Sunday, December 30, 2012

nurghophonic jukebox: "I Got A Girl " by Tripping Daisy

Written By: Tim DeLaughter, Tripping Daisy
Released: June 20, 1995
Album: I Am an Elastic Firecracker
Single?: #6 on Billboard Modern Rock Tracks

I got a girl who lives with me
I got a girl she smells so sweetly
I got a girl she loves her dog
I got a girl I love her dog too
I got a girl who stares in the mirror
I got a girl who blames it on her period
I got a girl she is so right
I got a girl she's my guiding light

Well I know, I need, I feel we're going higher and higher

I got a girl who loves good soul
I got a girl who dances the disco
I got a girl who wears cool shoes
I got a girl who wears them in the nude
I got a girl who speaks her mind
I got a girl who will argue anytime
I got a girl she is so small
I got a girl she'll knock down any wall

Well I know, I need, I feel we're going higher and higher

Get a load of this she's always bitching at me when I'm feeling down,
Asking questions with her little frown,
I can't take much much more of this, I'm out

Get a load of this she's always bitching at me when I'm feeling down,
Asking questions with her little frown,
I can't take much much more of this, I'm out

I got a girl I love to kiss
I got a girl I never wanna miss
I got a girl who's my best friend
I got a girl that won't even hold my hand
I got a girl that makes me laugh
I got a girl I'll make her laugh too
I got a girl she has girlfriends
I got a girl I like her girlfriends

Well I know, I need, I feel we're going higher and higher
I got a girl
And she's got a guy

Friday, December 21, 2012

nurghophonic jukebox: "If I Had A Rocket Launcher" by Bruce Cockburn

Written By: Bruce Cockburn
Released: 1984
Album: Stealing Fire
Single?: #88 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, #49 in Canada

A favorite of my kid sister, who has kids of her own today, and would certainly appreciate it if they not be imperiled by psychopaths on a rampage.

Here comes the helicopter -- second time today
Everybody scatters and hopes it goes away
How many kids they've murdered only God can say
If I had a rocket launcher...I'd make somebody pay

I don't believe in guarded borders and I don't believe in hate
I don't believe in generals or their stinking torture states
And when I talk with the survivors of things too sickening to relate
If I had a rocket launcher...I would retaliate

On the Rio Lacantun, one hundred thousand wait
To fall down from starvation -- or some less humane fate
Cry for Guatemala, with a corpse in every gate
If I had a rocket launcher...I would not hesitate

I want to raise every voice -- at least I've got to try
Every time I think about it water rises to my eyes.
Situation desperate, echoes of the victims cry
If I had a rocket launcher...Some son of a bitch would die

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Walking Dead Volume 17: Something To Fear (2012)

I'm starting to hate the internet. I like to check out the naked actress screencap sites, which led to a subplot from this season's Mad Men getting spoiled for me just because I wanted a peek at some Rory Gilmore sideboob. That's the price I had to pay I suppose, so I could walk that off. Then I was reading an article about this year's Golden Globes nominations, and Mad Men got snubbed for once. The article felt the need to not only point out that an actor besides Jon Hamm perhaps deserved a nom, but specifically because this this and that happened to their character. Why in the fucking fucking shit cunt faggot whore did that need to be dropped casually into a sentence? Because the person writing it was an unconscientious dickweed who doesn't seem to be aware that there isn't much in the way of appointment television anymore, and some of us like to watch a whole season in one rip on DVD. I will point out that if my girlfriend hadn't insisted that we re-watch season four because of the extended gap before season five, we'd have seen the show before it got ruined for me. Remind me to give her the finger later. Just the one, now.

Anyway, comics sites are no better, especially when they delight in covering The Walking Dead #100 and how it was the best-selling single issue of a comic since before the current crop of Disney/Nickelodeon stars were born. This involved a host of variant covers and there were cutesy tie-ins so that by the time the trade collection had come out, I knew that it was Professor Plum in the study with the lead pipe. There was one other surprise in there, at least, but the book is still reading like an extended adaptation of The Girl Who Owned a City with more curse words. A lot of the set-up was strikingly similar to the epic arc around #50, demanding comparisons this arc is painfully ill-equipped to stand up to. I got a bigger jolt reading about the current shenanigans in Spider-Man, a character and franchise that hasn't meant anything significant to me since about 1988.

The only TV show I currently watch first run is The Walking Dead. I'm seriously considering adding a few more because of how insane the lack of courtesy with regards to spoilers has gotten (should I even bother with True Blood at this point?) It's ironic that I've followed The Walking Dead in first run since reading the comic puts me years ahead of the adaptation, and for the first couple of seasons, the show wasn't particular good at translating the appeal. I mostly kept up with it because my girlfriend had gotten into it enough to make it a ritual. However, the current season has been fucking fantastic, casting off dead weight in spectacular fashion while ratcheting up the action and intrigue enough to conceal the plot holes and uneven acting. The show has caught up to the comic's golden period, and has lifted its game to compete. One of my favorite comic characters joined the show at the mid-season break, just as I'm realizing that I don't root for any of the characters left in the books anymore. The comics are doing their best to maintain the lowest depths of tedium from the show's second season. Television has finally overtaken the comics in quality, which makes me sad and not a little put out when I fork over money for new collections after the shark has long since been jumped. It's hard to quit after seventeen fucking volumes, and I'm mildly curious to see where things go from here, but for me the best thing Robert Kirkman could do is start a new story with an entirely different cast in a different location. Compared to the show, the comics are a chore, and my preferred reading model undercuts my best hope for pleasure: modest shock value regarding a crew coasting on fumes.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

nurghophonic jukebox: "Rose Of The Devil's Garden" by Tiger Army

Written By: Nick 13
Released: June 29, 2004
Album: Tiger Army III: Ghost Tigers Rise
Single?: Uncharted, but Masuimi Max cameos in the music video

There is a rose in the Devil's garden
In shadow it grows alone
Many things are dangerous now
In this garden we call home

Be careful as you make your way
Some things are poison to the touch
You've spent your life here in this place
You long to run away so much

My love it is a black rose (my love it is a black rose)
Held out to you by the hand of fate (held by the hand of fate now)
And as this dark romance grows...
It's not from the sun, but the starlight that's so far away
Above the Devil's garden

The fertile soil of poisoned hearts
Fed by tears and nighttime rain
Under Transylvanian moon
Grows the flower bred from pain

Death is pure - life is not
So ask yourself, what do you want?
As for me, well I want you
So pick the black rose and let its thorns cut you


Monday, December 10, 2012

Changeoverscope: Daniel Craig as James Bond

I wanted to try something new with my movie reviews, because the long involved focused ones get to be too time and energy consuming. I'd like to talk about more flicks than I've managed to without suffering through hours of commentary tracks and such. Hence, "Changeoverscope," a selection of relatively brief, informal, often related movie critiques. First up, my girlfriend recently decided that she has a thing for squishfaced Daniel Craig, which motivated her to watch all of his appearances as James Bond, and I went along for the ride.

I saw Casino Royale when it hit theaters in 2006 with a friend who was a fellow long time Bond fan. We'd both really liked the first Brosnan Bond, Goldeneye, but we agreed that the series had gone downhill from there. We turned to one another and sneered over what I still feel is one of the very worst Bond tunes ever, Chris Cornell's "You Know My Name." For my buddy, Casino Royale was the final straw, as he found the reboot a hokey Bourne impersonation. I enjoyed the flick the first time, as it was my initial exposure to parkour, I appreciate Martin Campbell's directorial eye, and I'd abused myself repeatedly to Eva Green in The Dreamers. Judi Dench remained a great M, and I was cool with Jeffrey Wright as the new Felix Leiter. On the other hand, I found Craig a boring thug, and Mads Mikkelsen's Le Chiffre was laughably ridiculous. Despite giving the movie a thumb up, I didn't watch it again for six years, and only half paid attention to it on home video. On review, I wish we'd had more time with Isaach De Bankolé's Steven Obanno, a far more menacing and dynamic villain. The movie really seemed to drag on, with too many cutesy nods to franchise hallmarks.

I actively watched Quantum of Solace, which I'd skipped in 2008. After the Moore-like parodic lows of Brosnan, I think folks were so relieved by Casino Royale's grit that they allowed euphoria to conceal its flaws. Quantum was then overly criticized from the point of its name being announced. The main problem with the sequel is its dependance on Casino Royale for context. It's a revenge flick like License To Kill, but doesn't feature the motivating slight, so it fails to engage the audience's emotions on its own. Some of the action set pieces thrill, others not, and the story meanders considerably (though it's still more clever than Royale in its plots.) Olga Kurylenko plays against her strengths as a Ukrainian actress in a Bond flick by running around with a gross Jersey Shore tan as an unconvincing Bolivian. Gemma Arterton is an element of Bond Girl recidivism as the arch, doomed Strawberry Fields. On the other hand, Mathieu Amalric has been excessively hated as the intentionally weaselly Dominic Greene, who serves his role as a guy you want to meet a bad end while offering a hard pitch for the secret organization Quantum as the new SPECTRE. Giancarlo Giannini makes a much better impression upon returning to the role of Rene Mathis, including one of the all time great scenes in a Bond feature. Daniel Craig had an opportunity to express the pain and anger that drives him to inhuman feats, and better recalls the hard edged Bond of the Fleming novels. Craig may not be my favorite actor to play Bond, but his physicality and intensity make him far and away the best actor to personify Bond as conceived for the novels. I very much enjoyed Marc Forster's stylish direction on a tighter, meaner Bond flick with a solid final set piece and more satisfying closure than the previous entry.

Skyfall took twice as long to get released, and there were years of doubt that any new Bond was forthcoming in the wake of the MGM bankruptcy, much less on time for the fiftieth anniversary of his cinematic debut. Absence, anxiety, and not a little nostalgia seem to have made critics receptive to the point of once again crowing a new Craig film the best Bond ever. I suspect history will not be so kind, as the flick is dumb, dull and downbeat. A foul-up in the cold opening helps to explain why Craig looks so much older, introduces Naomie Harris' serviceable Moneypenny to the new continuity, and sets up the most visually potent title sequence of the new era (which in turn strengthens the impact of Adele's vocal histrionics despite lyrical pablum.) The always exceptional Judi Dench offers her finest turn as M, and Ben Whishaw is creepy cool as the first Q intended to be taken seriously. However, Javier Bardem will one day know scorn for trafficking in homophobia to sell his tepid retread of both Heath Ledger's Joker and several prior, superior Bond villains (Alec Trevelyan by way of Blofeld.) Bérénice Marlohe's treatment as the transparently thin Sévérine is contemptible, while Ralph Fiennes' Gareth Mallory has all the subtly of Poochie in its obvious intention. The screenplay if full of "why did that even happen" and general ridiculousness. An awful lot of fan wankery is pressed into the mess, like a reunited band promoting their new album on tour by playing through their catalog hits in a too desperate bid to reconnect with their audience. The final act is horrid; the least compelling setting and action of any Bond film that I can recall. I was literally fighting off sleep, which is a shame, because director Sam Mendes' earlier set pieces were visually stunning. At least it leaves the pieces in place for less precious and more propulsive entries to come.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

1994-1995 Swipe Collage

I am not an artist, so when I draw, it's an unnatural, laborious undertaking. I tried to develop my limited ability for years though, and this was an attempt to gauge my aptitude in a variety of styles. For instance, I grew up loving Jim Starlin, John Romita Jr., and (to a lesser degree) John Buscema, but my hand cannot replicate the contours of their lines. I felt a lot more comfortable when I'd step into the shoes of guys like Gray Morrow, Paul Gulacy and Tim Truman. I think I could pull off Gil Kane, another childhood fascination, with some modest degree of facility. I think his calculated, geographical anatomical construction helped. The Trevor Von Eeden and Keith Giffen stuff isn't too bad, but their work is so spare, it's dancing on a razor's edge not to screw up, because you can't hide anything with gratuitous noodling. I didn't remember having such a fleeting fascination with Jae Lee, but it makes sense, because he's the exact opposite of those two. Lee buried a lot of shitty anatomy and questionable layouts with excessive Bisleyesque details. That Tom Tenney bit makes me laugh, because he was the flaws of Jae Lee dialed to 11. The Christian Alamy is alright, but I did faceplants with the Phil Jimenez and Barry Smith. You probably won't recognize Mike Iverson in the upper right, firstly due to his obscurity, and lastly because I did him no justice whatsoever. It makes me sad that he didn't make a better name for himself, especially since Jamie McKelvie is a constant reminder of his basic style.

Anyway, this isn't any great shakes, but I like looking at it from time to time.

Monday, November 12, 2012

nurghophonic jukebox: "I'm Not Your Toy" by La Roux

Written By: Elly Jackson and Ben Langmaid
Released: September 27, 2009
Album: La Roux
Single?: #27 on the UK chart

A few months back, I was on a synthpop kick, and remembered liking La Roux's breakout hit in the U.S., "Bulletproof." I combed the duo's YouTube video selection, and enjoyed much of it, despite Elly Jackson's thin voice. I figured I'd spotlight a tune here, but "Bulletproof" is well enough known, and "In For The Kill" turned up on trailers for Dredd 3D of all things. I like "I'm Not Your Toy" as a song, but dig the video even more. It's sweet and funny and sexy. See for yourself.

Love, love is like a stubborn youth
That you'd rather just annoy
I'm walking on a broken roof
While I'm looking at the sky

It's all false love and affection
You don't like me you just want the attention [repeat 2x]
I'm not your toy
This isn't another girl meets boy [repeat 2x]

Love, love I'm in a smoky light
I can never find the truth
Boy, your touches leave me mystified
I wish I could believe in you

Yes, it's all false love and affection
You don't like me you just want the attention [repeat 2x]
I'm not your toy
This isn't another girl meets boy [repeat 2x]
I'm not your toy
This isn't another girl meets boy [repeat 2x]

It's all false love and affection
You don't like me you just want the attention [repeat 2x]

[Instrumental Break]

I'm not your toy
This isn't another girl meets boy [repeat 2x]
I'm not your toy
This isn't another girl meets boy [repeat 2x]

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Frank Review of "Sinister" (2012)

The Short Version? The Amityville Book of 8mm Shadows.
What Is It? Attempted horror franchise starter.
Who Is In It? Ethan Hawke
Should I See It? Probably not.

Full disclosure: Would I have gone to a cinema to see an Ethan Hawke haunted house movie of my own volition? Dude, I wouldn't even have watched it free on cable. No flies on Hawke, who co-starred in a couple of my favorite movies, but I've heard secondhand that he's an awful writer and have seen firsthand that his choices of material to star in leave a lot to be desired. Even when he tackles an interesting experiment, like Richard Linklater's Tape, Hawke's attempts to play anyone but Ethan Hawke tend to be painfully hammy. As for ghost stories, well, I don't believe in them, they don't scare me, and I was bored by The Shining, a supposed horror classic. I went to work, I spent a few hours shopping, and then I saw a by-the-numbers spook show that Hawke was okay in and I don't describe as something I "endured" at my girlfriend's urging.

Ethan Hawke plays Ethan Hawke as a writer who had one major success published and is chasing an elusive second. Since that is one more authorial triumph than Hawke himself has managed, consider the cosplay therapeutic for the actor. Juliet Rylance plays his attractive wife who hasn't appeared in anything you've seen. Her performance is decent, but she has a distracting English accent. I can buy a one-hit wonder writer bagging a Brit, but the accent feels out of place. Each of her children have longer and stronger CVs, no accent to speak of, and the son has longer hair than the mother despite their not being rednecks or hair metal enthusiasts. The movie is itself fond of derivatives from Trent Reznor's Nine Inch Nails instrumentals, with dubstep elements adding period flavor.

Dad moves everybody to the murder house where a whole family was murdered because murder to write a murder book about their murders. Crusty republican senator Fred Thompson plays a crusty backwater sheriff whose attempts to run the clan off bookend the movie, by which I mean he's in two scenes. His presence is felt when a deputy played by James Ransone (alternating his characterization between Andy Griffith and Barney Fife) has to help the writer with his book in secret, even though he occasionally drives his police car into the driveway in a small town to have long chats in broad daylight. Deputy So-And-So (that's literally what they call him for most of the flick) is the exposition monkey, awkward and dumb when comic relief is helpful, a brilliant criminologist when required by the plot to explain to the writer that he is so fucked and the calls are coming from inside the house. Tavis Smiley and Vincent D'Onofrio are available for solid cameos.

If you've seen a trailer to Sinister (there are a few of them, and one is a few inches up on this very screen,) you've basically seen the movie. All of the advertising materials are spoilery as fuck. Between them and a rudimentary knowledge of the genre, you should be able to figure out every single turn of the plot right up to the "surprise" ending that can be easily worked out in the first act. There's is a sickening inevitability to it all, but no one is especially sympathetic (or well developed as a character,) so your level of investment in their collective fate may run to nil. Otherwise, the horror is all based around building to the jump scares that are used to sell the picture. I was startled several times, not because of building tension, but because I would start to doze off and then a THX-blasted musical cue would jolt me awake. Engaging the autonomic nervous system in a semiconscious subject does not constitute any real accomplishment on the filmmakers part.

Where the acting is journeyman and the script could have been constituted from lines taken out of other scripts, what holds it together as something palatable is the stylish direction of Scott Derrickson. Slick editing, smart visual ticks, and strong pacing sell through presentation what at its core is a rote story. If you like McParanormal's, these are value priced frights as comfortingly reliable as chicken nuggets, but with a tangy new dipping sauce. If you're more adventurous though, that predictability will likely aggravate more than agitate in the intended manner.

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Frank Review of "Children of the Living Dead" (2001)

The Short Version? Bad sequel! Bad! BAD!
What Is It? Awful.
Who Is In It? Tom Savini, ish.
Should I See It? Fuck no.

Let me see if I can explain this. The original theatrical distributor of Night of the Living Dead failed to assert copyright on prints of the film, causing it to fall immediately into the public domain. It's kind of interesting, because the flesh-eating undead went on to become part of horror mythology. The lack of copyright restriction probably helped the popular conception of "zombies" to join Dracula, Frankenstein, and werewolves in common use amidst the pantheon of terrors. Of course, what made Night great was the talent on display, with writer/director George A. Romero going on to make a slew of sequels, one of which arguably surpassed the original. Less pivotal was John Russo, who produced, co-wrote and directed Night. Russo wrote a sequel novel in 1977 which influenced the creation of the Return of the Living Dead franchise. The book only contributed the title though.

Night was remade in 1990 by Tom Savini, who had been a special effects artist and actor on one of the Romero sequels. In 1999, Russo recut the original Night and filmed new scenes that were inserted for the poorly received Night of the Living Dead: 30th Anniversary Edition. Russo then produced a sequel to the recut, Children of the Living Dead, which featured Tom Savini as an actor playing a character with a passing resemblance to his role in a Romero sequel, but different. Also, Children has some plot points that nod toward Russo's Return of the Living Dead novel.

Okay, whether or not you found the previous two paragraphs interesting, I assure you that reading them took way less time than seeing Children of the Living Dead, which you should not do under any circumstance. Zombie movies aren't known for quality, but even by their dismal standards, the film is dire. Every discipline in filmmaking is given a black eye by this thing. Acting, writing, direction, cinematography, continuity, lighting, stunts, make-up, special effects-- all subpar by fan film standards. I guess the score could have been worse.

In the town where the dead rose in 1968 because of space radiation, occasional outbreaks of living deadness occur and are put down by the local yokels. A serial killing rapist from the mid-80s named Abbot Hayes stole his motivation from Sleepaway Camp and/or Psycho before getting caught and killed. The dude somehow not only got zombified, but becomes the master zombie. He's got claws and can turn a corpse into a zombie henchman instantaneously with one bite. You'd think in Zombie Town, they'd institute mandatory cremation, but instead leave corpses by the half dozen lying around to join the horde.

Besides introducing Zombie Dracula, another wrinkle is added by making zombies disinterested in eating children. That sure flew in the face of Dawn of the Dead and Return of the Living Dead Part II, but it doesn't seem to have any logical importance beyond helping to establish the movie title, and gets dropped in the first half hour. Zombie Dracula then borrows from Freddy Krueger by going after the kids who survived the outbreak he started in the '80s. That also might seem important, especially when they turn out to be the cast of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but that actually wraps up in short order.

After two false starts, what passes for lead characters begin the main story properly better than a half hour in. What occurred prior was all set up, and proves fairly nonsensical, since the second half hour is little more than a series of set pieces where nobodies get gang-eaten by the zombies. The last half hour connects the dots from the first, which was unnecessary, since the through line was obvious and the characters are total cyphers regardless of their role in the events.

Tom Savini is the best thing in the flick, but despite getting top billing, he's gone after fifteen minutes. Martin Schiff plays a kind of cowardly sheriff who shows up throughout the movie, but I wouldn't characterize him as a lead, exactly. He's got either an enormous strawberry birthmark under his right eye or a nasty scab that lasted fourteen years, and it is seriously fucking distracting. I suppose Damien Luvara and Jamie McCoy are supposed to be the stars, but they are such personality voids that they seem to dampen the charisma of others in their immediate area. There are other people who could technically be billed as actors, but they barely register as people.

The movie seems to run for a prescribed lack of time, then stop. There's no real resolution, and another sequel that nobody will ever film is set up. I don't know why you would make it all the way to the credits, but there's a random, pointless post sequence. I often find myself angry when a movie squanders good will or potential, but this film is so bad so early that it's your own damned fault for sticking with it.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Frank Review of "Dredd 3D" (2012)

The Short Version? "The Raid: Redemption" (2011)
What Is It? Comic booky sci-fi action.
Who Is In It? Eomer, Leah from Juno, Sarah Connor v2.0
Should I See It? No.

I saw Dredd a couple of weeks ago, on the same disappointing day I caught Looper. I rushed one of those reviews out because it was still a relatively new release, while Dredd was already a confirmed failure with a global take of less than half its fifty million dollar production budget. With low energy and little time, this one could wait. Based on other reviews I read, you'd have thought otherwise. People kept toting it as redemptive of the comic book franchise run aground with its first attempt, the 1995 Sylvester Stallone bomb Judge Dredd (which still managed to earn more than its budget, 2½ times that of Dredd 3D when adjusted for inflation.) Both films made the fatal mistake of taking their subject matter seriously, where the British comics have survived for thirty-five years thanks to their violent satirizing of exactly these sorts of movies. All in all, Demolition Man and Robocop are still better Judge Dredd movies than any featuring the actual character.

In a nuke ravaged future, the surviving masses huddle in squalid tenements that reach up to the skies in the massive Mega-City One. With crime epidemic, the law is doled out by motorcycle riding fascistic executioners called Judges, of which Dredd is hardest. On this particular day, he's saddled with a new graduate from the Judge program named Anderson, who technically failed, but is given a pass by the brass because she's a mutant with psychic powers. However, Dredd will be the ultimate judge of her fitness for the position through a one day ride along. Called to a slum highrise to investigate drug-related murders, Dredd and Anderson are eventually trapped, as everyone in the building either hides or comes gunning for them. There have been a number of extended epic storylines in the Judge Dredd comics, which the 1995 movie tried and terrifically failed to emulate. This film is closer to the short stories Dredd is more commonly featured in. However, those tales typically have a novel hook and a few laughs to carry them over a half dozen pages. This flick tries to apply the exact same ammunition across ninety minutes.

Dredd is actually a stealth Psi-Judge Anderson movie, referring to the spin-off heroine who tended to be featured in more straightforward dramatic stories. When Dredd works, it's usually because it's focusing on Anderson-- her powers, her conflicts, the lovely actress Olivia Thirlby. Unfortunately, Karl Urban's Judge Dredd is comically arch in a movie without a sense of humor, and his taking up the lion's share of the screen time renders it a joyless affair. Aside from Anderson's telepathic adventures, the only other kick is the use of Slo-Mo, a drug that alters the perception of time. There's one excellent sequence of a massacre rendered in this deliberate, stylish fashion, but its every other usage was more in line with the tedious bullet time sequences in the Matrix sequels. This was without a doubt the worst 3D movie I've ever seen in a theater. Wally Pfister may have called out Marvel's The Avengers for arbitrarily shooting angles solely for the 3D, but I'll take that over the dull flatness of Dredd in every respect, but especially in its shoddy employment of its named gimmick. I remember exactly three instances of notable 3D: a credit sequence moment of Dredd getting dressed with his elbow sticking way out, a scene in a restaurant where a chicken carcass hung on a hook, and an air-conditioning mount that was clearly ahead of the Judges in a hallway. The film is dark, so most of these three images were near entirely silhouetted.

Lena Headey gives a much better performance as the kingpin Ma-Ma than is on the page, but the rest of the actors are as stock as written. Alex Garland, who previously got a screenwriting credit for cobbling together bits of zombie movies into 28 Days Later, offers a perfunctory action script which when translated through the lens director Pete Travis is indistinguishable from any other random Redbox selection of comparable budget. There's maybe ten minutes of film worth sitting through, so someone should make a totally boss YouTube sizzle cut and leave the rest of this boring number on the floor.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Frank Review of "Looper" (2012)

The Short Version? "Come with me if you want to live as a pale shadow of your former self."
What Is It? Sci-fi action/drama.
Should I See It? Maybe.

Looper is definitely the second best Rian Johnson movie starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt so far. It is probably also the second best Bruce Willis time travel film set in a dystopic future, although I have to confess winging it without double checking at IMDb. If that sounds like damning with faint praise, a-yup. I haven't reviewed Rian Johnson's first film, Brick, because it's so fucking brilliant that the prospect of trying to express my feelings about it is exhausting just to think about. I did review his second film, The Brothers Bloom, because it is way easier to analyze stuff on the pretty good-through-shit spectrum without trying to reach the painful, blinding radiance of a true gem like Brick. Bloom is one of my girlfriend's favorite films though, because she's really into Wes Anderson.

Looper, on the other hand, will be on no one's lifetime top ten lists. It'll make a bunch of year end lists, as evidenced by the overly enthusiastic reviews you'll read elsewhere. These are people high off Johnson's previous efforts; who saw it at festivals with buddies and booze; who hunger for anything not summer studio slop. Let it come to video, watch it a few times, maybe suffer through a continuance of Johnson's downward trajectory as a writer-director... they'll come around.

In the far future, you can't kill anybody and get away with it, like in Minority Report. Instead, gangsters send their prospective victims back in time to the less far future, to be killed and disposed of. Time travel is also highly illegal, but is somehow harder to police than making one person out of billions disappear. Wouldn't the same evidence trail in a murder lead investigators to your temporal bathysphere? Of all the ways a criminal enterprise could employ time travel, isn't that pretty low on the list? In case you missed it, what we establish from the premise is that this isn't one of those intellectual science fiction movies with a firm command of cause and effect, but more of a Back to the Future fairy tale, without making as much sense. However, it's not the logic of Marty McFly being capable of existing after unmaking the circumstances of his own conception, surviving due to delayed temporal consequence allowing him to ultimately create a parallel timeline in which he exists under revised circumstances. It's more the logic of deciding to strand the near entirety of the last Back to the Future in the old west. This would be the "what the fuck ever" theory of time travel filmmaking.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Bruce Willis at around age thirty. He has to do this because they're playing the same character aged thirty years apart who find themselves at cross purposes when Willis goes back in time to fix the future. Joe obviously studied Bruno's mannerisms, and offers a solid impersonation that spans the length of the film. Unfortunately, Bruce Willis has had an acting career since he was the same age as Joseph Gordon-Levitt, so those of us who watched Moonlighting will not recall Bruce looking like a segment of Conan O'Brien's old Late Night skit "If They Mated" co-featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. This could have been easily overcome by having their character undergo plastic surgery at some point to conceal his identity, or perhaps to recover from the sort of accident that could turn that cute kid from Third Rock into John McClane v4.0. Alternately, as it was handled with another character, you could just tell the audience that one actor is the older/younger version of a different actor. Instead, they buried Joseph Gordon-Levitt in latex and poor quality make-up that renders him a heavily botoxed closeted transvestite with a passing resemblance to Bruce Willis, mostly in profile. As a person who has spent a significant portion of his life believing in actors wearing ridiculous prosthetics on television shows with often dire production values, you're a stronger/more gullible man than me if this doesn't distract you in every fucking scene.

Setting aside the wholly unnecessary press-baiting gimmick, the character played by Gordon-Levitt and Willis isn't much on the page. Perhaps if the same actor had been employed in a dual role, the presentation would have been more nuanced. Instead, Willis seems to be playing Gordon-Levitt's crazy absentee father, or just a random asshole with some sort of contrived psycho-physical connection to some other jerk. Neither version of the character is developed sufficiently to be engaging emotionally, and the altruism displayed by one toward the end of the movie seems wholly inorganic. Setting aside arguments of the rules of chronology, there is a lack of personal truth in the identities at the heart of the film. If the intention is to make a more human sci-fi film, and most of the movie is about moving pieces across a cold marble chessboard instead of properly motivating the characters, you've failed on both fronts.*

Emily Blunt as the female lead that doesn't show up until halfway through the running time is vague and unengaging. While better than average, I still say that it isn't worth the bother of hiring a British actor to produce an unconvincing rural American accent when an Australian can perform it better than anyone born on the coasts. Her Sara is no Connor, and she never performs a single action that doesn't feel dictated by a script. She's sorta kinda somebody's mommy; functionally but not really a love interest; an entirely ineffectual "tough" gal. Qing Xu gets more done as an idealized figure in a cameo than Blunt does with a full role. Blunt is basically just there to provide exposition, have exposition provided to her, and act as a semi-surrogate for Xu. It's sad and a bit embarrassing to play such a naked functionary.

There are a slew of fantastic but modest supporting roles. Foremost is Jeff Daniels as the laid back, fatherly mafia expediter, a role he firmly inhabits and breathes such life into that it makes you look past Gordon-Levitt's rubber nose to the twinkle it produces in his eyes. Noah Segan and Paul Dano deserved more screen time, while Tracie Thoms was wasted in a nothing, blink-and-you'll-miss-her part. Pierce Gagnon is going to be a big deal for the next few years, at least until puberty strikes.

Johnson conveys his story through a more quiet independent vibe, but Looper doesn't put anything fresh to the table. The dual role bit was used to better effect in Face/Off, and much of the core dynamic of the movie belongs to the Terminator and Trancers franchises. It reminded me a lot of Primer, except Primer is one of those remote controlled helicopters to Looper's misfolded paper airplane. Bruce Willis already made the similar and vastly superior 12 Monkeys, and I'm not sure we really needed a lo-fi Akira tribute. The only point I can see is for Johnson to play it safe so that he can finally cash a check off one of his own flicks. Looper is dumb, dull, and obvious. No wonder it's making fair yield on a negligible investment. There's about ten minutes of cute innovations, noteworthy performances, and interesting cinematography. The rest is workmanlike, trying to make an honest living in a troubled economy. There are far worse films to see this year, but it's almost as bad to face something as disheartening as this follow-up for what was once a promising filmmaker.


  • Looper Theatrical Commentary Track Audiences are encouraged by the director to download it and listen on an MP3 player during a repeat viewing of the film before getting an entirely different track on the forthcoming DVD/Blu-Ray. I usually listen to such things as background noise, and this was as serviceable as most. It did provide clarification of my (ultimately confirmed) assumptions about the goals and thus failings of the picture.

*Just a quick bit of spoilery nitpicking, but how is it that Bruce Willis after a quarter century of substance and other physical abuse followed by a half-decade of serene retirement becomes the ultimate killing machine, while his younger self in the prime of his life mostly just runs away from people shooting at him? How is this supposed to be the same guy? Who decides a bullshit '80s montage is the best way to get that across and doesn't at least offer a dubstep remix of "Eye of the Tiger" to sell it proper?

Friday, October 5, 2012

James Bond 007 50th Anniversary Movie Theme Song Countdown

Keeping the preamble simple, this is my best objective list ranking the Bond songs of the past half century in ascending order, marking to the day the 50th anniversary of the release of the first James Bond film, Dr. No. I've only included songs with vocal tracks, since going into instrumentals would be much more subjective and somewhat overwhelming, if only because I'd be dealing with full film scores. The standard and heavily commercialized single major track per film is much easier to qualify. There's also the heavy bias surrounding the durably iconic Monty Norman theme, which is hurt by its excessive use across almost two dozen films, but is surely the most recognizable and evocative of the lot.

22) 2006's "You Know My Name" for Casino Royale as performed by Chris Cornell
I remember sitting in the theater with a fellow Bond fan buddy during the credit sequence. We turned to each other and wondered how such a bland tune could have been selected. I cannot recall this song from memory, because it's such a nothing trifle without any hooks that it refuses to stick in my brain. The video is about as bad, interspersing film clips with Cornell playing in front of some lights. How much lazier could it have been?

21) 1989's "Licence to Kill" as performed by Gladys Knight
As if he didn't have enough strikes against him, Timothy Dalton was saddled with two of the least memorable songs in the franchise. This is common period overproduced R&B pap with a film title plugged into the chorus. The video is also a rubbish collection of clips and poor superimposition. A major waste of Gladys Knight's talent.

20) 1987's "The Living Daylights" as performed by a-ha
Fucking enunciate. The vocals on this song sound like a Muppet without a tongue, or a barred out Bob Dylan taking hits of helium for the chorus. "Nuh-na-- noo-nuh-nuh-nannoo." Is this thing even in English? The music is little better, as it sounds like period pop from the back end of the top 100 (it never actually charted at all in the U.S.) Let's not even bother discussing what passes for lyrics. The video is a catalog of every cheesy editing effect available at the time.

19) 2002's "Die Another Day" as performed by Madonna
On the one hand, this has a strong video that tells its own story, and Mirwais Ahmadzaï insures that it sounds unlike any other Bond tune. On the other hand, the lyrics are nonsense and gratingly repetitive, the music itself trivial dance tripe, and the perseverant idiot vocals are buried under e-IBS distortion. It's the Bond tune voted most likely to induce a headache in listeners.

18) 1981's "For Your Eyes Only" as performed by Sheena Easton
Casio powered cornball, not helped by Easton's appearance in the actual credit sequence, but it also featured some of the least brief nudity of the lot. Do note the glut of similar mellow gold forthcoming.

17) 1997's "Tomorrow Never Dies" as performed by Sheryl Crow
Crow's thin voice can't carry the weight of a Bond theme, and the lyrics are announced as rock dumb and cliché from the first line. However, Mitchell Froom's production is appropriately retro, the video is solid, the chorus is okay, and there's a nice breakdown. To quote Jack Black, very safe, very pussy. It's also impossible to forget that this same year, Shirley Bassey joined the Propellerheads for the vastly superior "History Repeating".

16) 1983's "All Time High" for Octopussy as performed by Rita Coolidge
This is one of those instances where you have a good enough song for its day, but it doesn't actually have much of anything to do with James Bond. Based on craft, it's certainly better than some higher ranking tunes, but as part of a 007 countdown, it can't help but be hurt by its lack of fidelity to the franchise. The shoddy video illustrates the divergence well.

15) 2008's "Another Way to Die" for Quantum of Solace as performed by Jack White & Alicia Keys
Jack White is the problem here. The crunchy guitar and drums are good, but the lyrics are shit, and the composition is irritatingly discordant. Alicia Keys' vocals and piano are perfect for Bond, and then White shows up to whine all over both. The video is decent, but the kitchen sink approach overall is a hot mess. There's a lot of good bits, so it's frustrating when they're overwhelmed by crap.

14) 1979's "Moonraker" as performed by Shirley Bassey
Third time appeared to be the curse for Shirley Bassey, as this was the least and last of her themes (though it's better than the rejected "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" for Thunderball.) The vocals, strings, and piano are sound, but the guitar is Velveeta, and the overall tune is a boring easy listening number. I actually had to be reminded that this one existed.

13) 1967's "You Only Live Twice" as performed by Nancy Sinatra
While not explicit, a few key lyrics and some of the tone in the music still spells out 007. The very subtle Asianic qualities are cute, and the vocals are nice. It was a weak title sequence though, and overall a thin, tinny tune.

12) 2012's "Skyfall" as performed by Adele
The latest Bond tune is pretty easy to tune out for the first couple of minutes. The callbacks and added punch in the last couple minutes make the song, but it's still boilerplate on both the Bond and pop song ends of the spectrum. It sounds like some homely chick longing for melodrama, instead of a fatalistic sex bomb. Man, I wish Amy Winehouse had lived long enough to do one of these.

11) 1963's "From Russia with Love" as performed by Monty Norman
This is a simple, solid song that recalls espionage through its guitars and reference to the Motherland, but is mostly just a ballad. The vocal track wasn't part of the opening theme.

10) 1974's "The Man with the Golden Gun" as performed by Lulu
This one has the sort of awesomely ridiculous lyrics designed for campy spy action or musical theater, but it's hard not to feel self-conscious about how ludicrous it sounds. Lulu lacks the pipes of a Shirley Bassey, but then again, who else has them really?

9) 1965's "Thunderball" as performed by Tom Jones
Similar to "Golden Gun," but played straighter with more swagger. It sells the silliness better, and the horns are more swanky. Still, it's a bit sluggish.

8) 1969's "We Have All the Time in the World" for On Her Majesty's Secret Service as performed by Louis Armstrong
A ballad made bittersweet by its usage at the end of the film. This one has a killer bridge with excellent strings, guitar and horns. The lyrics have nothing and everything to do with the story, but it's so affective, I'll allow it.

7) 1977's "Nobody Does It Better" for The Spy Who Loved Me as performed by Carly Simon
This is another pop song that barely qualifies as a Bond tune, but it's a pretty damned good one. Despite lyrics that aren't especially Bond-specific, the exuberant praise of masterful cocksmanship sure smacks of 007. Somehow, despite having no edge whatsoever, name-dropping the movie title and exalting the finest of men makes this the perfect proxy song for women swept up in Bond's charm.

6) 1971's "Diamonds Are Forever" as performed by Shirley Bassey
Shirley Bassey, John Barry and Don Black bring the classic Bond edge with added funk. This strikes the right balance between recalling 007 and being comically blatant. There's a reason Kanye sampled this instead of "Thunderball," y'know?

5) 1973's "Live and Let Die" as performed by Paul McCartney & Wings
I realize that this was a hit single twice over two decades apart, and deservedly so. The bridges are exhilarating and the piano gets some refined pounding. Still, the lyrics are overly simplistic, and the funk breakdown is goofy as hell.

4) 1985's "A View to a Kill" as performed by Duran Duran
The lyrics are developmentally challenged, the music video is laughable, and let's not even start in on the hair styles. Regardless, the tune is snazzy and conveys the proper mood.

3) 1999's "The World Is Not Enough" as performed by Garbage
This one layers strength over strength. Clear and detailed spy thriller tune and lyrics, but not so blatant as to be goofy. Sung by a total vamp, the musics combines cool jazz licks and techno beeps that represent the 007 alphabet from M to Q. Shirley Manson as a fembot makes this easily one of the best Bond music videos.

2) 1964's "Goldfinger" as performed by Shirley Bassey
Horns that could kill a man, vocals with ballistic impact, lyrics that paint the portrait of a monster, and the most rousing finale of any song on this list. It's weaknesses are repetitive lyrics and a hollow quality to the sound, but it still takes some fantastic music to overcome this titan.

1) 1995's "GoldenEye" as performed by Tina Turner
Classy without being moldy, slinky and muscular by turns, this is an epic theme about the entire Bond phenomenon. Turner's exotic, raw voice ranges from sensual to conniving to yearning with the skill of a true diva. There's the stealthy cool, the fatal yearning, the impossible notes... Bono and the Edge craft crystalline lyrics and hooks that dig to the bone, comparable with their finest songcraft.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Frank Review of "Live and Let Die" (1973)

The Short Version? Never Bet on Black against Bond.
What Is It? James Bond Action.
Who Is In It? The Saint, Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, Lt. Al Giardello
Should I See It? No.

The fiftieth anniversary of the publication of the first James Bond novel was in 2003. I don't recall if there was much celebration of that fact, aside from the last Brosnan film being released the previous year. On the other hand, October marks the fiftieth anniversary of the first screen adaptation, and a couple of the cable movie channels have devoted themselves largely to running the twenty-odd films. I grew up with the Connery Bonds airing as the Sunday night movie on ABC and the Moore ones at the cineplex. By the late '80s, when TBS was running regular marathons of the flicks as part of their exploitation of the MGM library, I was tuning out. While the Bond films may have been the action extravaganzas of their time, they had gotten rather long in the tooth, and a chilly response to Timothy Dalton didn't help. While I've seen most of the films over the years, I'd be lying if I said I was truly a fan of the material from where my head's at in the year 2012. Still, there are so many Bond flicks I've either never seen or not for decades, I figure this is the year to sit down and analyze what I feel has or has not worked for the franchise in retrospect.

An obvious starting point for criticizing the Bond franchise is Live and Let Die. There's a line in Goldeneye about 007 being a "sexist, misogynist dinosaur," but this one adds in racism, ageism, and general misanthropy for good measure. It was the first Roger Moore film, and seemed to me the first to nakedly chase the zeitgeist. Through the injection of independent blaxploitation tropes in the wake of their massive success (especially compared to the ailing studio system,) Live was very much of its time, and quite successful. It's only when viewed through the lens of history that the sticky awfulness of the flick can be truly absorbed through the skin like a toxic compound.

Moore lacks the physicality of Connery, so it's hard to believe he could win a fight against a single one of his adversaries. He's too pretty and tan to put forth the effort, and perhaps weakens his foes through an endless barrage of puns. His overbearing smugness carries the weight of the whole of patriarchal society as he condescends to women, Americans on either side of the Mason-Dixon, and especially all them there darkies working out of their secret base in the Fillet of Soul restaurant (I shit you not.) What do you expect from denizens of a post-apocalyptic vision of Harlem?

The movie starts by revealing that every single black person who isn't in the C.I.A. (and at least one who is) are part of a multinational murderous negro criminal combine. Them coloreds got rhythm, whether they're dancing in a street parade after filling the casket in a funeral procession turned "Saints" march, or building up to human sacrifice in a hoo-doo island ritual. They've got no staying power though, as a honky with a revolver can take out a whole village of their lot. How about the evil priest whose machete fight with Bond lasts approximately two-and-one-quarter seconds? The rotund goon too lazy and lumbering to even put forth the effort to talk, and is clowned by his own boss? The same boss taken out like a expatriate from Toontown? Only Tee Hee (yes, Tee Hee) puts up any real fight, but he spent more time playing with pieces of chicken (blessedly unfried) than actively attempting to kill Bond. I'm a bit disappointed that Bond never managed to get even with the 1,500 other random blacks who assassinated his fellow agents, burned him, or simply broke the code against no snitches.

Yaphet Kotto is too good of an actor for his part as the movie's big bad. Aside from the high tech tribalism, Kananga is only a glorified drug pusher surrounded by sadistic but ineffectual goons. How many times can Bond get captured, only to escape a simplistic death trap with a bare minimum of guile, thanks to moronic half-assed henchmen? Despite this, Kotto seems truly pained by the betrayal of his lovely fortune teller Solitaire, while Julius Harris, Geoffrey Holder and more rise above dreadful material on pure charm.

White people do not escape the racism unscathed, with Clifton James as Sheriff Pepper offering a Southern drawl drawn out like it was tied to the back of a pick-up truck. His buffoonery was so epic that it left a legacy to be followed by hammy character actors looking to defame the entire South for years to come. The man is Ernest P. Worrell, Boss Hogg and Larry the Cable Guy all rolled into one. Jackie Gleason paid royalties, even though he was comparatively naturalistic as Buford T. Justice in the Smokey and the Bandit series.

Let's not neglect the womenfolk... or really, the "girls." Gloria Hendry as Rosie was perhaps the worst Bond Girl prior to Denise Richards' turn as Christmas Jones. At least Jones was a nuclear physicist, instead of a bumbling coward. She looks fantastic in a bikini, though. Jane Seymour may be one of the best looking Bond girls, and Solitaire has a nice hook as the virgin seer, but she also has all the personality of a young Queen Amidala.

The action sequences are cartoonish, yet somehow flat and plodding. They're like the long preamble of a joke whose punchline was easy enough to guess without all the winks and nudges. It's depressing how mundane the set pieces are, involving a worn out double-decked bus, shitty little fishing boats, and speeding way down yonder on the Chattahoochee.

"Live and Let Die" has one of the better Bond themes, but it is thoroughly abused here, from instrumental cues to a lousy karaoke rendition. The wannabe "soul" animated credit sequence is stiff and awash in "voodoo" imagery that mostly bypasses sex appeal for scary blackness. I'm happy that Sir Paul McCartney managed to hit a few out of the park in his post-Beatles career, but association with this flick does not help the song's appeal one bit. Overall, I'd say the world could do itself a solid and try to forget this one ever existed.

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Frank Review of "Resident Evil: Retribution 3D" (2012)

The Short Version? The Matrix with zombies in 3D. Yes, still. Moreso, even.
What Is It? Action-Horror
Who Is In It? Leeloo, Letty, Helen of Troy (TV version,) General Dix Hauser, Ardeth Bay, Will St. David, Ni Chang, Fred Dukes
Should I See It? Maybe.

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who think that the Resident Evil film series is a big stinky turd that doesn't even deserve proper reviews on geekcentric movie sites like CHUD and Ain't It Cool News, and those of us who don't want to be judged for our slummy affection. Well, that's a tad hyperbolic. There's probably a fairly slender sliver of the planet's total population that know what Resident Evil is and have any strong opinions about it. Sort of like how this movie's tagline is "Evil Goes Global," when 99% percent of it takes place in a single isolated complex. Cards on the table, this is an objectively bad series, but like an especially toxic street drug, it hooks into addicted users' pleasure centers in such a way that they don't care that the credibility of their opinions is covered in scabs and their taste is wasting away before their friends' eyes. Retribution is as pointless and nonsensical as its title, going deeper into the rabbit hole within its own navel. It will get the junkies lit as fuck, and send the uninitiated into a convulsing fit.

The title sequence involves an epilogue/prologue that picks up the threads of its predecessor, Afterlife, more directly than any prior episode in the series. This one actually illustrates the consequences of the series' typical cliffhanger ending, but of course more directly swipes the innovative trailer to the video game Dead Island without any of the nuance or obscured meaning that toyed with viewers' perceptions. Here, shit just runs slowly and backwards, which for a popcorn flick showcasing 3D gimmickry is perfectly acceptable. Clearly seeking to broaden its appeal, the action is emphasized and gore and nudity minimized. A lengthy monologue from series star Milla Jovovich offers the basics on Alice's story, illustrated by scenes from prior movie presented in chronological disorder and lean on detail. By this point, we should all know that Alice is the only person that matters in these things, and everyone else is zombie fodder or attempts to elicit some semblance of emotion from viewers through threat of same. No need to dwell on anyone else, so long as Alice looks sexy while fighting the evil corporation and/or monsters.

Returning to formula, the movie re-starts with another cold opening, because a fully oriented audience is more likely to catch the ever present plotholes. Alice gets involved in a restaging of the first scenes from Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake, then gets really meta by spending much of the running time lifting from the original Resident Evil movie which is most noteworthy for being a completely unoriginal collection of swipes from other movies. It's like a samurai sword composed of derivation folded hundreds of times over into itself. I think writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson decided to summarize everything people loved about the film franchise to date and showcase it in 3D, without regard for the resultant literalizing of the rampant genre copycatting and its rendering nearly every prior plot point moot. Is it any wonder the Umbrella Corporation is utterly nihilistic when their resources are so vast that they could surely end the global epidemic if it wasn't so much fun, then repopulate the Earth with assembly line efficiency? Also, Anderson has reached the point of borrowing from such non-classics as Sucker Punch and the Matrix sequels, so a nonchalant viewpoint of genocide is understandable, and the lack of pretension elevates the thief above the victims. The world could have done without Newt II trading jackhammer jaws for tongues and facehuggers for robot spiders, but the imperiled kid doesn't get much screamtime, so it evens out.

While Milla never gets naked in this adventure, she's in her most luscious battle uniform to date, and there's a titillating tease early in. Milla remains head and shoulders the best actor on screen, but a reunion of favorites from early installments are welcome. Michelle Rodriguez is great fun in a dual role, neither of which being a duplicate of Rain. Oded Fehr has less to do, but does it well. Sienna Guillory never worked as Jill Valentine in Apocalypse, but she's fine as a totally unrelated blond amazon rarely referenced by name. Colin Salmon could have been the black James Bond, but instead has a smaller cameo here than he did in Devil's Playground. Boris Kodjoe's Luther West fares much more poorly here than in Afterlife, with Kevin Durand's Barry Burton getting all the moments that you would have expected from the returning character. Even J Pop Girl and the Japanese businessman are back from Afterlife. Johann Urb is execrable as Leon S. Kennedy, bearing virtually no resemblance to my favorite character from the games, nor any charisma to speak of. Bingbing Li on the other hand stepped right out of the game, although she and Shawn Roberts' Albert Wesker remind me of why a truly faithful adaptation of the voice acting from the games is more a comedic premise than a thrilling one.

The stunts and fighting choreography in this episode look swell, especially when contrasted against an all white background in certain sequences. Unlike most movies I see in 3D, the filmmakers maintain conscious recognition of the illusory depth of field throughout the running time. Where that sort of calculated reminder might distract from more civilized cinema, novel junk like Retribution demands that kind of attention to profitable detail. Thanks to poor planning, erratic schedules, boom and bust cycles, etcetera, the Resident Evil films may be the most comic book-y ever in their inconsistency, dated trend hopping (ooo-- dubstep,) fidelity to unwieldy concepts, and the overall effect of making a silk purse out of a sow's ear. By extension, the devoted should squeal over the fan service dutifully delivered here, while normal people will only shake their heads at our detachment from a meaningful shared reality.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Illusion On-Demand's Top 20 Villains

According to Wikipedia, "Illusion On-Demand is an American VOD Video On Demand cable TV network focused on science fiction and fantasy programming. Illusion launched nationally in October 2007 with a special Halloween lineup. The regular programming consists of 21 shows and content blocks" I'd never heard of it, but while killing time checking out free programs on my cable box, I stumbled upon a 21 minute program counting down the "network's" top comic book bad guys. The production values were YouTube low, mostly static images (pulled directly off sites like Comic Vine and Wikipedia) with generic screen script and extremely repetitive bland (Creative Commons?) rawk music playing. Then, cut to a chubby middle-aged guy in a nondescript, poorly lit room talking noise. Oh wait-- that's Spider-Man writer Dan Slott. My bad. I bothered to check because I recognized the guy who followed him in the brief pathetic improvisational explicating upon the individual malcontents. Anyway, this sort of thing is how I gets me kicks, so here's their(?) picks...

20. The Kingpin (presented by Dan Slott)
19. P'Gell (presented by Jimmy Palmiotti)
18. Bullseye (presented by Dan Slott)
17. Poison Ivy (presented by Afua Richardson)
16. Doctor Octopus (presented by Justin Gray and Dan Slott)
15. Skrulls (presented by Dan Slott)
14. Two-Face (presented by Dan Slott and Jimmy Palmiotti)
13. Venom (presented by Sonya Paz and Afua Richardson)
12. Sentinels (presented by Jimmy Palmiotti and Dan Slott)
11. Catwoman (presented by Afua Richardson and Amanda Conner)
10. Green Goblin (presented by Sonya Paz)
09. Red Skull (presented by Jimmy Palmiotti and Dan Slott)
08. Dark Phoenix (presented by Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner)
07. Darkseid (presented by Jimmy Palmiotti)
06. Nazis (presented by Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti and Dan Slott)
05. Magneto (presented by Afua Richardson)
04. Doctor Doom (presented by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti and some redhead)
03. Galactus (presented by Jimmy Palmiotti, Dan Slott, and Arthur Suydam)
02. Lex Luthor (presented by Dan Slott, Afua Richardson and some redhead)
01. Joker (presented by Amanda Conner, Afua Richardson, Sonya Paz, Justin Gray, and Jimmy Palmiotti)

Well... that was dull and amateurish.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Frank Review of "ParaNorman 3D" (2012)

The Short Version? Dreamworks of the Dead
What Is It? Stop motion horror-comedy
Who Is In It? Kodi Smit-McPhee, Casey Affleck, Tempestt Bledsoe, Jeff Garlin, John Goodman, Bernard Hill, Anna Kendrick, Leslie Mann, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Tucker Albrizzi, Alex Borstein, Jodelle Ferland, and Elaine Stritch.
Should I See It? Maybe.

I saw Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within in the theater back in 2001. It was a highly derivative work; its obvious influences worn on its sleeve. I ended up enjoying it more than most people though, from the state-of-the-art animation to the curious theological template, not to mention the metaphysical downer ending. The filmmakers wanted it to be so much more than they were capable of delivering; their ambition was plain, but so were their characters and the basic plot. It was a high quality, thoroughly impressive bad movie.

I want to like ParaNorman more than I do. The animation is peachy, the voice acting solid, there are some great gags, and the 3D works more often than not. The designs are awfully familiar though, and the characters they represent threadbare. Nobody really gets an arc, at least none lighter than leaden, and balls get dropped left and right (like, where did all the ghosts disappear to at sundown, and what purpose did they serve beyond establishing Norman's gift/curse?) To a large degree, ParaNorman seems to exist to evoke movies I really like in a kid-friendly PG way. The film is darker than you'd expect, and it also gets a bit trippy toward the end. At the same time, a lot of the humor is low, the characters are more types than people, it really starts to drag on, and the morals are ham-fisted. As much as I liked the horror movie references and general attitude of the film, I was too conscious of the compulsion to homage, and too emotionally disconnected from the proceedings. From the Grindhouse riffing opening to the closing that recalled last year's Fright Night, this felt like a collection of other people's art. It needed more ambition, because as it stands, it's on the nakedly pandering side of the kids' animation spectrum. I can't think of a flick of its kind more geared toward my personal interests, and I can't think of a movie of its kind I've been less moved by in recent memory. Monsters vs Aliens? Still, there were a slew of 3D trailers ahead of the flick, and I'd rather see the safe, sweet, and mildly scary ParaNorman again than suffer through another one of Tim Burton's suburban goth yarns like Frankenweenie, or more friggin' Middle Earth boredom. There was that Despicable Me sequel teaser, however...

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Frank Review of "The Girl's Guide to Depravity" Season 1 (2012)

The Short Version? Sex. City Optional.
What Is It? Comedy-Drama
Who Is In It? Nobody you know.
Should I See It? Maybe.

"Max After Dark" is the Cinemax cable channel's way of letting viewers know that they've stepped out of the movie zone and into notorious "Skinemax" territory. Where cable channels often slum for viewers with softcore porn after hours, Cinemax has the dedication to commission original programming for this block. The Girl's Guide to Depravity, based on the blog of Heather Rutman, chronicles the adventures of a pair of single twenty-somethings trying to get their fuck on in between monogamous relationships without getting the short end of any given stick. Lizzie (Sally Golan) is a hard ass attorney, while Jason (Jesse Liebman) is her much abused fellow lawyer. Comparatively meek best friend Samantha (Rebecca Blumhagen) works in public relations or advertising or something, and has a catty relationship with her relatively chaste office mate Kate (Margaret Keane Williams) and loudly sextastic next door neighbor Kaylie (Riley Steele.) Queer barkeep Tyler (Joe Komara) slings advice with the drinks as the girls spill woe and prowl for pole. Let's see how that pans out on an episode-by-episode basis...

  1. "The Break-Up Rule": Cute start. The credit sequence is lightly animated with a decent tune that I wasn't sick of after numerous listens, followed by a dialogue-free opening section involving another nice tune and lots of quirky digital effects highlighting various "rules." Perfume bottles arranged by the type of man they're meant to attract, onscreen text messages, and so on. The acting is low-end TV fare, but relatively high end for a weekly softcore comedy. Whoever cast the deceptively legal Rebecca Blumhagen is a sexual deviant, and bless their hearts/nether regions. Sally Golan's hiring is more typical along the lines of this sort of show, and her character is overly bitchy. I would hope the "rules" were intended to parody dogmatic self-help bestsellers by applying them to opportunistic promiscuity. As employed here, rather than coming off as sexually empowered, the "girls" quote rules so often and with such fervor as to seem like mindless disciples. It makes Samantha come across as a weakling and Lizzie deluded. The misandry is also off-putting, as decent enough if underwhelming guys are treated like lepers, while abusive himbos are adored. The plot is too involved to be this shabby and misguided, especially as it cuts into Samantha's severely truncated sex scene, and leaves Lizzie's feeling tacked on.

  2. The Last Woman Standing Rule: I'm sure awkward was what they were shooting for, but funny would have been a nice inclusion to a scene involving an attempt to start a relationship. The plot where a lawyer goes undercover to try to trap an employer in a sexual harassment suit is ridiculous. There's also the part where two hot and fairly indiscriminate girls struggle to get laid, because that happens, right? Lizzie's sex scene is best measured in seconds. There was a nice foley gag during a barroom competition. To spoil the ending, not only doesn't Samantha get a satisfying sex scene, but her drunk-stick bedside manner leaves a lot to be desired (entendre intended.)

  3. The Puma Rule: Jesse Liebman's Jason has been eating shit for 2¼ episodes, so it was nice to see things turn around for him for a little bit. There were two decent sex scenes in this ep, but none for Samantha, I'm afraid. Still, this one shows marked improvement. Lizzie's aggressiveness delivers comedically, and I'm finding that I dig her nose.

  4. The Vibrator Rule: The acting in general is still porn quality, but Blumhagen and Golan are getting further into their characters with each episode. I figured Jason was introduced as the nice guy who would eventually man up for one of the girls, but a new sad sack named Kate getting introduced into Samantha's workplace indicates they'll eventually get paired off. For a series with a four million budget spread across fourteen episodes, the music is surprisingly good. There's a nifty little techno tune this time that helps sell the vacuous whorishness of Riley Steele's Kaylie character. It's nice to see that Samantha can bring the bitch when needed, and I guess Kate will carry the innocent quasi-virginal torch. I felt bad for the wine guy, but sometimes being bold leaves a body cold.

  5. The Bitch Rule: Okay, this was an annoying episode. The worst rules are spoken as absolutes, and I'd absolutely sneer at these bitches over their shenanigans. Also, Samantha can't pull it off at all, and I guess these ladies are unfamiliar with the concept of the hate fuck. Worth noting: thirteen minutes until the first sex scene, and a later one was more creepy than funny.

  6. The Magic Pussy Rule: After getting Lizzie's best sex scene so far out of the way immediately following the credits, the funniest episode so far emerges. Too bad weak drama fills the closing minutes, plus Justine Joli gets wasted in a cameo, but this was still a good one.

  7. The Fuck Buddy Rule: I'm glad Teef McLottanose got shown the door, as the prospect of Samantha masturbating is more enticing than further frustrating encounters with that guy. Besides, everyone knows Milla Jovovich is the hottest action star (not counting weirdos who favor that ice queen Fetish Posh Spice from the Underworld movies.) The Matrix gag was cute for half a minute, but everything about this episode dragged on too long, and most every other bit missed.

  8. The Cheating Rule: That shit where they recycled scenes from the first episode? Fuck that shit. I understand why they did it, but this whole episode was too stupid to justify it. Someone watched a decent dark comedy, tried to imitate it, but lacked any aptitude for it. The sex wasn't great, either.

  9. The Bi-Guy Rule: There wasn't a lot of sex, because it was too busy being a really fun episode with elevated acting game and a story to tell. I regret not keeping up with the individual screenwriters, as IMDb doesn't give credits, and some of these folks are clearly better than others. For you homophones out there, the action on display is strictly straight.

  10. The Unavailable Rule: They finally introduced Sienne (Whitney Kimball Long,) and like "her" stupid rules, I pretty much dislike her on sight. Depressing and annoying is not a great combination. Lizzie has a nice sex scene, but Jason's (yes, Jason's) only works if you're into Jason. I had to multitask reading some blogs to get through this weak romcom shit.

  11. The Pill Rule: Lizzie gets things off right by riding Dirty Hot Guy with all her might. Elizabeth Carlisle takes Clarityn, in case you're also OCD about reading stuff off bottles on a screen. Hannah Fierman's Pill Pusher Patty is probably the most interesting character on the show to date, for whatever that's worth. Man, this episode was heavy, relative to a series that I don't think is built to carry the weight. Go back to making fun of tiny dicks.

  12. The Getting His Attention Rule: Oh shit, stark slow piano playing. That's like the Incredible Hulk closing theme of softcore drama. Your mournful genitals are getting left on an empty highway. There appears to be a strict no-homo rule on this show, so a trip to jail is more Mayberry R.F.D. than Chained Heat, although I still hate Sienna too much to have enjoyed it anyway. Better than the depths of the last ep, but still undermines the premise of the series with (blech) traditional values. Kate does get her fuck on as a result, though. Also, the music over the last several episodes has been very nice, and it was solid to begin with.

  13. The Revenge Rule: So yeah, they totally gave up on comedy and went right into romantic drama for the last quarter of the season. I'm glad they got away from the dogma, but if the humor doesn't come back in a big way, there aren't enough strong sex scenes to warrant TiVo speed viewing. They made sure to tie up everything with one long loose thread in the event of a season two. They even worked Riley Steele and Pill Pusher Patty in, though not for the five minute lackadaisical lovemaking montage. It ends on a meh note as a result.

What have we learned from the first season of Rules? That by the end, the cast really showed their chops in the acting and fucking department, but were hampered by spotty writing and a lack of conviction in the softcore department. Aspirations mean the series has excellent music and looks great, with solid direction. However, the drama is a buzzkill, the comedy often isn't up to snuff, and the mediocre attempts at both crowd out the nudity meant to put bare asses in seats. The show is ultimately charming, coasting on charisma and chemistry where it lags in T&A funny. Hopefully, the creators will reevaluate their priorities if the show continues, because they get plenty enough right to earn another look.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Frank Review of "Green Lantern" (2011)

The Short Version? Monochromatic Space Knights.
What Is It? Super-Hero Action.
Who Is In It? Wade Wilson, Serena van der Woodsen, Lt. Vadim Radtchinko, Lord Blackwood, Phil Blumburtt, Tina Turner
Should I See It? Probably Not.

After a year of waving it off theatrically and on home video, I finally watched a DVR of Green Lantern my girlfriend recorded for me weeks ago because she thought I'd want to see it. I expected it to be total crap, so I was pleasantly surprised to find it watchable. The first half-to-three-quarter hour is actually pretty good, with Ryan Reynolds accurately portraying comic book prick Hal Jordan in his natural jet jockey environment. You get a good sense of who Jordan is and what he can bring to the intergalactic peacekeeping corp that recruits him when one of their best gets murdered. A decent supporting cast gets built, and you can see an arc forming for Jordan's character.

It all falls apart with the introduction of Hector Hammond, balding sweatpants loser scientist. Ever since Batman Returns, super-hero sequels have been plagued by too many lesser villains hogging the spotlight, but it's rare that filmmakers bungle the balance right out of the gate. Usually, the first movie is all about establishing the hero's origins and introducing an arch-rival. This movie has three, the least of whom is Hammond. After nearly a half century in comics, Hammond is still considered the poor man's MODOK, so unloved that he never even got a codename. Hammond could have been a great geek-baiting background character, like Dylan Baker's turn as Dr. Curt Connors in the second Spider-Man movie. Peter Sarsgaard has a lot of fun with the role, initially sympathetic, eventually slimy, but the character's questionable arc (stripped gears shifting from first to fourth) hijacks far more of the film than should have been allowable. It doesn't help that the character's dad is played by Tim Robbins, which brings back all the worst Howard the Duck memories.

When the Hector Hammond story isn't eating up space, the planet Oa is. Hal Jordan flies off to receive one whole scene of training as a Green Lantern before he up and quits the corp. That means that after going through the trouble of casting an entire Jordan family for one scene, replacement alien supporting players Tomar-Re and Kilowog (celebrity guest voices Geoffrey Rush and Michael Clarke Duncan) also up and vanish for the rest of the movie. I suppose it helps to demonstrate Jordan's detachment and irresponsibility, but it also means that the audience has few places to turn to in order to sustain interest. Seemingly, his only friend is Tom Kalmaku (Taika Waititi,) who serves as his cheering section during a test piloting sequence, gives him a ride when he's stranded after meeting his benefactor Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison,) and pressures Jordan into showing off his new costume. Then it's so long to Pieface.

Hector Hammond also has his own thin, perfunctory supporting cast. This mostly consists of his manipulative senator father (Robbins) and the woefully miscast Angela Bassett as Amanda Waller. In the comics, "The Wall" was basically Nell Carter as a morally compromised right wing military conspiracy on two legs, the same character introduced to broader audiences in the Justice League Unlimited cartoon. In this movie, "Doctor" Waller is a scientist who doesn't throw around a buck fifty in weight. Bassett's talents are wasted in such a thankless role as written, and the fantastic character of Amanda Waller is reduced to unconvincing cosplay. Martin Lawrence in a fat suit could have done more with it.

I've heard folks say that what they really wanted from this movie was Training Day in outer space, which could have been good. Second adversary Sinestro pops up throughout the movie, and like Sarsgaard, Mark Strong gets the most out of a flat character. Aside from pomposity, there isn't much of Sinestro on the page, and shortcuts taken in this feature (especially the ill advised closing credits teaser) undermine his character further in the event of a sequel. The biggest bad is Parallax, yellow entity of fear, who I've heard described as a diarrhea cloud with a face in it. Not since Galactus in the Fantastic Four sequel have filmmakers so thoroughly misunderstood the appeal of a villain through an abstract manifestation. Only the hard-dyingest of fans give a shit if Parallax is a possessed human or a bug or whatever, but no one wants him to literally look like a Hershey squirt amoeba. None of the villains have any emotional resonance, at least two of them look laughable, and they crowd the movie mercilessly.

Perhaps recognizing this, a love triangle is haphazardly grafted on between Hal Jordan, Carol Ferris, and Hector Hammond, but it registers merely as a delusion in the increasingly unstable Hammond's mind. Given the company and circumstances, Blake Lively fares well enough as Ferris. Reynolds has better than a decade on the actress, so their "growing up together" romance is a little skeevy. At the same time, it's right in Hal Jordan's wheelhouse *cough*Arisia*cough*, though the dynamic is more mother-child, given that Jordan is portrayed as such a wimp that he constantly needs reassurance in order to function as a Green Lantern. Despite the physical disparity between Jordan and Hammond, they really are both pathetic mama's boys basking in the glow of Ferris' tepid, inconsistent support. Unintentionally, the filmmakers have created an emotional dynamic in which there are no true heroes and few villains, but instead a universe full of emotional cripples unable to fully function even when granted power rings whose only limitations are imagination and will. As spectacles go, it's a sad one.

One final note: I can't believe that a movie with a reported 200 million budget has such rubbery CGI, and only spent about $35 on the soundtrack. Sum 41? I can't even name a Sum 41 song that isn't actually by Blink-182, with whom they died in a suicide pact in 2004. This isn't exactly a big money cast either, so what secret windfall did The Producers reap from this flick's global earnings shortfall?


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