks at it. Early in the movie, his ex-girlfriend dies and leaves him with an 11 year old kid, that he takes on the road essentially to extort money from some wealthy relatives who want to adopt him. The kid proves to be a big fan of robot boxing and finds a broken down sparring bot in a junkpile, that he's convinced can be a winner with some repairs and some of Hugh Jackman's moves.

So it's a movie about a down and out boxer who isn't polished or well known, but can take a lot of punishment and has a lot of heart, getting one big shot at the title. And if that plot outline sounds familiar to you, you're not the only one. I could be here all day listing titles, so let's just go with Rocky. And while the plot is mostly formula and predictable, with few surprises, what is surprising, is the movie isn't bad. On the contrary, it's actually pretty good.

Not great now, I don't want to oversell it. In terms of 2011 non-art action films, it's nowhere near X-Men: First Class and can't even compete with Hanna, but given that I, and everyone else it seems, was really ready to hate this film, the fact that I can honestly say I enjoy it is more than a little surprising.

A lot of this has to go with the cast and the technical aspects. Hugh Jackman really kills as the lead, helped by the fact that his character isn't merely superficially neglectful or down on his luck, but actually a real asshole when the story starts, giving him a worthwhile character arc. Dakota Goyo manages to bring enough skill to his role that what is usually the most annoying aspect of films like these (IE, the precocious kid) isn't quite as bad.

On a technical aspect, the film clearly borrows heavily from the boxing movies it's reverse engineered from. The fights are cleanly shot and well edited and usually quite engaging. The techniques used to create the robots are impressive and the robots themselves are quite imposing and, most importantly, easily visually distinguishable from each other, even in a close fight, which is VERY important for a film like this. (*insert gratuitous slam of the Transformers films here*) Director Shawn Levy has mostly worked with comedies up until now, every one of which has made me want to hunt him down and kill him (or maybe just tell him they're terrible) but he really steps up to the plate here, directing action with a casual ease.

Most of the problems come in at the script level. The dialogue runs from workable to ludicrously unsubtle. As I said, the story is predictable and doesn't seem to borrow too much from the Richard Matheson short it's supposedly based on. There's a couple character turns towards the end that are a little too big to swallow easily (you'll know them when you see them) and while Evangeline Lilly does a solid job as...well 'the girl', the script doesn't seem to give her much to do, other than fill in backstory on Jackman's character and be the love interest.

Look, I went into this expecting to hate it, so the mere fact that my review is positive is a mark of quality. A lot of the quality can be chalked up to people on board actually caring that the movie turn out good, and while there are things out that I'd recommend first and it won't be anywhere near my 'best of the year' list, if you're inclined to go see it, for the popcorn chewing fun or because you have a kid you think might be into it, yeah it's not without merit. So give it a look if you want.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he's not tired of calling this movie “Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots: The Movie” just yet.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Second Age Battle: The Howling vs. An American Werewolf in London


Alright so, this week at the Avon, they showed 2 great 1981 Werewolf films, The Howling and An American Werewolf in London. Rather than waste your, my and everyone's times doing another damned 2 page review each where I tell you that they're both good and you should see both of them (oh, spoiler: They're both good and you should see both of them, because I'm probably going to be spoiling them both. In fact, I KNOW I'm going to be spoiling them both.) I thought I'd mix it up a little. Variety is the spice of life eh?

So this time, I'm going to be comparing them in a series of scientific (shut up it is) trials to determine which is best. The trials will be: Story, Scares, Werewolf Design, Transformation Sequence, Script, Direction, Acting, Makeup & Special Effects and Uniqueness. By having 9 categories and a stubborn refusal to let any category come out a draw, I can guarantee a lack of ties. Also I would once again like to hang a MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT over the entire article, as I'll likely be spoiling the stories of both films repeatedly. So, go see them first, then come back for my opinion.

So, with that in mind, away we go:

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Review: Drive

For the last 6 months or so, the question of what my best movie of the year (so far) has been consistently answered with Source Code, although both Moneyball and Tabloid made brave runs at the title. But, as must always happen when Oscar season happens, the list is getting shuffled and already Source Code has been pushed into second place behind Drive.

The plot has already been described by people who get paid for this as the arthouse version of The Transporter. This is really only true in the basic outline, in that they're both about emotionless getaway drivers who transform into mob fighting supermen, and more than that, The Transporter is fine, for what it is, though it must be said, there is no comparison in quality.

Drive is centered around a nameless, emotionless getaway driver/mechanic named....I dunno, it's never said, he's called simply Driver in the credits. He's an interesting character, as he's almost completely expressionless, not in a stupid bad-acting way, in an intentional way. He rarely speaks, and when he does it's in a quiet, flat voice, regardless of what's being said. The presentation leaves it unclear whether he's incapable or unwilling to express himself and as a result, the rare moments of real emotions peeking through are all that more intense. It's a great performance and Ryan Gosling does a great job.

Of course, playing the subtle quiet role, Driver would threaten to be swallowed in his own story in a movie with more characters. But Drive seems to be aware of this problem and works around it: There are less than 10 characters with names and speaking roles and at least 3 of them are based in quiet subtle acting as well. Of them, Carey Mulligan is great as the nominal love interest, Ron Pearlman does a great villain, etc. But the shocking turn is Albert Brooks as the main villain. Brooks is known primarily for comedy roles, but here he slips into an intense villainous performance like an old pro, managing to find the humanity at the heart of his intensely cruel character. It's the performance of his career in more ways than one.

Those of you showing up for the action scenes are going to leave disappointed and maybe more than a little shaken. The action sequences are scarce, and when they happen they are brief and brutal and shot in such a way to make them horrifying rather than exhilarating. If this were at all at odds with the way the action is treated it might be a flaw, but by making this part of the theme and point it adds a great deal of weight and depth to film as a whole. In many ways it's a cousin to No Country For Old Men or A History of Violence in that respect. All of this turns on a well written script, fantastic direction and a well chosen, if occasionally eclectic, soundtrack.

It's not without it's minor flaws. The lengths they go to to keep characters from ever saying the main characters real name (if any) get kind of silly at times, one scene seems to have been a tiny bit overdirected and while it's not a flaw, I imagine a lot of people aren't going to like the ending. Christ look at me, I'm frantically nitpicking to try and find something to complain about, cuz otherwise my review will feel incomplete. And if that isn't a compliment, I don't know what is.

Drive is still open wide and it might not be for much longer, so if you haven't seen it, you should really see it as soon as possible. It's currently the best thing I've seen all year and there's really nothing at all even vaguely worth watching looking opening wide this weekend. So if you want to see something this weekend, this is the movie for you. Unless you have kids. Don't bring your kids.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he wonders, which is a better nickname No Driving for Old Men or No Country for Old Drivers?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Missed Music

Told you I'd do a Missed Music. Anyway, this is going to be done a little differently. First I will tell you the name of the band, then their genre, then what album(s) I recommend you try first if you want to get into them, then a brief description and finally I'll link you to a pair of songs on youtube (just songs, not music videos) by them that I think would help you figure out whether you'll like them. I dunno if I'm connected enough to the obscure side of music to get enough to fill a second post, but if you like this, I'll give it another shot.


Tegan and Sara

Genre: Indie Rock?

Recommended first album(s): Either The Con or Sainthood

I first discovered Tegan and Sara when Rock Band 3 came out and included their song The Con on it. This led me to investigate them and they rocketed faster to my top 5 favorites of all time faster than any band I had discovered like that, which is really the best sort of compliment I can give.

As for their music, indie rock is the best term I can come up with, even though it doesn't really mean anything (it's used as a blanket term for things that are had to classify), but really these ladies defy genre. Rock, folk, new wave, who knows? Whatever, they're a preciously unique gem in the dull gray waters of the modern music industry. I must say that most people who know me well are unsurprised to know I'm fond of them, as they're heavily lyric based and poetic, without resorting to word salads and occasionally anthemic, things I'm very fond of.

Quick side note before I hit the links for the songs: Those fans of Jonathan Coulton in the audience may recognize Sara as the replacement voice for GlaDOS for the version of Still Alive from Artificial Heart. Alright, moving on.

Songs:




Eluveitie

Genre: Celtic Metal

Recommended first album(s): Everything Remains (As It Never Was)

I've long enjoyed alternate forms of metal, be it Prog Metal (Dream Theater), Viking Metal (Tyr) or Pirate Metal (Alestorm and YES that is as awesome as it sounds). But being Irish, I'm often very fond of Celtic forms of music, such as Flogging Molly, The Pogues or Thin Lizzy. And, really, how can you go wrong with Metal sung in Gaelic?

The Celtic influence moves beyond the mere aesthetics of the thing, such as the Uilleann Pipes (know your bagpipes) in the music, or the Gaelic lyrics, and right to the core. For example, I'm 99 percent certain that Quoth the Raven is about the Morrigan (I've read the Ulster Cycle, sue me). If you like Irish things and metal, this band is definitely for you.

Songs:




Tijuana Sweetheart

Genre: Punk Rock

Recommended first album(s): Public Display of Infection

Again, this band was first introduced to me via Rock Band, back when they were known as Vagiant. They went through a couple rebrandings and came out the other side Tijuana Sweetheart.

I'll warn you up front, this band isn't for the easily shocked (although who among punk fans is easily shocked?) Most of their songs are either about mayhem or sex (or both) and some of it can be...kind of explicit. They have a song that is literally about giving Jesus a blowjob (and people wonder why I like them?) But if you like Punk, they're well made Punk Rock with good lyrics and some great guitar sections. Currently they're a deeply obscure band, so it'd be nice if they had some success. So if you're into punk, give them a look.

Songs:




Emilie Autumn

Genre: Fucked if I know

Recommended first album(s): Opheliac

That genre description isn't kidding either, Emilie is even harder to classify than Tegan & Sara. Put quickly, her music is like if Lady Gaga moved to England, developed real talent, began using classical instruments, started writing proper lyrics and decided to focus that craziness that drives those ridiculous costumes into her songs (not that Miss Autumn is any stranger to costumes). This is what drives me crazy about Lady Gaga, her insane public persona is so heavily at odds with the generic techno-pop of her music. But that's not what this is about.

At the core of Emilie Autumn is a mix of Neoclassical (yes that's a real thing), industrial and rock, but like Tegan & Sara, she defies genre. I will say that those of you who are into steampunk will find a lot to like in her aesthetics and those of you who like good (if often depressing) music and lyrics, will find a lot to like in her songs. So do give her a look.

Songs:


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Nostalgia

I've been working, for months now, on a huge rant on the current run of nostalgia in popular culture, but every time I get past the second paragraph it descends into angry ranting, which not the way I want to do it. Basically, I think it's starting to get to be a problem, especially when it simply causes people to cling to what they liked as a kid rather than try to let their tastes mature and evolve (example of how bad it can get? I recently heard an otherwise intelligent man comment that the Super Mario Brothers Super Show still holds up. Yeah). And there are huge long rants I could do on how it' causing our culture at large to be held back, especially in the realm of video games where a single company has managed to get by with barely any new ideas based on the fact that it raised most adult gamers and MAN I usually get farther than before the ranting kicks in.

ANYWAY. I recently replaced my copy of The Hero With A Thousand Face (my previous copy having fallen apart in 2009 from over-reading. This also happened to my last copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas but I replaced that quicker) and in rereading it, I found a quote that sums up my feelings perfectly. So rather than waste your time with a multi-page, profanity laced rant about nostalgia, I'm just going to quote Joseph Campbell on it, and leave it at that. Kay? Kay.

We remain fixed on the unexercised images of our infancy and hence disinclined to the necessary passages of out adulthood. In the United States there is even a pathos of inverted emphasis. The goal is not to grow old but to remain young, not to mature away from Mother but to cleave to her. And so, while husbands are worshiping at their boyhood shrines, being the lawyers, merchants or masterminds their parents wanted them to be, their wives, even after 14 years of marriage and 2 fine children produced and raised, are still on the search for love.
Joseph Campbell