Monday, April 30, 2012

Safe (2012) (26/50 movies)

Let me start by saying that I think the AV Club, to me, might be the best pop culture website. Or at least my favorite one. It's the first place I go for any review whether it be movies or music, they're writing, whether I always agree or not, is always interesting and thoughtful.  Why am I bringing them up here? In a a rare miss, in their review for the new Jason Statham vehicle, Safe, they keep going on about how Jason Statham can, and I am paraphrasing, sell a punch but can't sell his vulnerability. Here's the thing: going into a Jason Statham movie who is looking for his acting? I mean he does the bare minimum anyway, but here, again he is the proverbial "Man PUSHED TOO FAR", an unstoppable killing machine taking apart corrupt cops,  and Chinese and Russian mobs, in Manhattan, all so he can protect a kid who, like him, is alone in the world. And really, that's all you need, it's not art, for sure, but when Statham gets into ass kicking mode there are really are few better. And, unlike the AV Club, I enjoyed his one-liners, particularly the one before takes a part a roomful of Russian mobsters. Sure there is a macguffin here, the ones that are always there: why is there always a briefcase full of secrets and/or a disk with ALL the information that will bring down EVERYONE? (Here to up the ante there is both). But seeing as it is a Jason Statham movie: does he do a good job doling out righteous street justice? Answer: yes. Movie successful and fun to watch. There is also a whole sequence of him getting on and off the subway where the man never once uses the door.

I just have to link to this, because it remains probably my favorite thing written about Jason Statham. It pretty much sums up the Jason Statham phenomenon perfectly. Patton Oswalt's Gay-tham for Statham


Friday, April 27, 2012

2 Movies and A Book: 25/50 Continues On...

From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell (9/25 Books)
Considering how much I love Watchmen and V For Vendetta (but lets be honest, I really like V For Vendetta very much but consider Watchmen an all-time classic, that's right, classic-not a controversial opinion, I know.) It's odd that it has taken me so long to get to From Hell, considering it's reputation. I actually liked the Hughes Brothers version of From Hell with Johnny Depp which transformed the work into much more of a whodunnit then Alan Moore does here, but after finally reading the book, I don't think I like the movie quite as much as I thought I did. Simply put, this was, well, mindblowingly amazing (?) Which sounds like hyperbole and there is probably better and more poetic ways to put it but that's the best I can do right now. The book is a theory of the origin of Jack the Ripper, tying in an illegitimate marriage in the royal family and a hushed up bastard child. And tying in the Freemasons, who have their own motives in regards to the royal family. The cops who are investigating the murders have their own issues with dealing with the suspects at hand, and the prostitutes who are getting slowly picked off are also followed in detail. Then from there Moore delves into history and....the universe, and even manages to pull together nearly every famous figure of the time in one way or the other. At the same time it is also a treatise, or theory, on how the Jack The Ripper killings, in a way, ushered in the horrors of the twentieth century. (Adolph Hitler was born around the time of the killings, and yes, that's also in there) There are theories on time and space here (and architecture) doesn't make too much sense me trying to explain it, but it is mindboggling. Also mindboggling, is Alan Moore's two appendices, the first of which you can find a break down of the research that went into EACH PAGE, and it is truly crazy how much research went into this thing. The second appendix is even more impressive, as it is a another mini comic and it is charts the evolution of all the Ripper theories and "Ripperologists" that have come out of the woodwork and how they have changed and grown to a point where as Moore puts it, all the research becomes basically half truths, rumors, lies, without anything concrete. To put it bluntly the whole thing is on another level. And it shows, as Moore usually does, that the graphic novel, and comics in general, can be just as artistic as any other form/medium. (Also, as Pat O'D points out, Victorian London seems like an absolutely miserable place be)

I loved it. Not in that “OMG that was awesome way”, but in that “oh god – this is really good. REALLY good. This is an Important Book.” Even as a historical study – and it has been painstakingly researched – it will take your breath away.

The Cabin In The Woods (2012) (24/50 Movies)
This is going to be weird because I don't have the talent to give this movie a proper review without giving anything away about it and this is a movie that demands you go into it as cold as possible because this one of the few times where I can say this movie takes you to a place you absolutely do not expect and totally mean it. The premise is amazing, the writing is good where they give you just enough information but keep you clamoring for more, and it is one of the few times I can say you really do not know where the filmmakers are gonna lead. Plus, with all of this, it is SO much fun. At least I thought so, it's fun and funny, again in a way you wouldn't expect but absolutely helps out. It's sort of like Scream, only in that it will definitely make you think of horror movies in a different way when you watch them. Drew Goddard the director and co writer was also a writer on Lost and it makes me wonder if he tried to pitch this premise as how Lost should ultimately end but got shut down. He might have been onto something. And, this is sacrilege to some, but I didn't think too much of Joss Whedon before, I wasn't a Buffy fan and I has skipped everything else, but before this I was worried about what he would do with The Avengers but now that I've seen this I am even more excited for that. 

And I found this poster for it which is awesome

Lockout (2012) (25/50 movies) 

Hahahahahaha Tina and I went to see this on my birthday. I was dragged into the movie theater by two things from the trailer: 1) written by Luc Besson and 2) It's about a SPACE PRISON BREAK. I will admit this: I am easy and I was sold. And I mean it was an entertaining enough 2 hours or so, but this is definitely destined to become one of those movies that you keep running into on a weekend afternoon on TBS or TNT. It's basically an Escape From New York riff where a space prison(!) filled with prisoners in stasis, where the prisoners get awakened and take over and take the visiting president's daughter hostage. Guy Pearce plays Snow, the wise-cracking convict/special agent who gets sent in to save the President's daughter, but also to meet up with his former partner in crime so he can clear his name. It's a fun enough trifle if you ever happen to run across it. The President's daughter is played by Maggie Grace, who I thought I recognized. I eventually figured out where I knew her from: she played Boone's stepsister, Shannon, on Lost. Two movies, two Lost connections. Nice.

Hey! And this also marks the halfway point for me as far as movies go. Also nice!


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Guest Post: On Dashiell Hammett and Hard Boiled Fiction (Part 2)

The Maltese Falcon
More than any other, the Maltese Falcon was the book that would define
the type of detective story that Hammett created, and it would be the
model that his inheritors in the genre would work from. Unlike Red
Harvest and The Glass Key, with their broader canvas and politics,
this is the classic noir detective tale – guns, murder, and a
dangerous dame. This was Sam Spade’s one and only full-length
appearance, but he arrived with sufficient impact to work his way into
the cultural lexicon, the archetype of the classic P.I.

The prime elements of Hammett’s lead men are all present and correct
in Spade. He is a sharp guy in a tough spot, and his only chance to
come out on top is to stay one step ahead of the competition and try
to play them against one another. He doesn’t have the luxury of being
the good guy, but you shouldn’t necessarily buy when he sells himself
as being the bad guy. When he admits to taking on a case that he
knows is crooked because the money was enough for it not to matter,
he’s not lying; likewise when he explains that he has to solve his
partner’s murder just because it’s “bad for business” not to. It’s
the truth, but you’re not convinced it’s the whole truth. Spade likes
to make a show of his cold detachment but he is more sentimental than
he would dare admit, and this becomes the real mystery of the Maltese
Falcon: how much heart is really in that ribcage, and how much ice?
As the story powers to its intense set piece finish, we still can’t be
sure if it is love, money, honour, or simple self-preservation that
will determine how Spade plays his cards.

On celluloid, the third time was a charm. John Huston and Humphrey
Bogart brought Spade to life superbly in Huston’s 1941 adaptation, his
debut feature. Recognizing the strength of the source material, the
screenplay cleaves closely to the narrative and dialogue of the book.
The character is ready-made for Bogart in that era, and where dialogue
changes are made, they serve the quick talking and wisecracking style
that contribute so much to making the movie such a watchable
experience. Huston and Bogart do a great job of using visual cues and
humour to let the viewer know that you can’t always take Spade’s
actions or words at face value, and so perpetuate his mystery.
Subtlety not among his many fine qualities as an actor, Bogart revels
in the opportunity to theatrically sneer playing a character who is
sneering theatrically.

Bogart’s chemistry with female lead Mary Astor doesn’t always fire on
all cylinders. She is perhaps the relative weak point in an otherwise
exceptional cast. She excels when playing the downtrodden damsel to
try to target Spade’s sympathies, but she does not convince as the
devious femme fatale that moves on to try to ensnare his affections.
Their exchanges in general work well, though, even if Bogart is forced
to do a lot of the heavy lifting, and by the final scene,
circumstances have brought the character of Brigid O'Shaughnessy
closer to Astor’s comfort zone, just in time for a powerful finish.
The cast of complimentary characters in the story are Hammett’s most
Runyonesque, and they are a tremendous highlight in the film. Sydney
Greenstreet and Peter Lorre have a field day in their colourful roles,
and the blend works so well that the same players would be reconvened
a year later to accompany Bogart in Casablanca.

The Maltese Falcon is a tremendous success as both book and film. The
story was conceived with a fine balance between light and dark and the
film deftly maintains that balance, and for both this is a key aspect
of their success. Hammett is never more entertaining as a writer and
this is certainly my favourite of his novels. On the screen, this was
the part Bogart was born to play, more so than his more famous turn in
Casablanca, to which he brings an abundance of character but a
shortfall of nuance, and significantly more so than the light role in
The African Queen that bizarrely won him an Oscar, his only one. I
have unsuccessfully tried to watch the two earlier attempts at
Hollywood adaptation, in particular the 1930 original which was
controversial for its lewd references to adultery and homosexuality.
The difficulty is, the classic version is too good, too definitive,
and anything else seems like a travesty. Speaking of which, we should
be forever grateful that the success of Casablanca in 1942 prevented
the planned follow up feature, The Further Adventures of the Maltese

The Thin Man

The Thin Man might be Hammett’s most famous title, by virtue of the
popular six-movie franchise and later television series that grew from
it. Hammett’s first four novels had all appeared in a three year
spell from 1929 to 1931. Another three years would pass before the
publication of this his fifth and final novel. Hammett’s life had
changed somewhat and it is tempting to read those changes into the
different tone of The Thin Man. Notably, in the intervening years,
Hammett had begun the relationship with playwright Lilly Hellman that
would endure for the remainder of his life, and here for the first
time we have a married protagonist, and a leading lady on the right
side of the law. Nick Charles is a drawing room gentleman detective
of the variety that Hammett’s own hard edged PIs had buried. Gone are
the mean existence, cheap rye, and gaudy patter, replace by high
society living, wine, and witty banter. Charles has hung up his
pistol and is trying to move on, although he lets himself get dragged
into one last case. Likewise, this would prove to be one last story
for Hammett following his hiatus. His interests too had moved
elsewhere, to the sphere of political activism that would absorb him
during the 30s, up until he saw service in another world war.

Although not short on Hammett’s characteristically strong plotting and
engaging personalities, the character and tone of The Thin Man is much
removed from that of his previous work. Mostly how the reader feels
about that is a matter of personal preference, but it is undeniable
that some of the features that really separated and elevated Hammett’s
stories are absent. Personally I like the book a great deal but I
would consider it my least favourite of his novels; the movie
adaptation I have less time for.

The film, shot in 12 days and released within just four months of the
book’s publication, was a huge success and scooped an Academy Award
nomination. William Powell scored plaudits for his portrayal of
Charles, but to my taste he gives the character a smugness that
Hammett is able to avoid on the page. Myrna Loy holds up her end as
wife Nora but although the crackle of their alcoholic exchanges is
retained the charm falters somewhat. The film is a jolly Hollywood
romp, very much of its time, and could hardly be more different than
Huston’s Maltese Falcon, just seven years later. Sequel After the
Thin Man, featuring a very young-looking Jimmy Stewart, was also very
well received, and is watchable despite a pervasive sense of its own
pointlessness. I haven’t ventured into the following four movies but
I understand they are a case study in diminishing returns.

In the next 30 years Hammett would campaign against war, serve in a
war, be shamefully treated by the country he served during the
communist witch-hunt, and end up with jail time for taking the fifth.
Although he would not publish a single story more during those years,
up to his death in 1961, he had already bequeathed a lasting legacy in
the books he had written and the films they had inspired.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Guest Post: On Dashiell Hammett and Hard Boiled Fiction (Part 1)

In the midst of the book reading and movie watching challenges
hereabouts, I decided to combine the two to write about one of my
favourite authors, whose small body of work has been the basis of, or
has influenced, some of my favourite films.

Dashiell Hammett wrote just five complete novels and a handful of
short stories. He wrote a new kind of detective fiction, drawing from
his own experiences as an actual private detective for California’s
Pinkerton Agency. The style became known as “hard-boiled” – lean
descriptions of ugly people in ugly places doing ugly things.
Sympathy was hard to find, but Hammett was careful to make his
anti-heroes just heroic enough – as cynical as things got, there was
always one guy willing to crack wise and (eventually) do the right
thing. And hopefully get paid for it.

I’ve broken my deranged rambling into two parts, for easier digestion.
The first covers the thematically-related Red Harvest (1929) and The
Glass Key (1931). The second will cover his most famously adapted
books, The Maltese Falcon (1930) and The Thin Man (1934). 
1) ‘Red Harvest’ and ‘The Glass Key’ 

 The Pinkerton Agency was notoriously involved in labour disputes and
strike breaking in the era that Hammett worked for them. This
experience informed his books Red Harvest and The Glass Key, two
novels with a number of shared elements, in particular the backdrop of
a small town being fought over by violent gangs and unscrupulous local

Hammett had created a new type of detective fiction in his short
stories through the 20s, combining a flair for the drama of fiction
with the dour and seedy grit of his real life experience. His first
novel, Red Harvest, was the brilliantly executed culmination of this
period, and was a true watershed in crime fiction.
The protagonist is the Continental Op, the nameless actor in many of
his stories to date with whom he laid the template for the PI who lets
people believe he is more crooked than he really is. His client is
already dead by the time the Op reaches “Poisonville”, and he solves
that murder before fulfilling his contract to clean up a town riven by
violent factions, playing them against each other, even though at
times it seems like he is the only one who wants the town cleaned up.
If there are pieces of the story that seem familiar, that should not
be surprising, as many elements have been incorporated by future
storytellers. These include Akira Kurosawa and the Coen Brothers, but
although the influence of Red Harvest is clear on the films Yojimbo
and Miller’s Crossing, the filmmakers themselves identify the works in
question more closely with another Hammett novel, The Glass Key.
The Glass Key shares a similar storyline of a powerful local figure
attempting to hide behind, and profit from, criminal gangs, and a
smaller player pitting opposing sides against one another to quell
gang war. Miller’s Crossing, unfairly one of the more overlooked Coen
Brothers movies, is in part a very close adaptation of the book, but
there are a number of significant departures. They skillfully take the
core of Hammett’s story and adapt it where necessary to make the
result more characteristically a Coen Brothers film, something even
starker and more unsettling than the source material.

The Glass Key had already been adapted by Hollywood a couple of times
before. I haven’t seen the 1935 version but the more famous of the
two is the 1942 noir classic featuring an amazing Veronica Lake and
Alan Ladd. As with Miller’s Crossing, the makers of The Glass Key
were careful to make the material fit their ends, and in this case the
result is both a Hollywood movie of the era and an important
development in the budding noir genre. The former part of that of
course means that the plot is simplified and the politics are reduced
to the background in favour of the love story. Again though, the
license is taken adeptly, and the resulting film, while not a
completely faithful adaptation, is stronger for it.
The Glass Key is a wonderful film and well worth looking up. I was
very fortunate to be able to see in a cinema once and it remains one
of my favourite movie experiences. Miller’s Crossing is also very
much recommended. I have skipped over Yojimbo here but that film
certainly deserves its strong modern reputation, and of course it
endowed the influence it drew from Hammett’s novels on the several
notable films that were in turn influenced by it. A movie of Red
Harvest was made in 1930 which I have not seen, but which has a poor

The books themselves are both very strong. Hammett had a gift for
devising involved plots and then executing them without confusion, and
that shows up in these novels more than any others. The characters
are typically boldly drawn and the action is paced and addictive. Red
Harvest in particular is considered perhaps Hammett’s finest work.
The author himself, however, cited The Glass Key as his favourite of
his own novels.
-Lee B.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Boring books, good movies. The 25/50 Saga Continues

YO YO YO YO YO everybody. This is your boy, Perpicacious P aka the Vanilla Thrilla aka the Philosoraptor aka The White Falcon. It’s been awhile since I last spit hot fiyah, and I apologize, but I got stuck on a super shitty book and hadn’t been to the movies for a minute because I am god damn cheap. But that was the old me. Now I’m back and ready to go. Let’s move on to our first review:


The Moviegoer – (Book 8 of 25)

My review: Fucking sucked.

That is all, next item!

Just kidding! You know I’m hella long-winded.

The review is particularly verbose so feel free to skip. I will say that if you enjoy cuss words and mailed-in writing, you will enjoy the review:

Thank Based God that is over with. Based God damn that book was tough. I had to fight like a motherfucker to get through it. It reminded me of all those shitty novels I had to read in high school but never did. This book did not hold my interest in any way. One of my biggest character flaws is sticking with things too long, not knowing when to let go. I think most people, when presented with a book this boring, would simply stop reading it. But not me dear reader. I suffer so you don’t have to. Despite the book only being 200 pages, it felt like 1000 and took two weeks to finish. I resented it. When I got home after work, I wouldn’t watch movies or play video games because I knew those would distract me from finishing this Based God-damned book.

I will say that the author, Walker Percy, had a great command of the English language. Some of his writing was beautiful, but the story itself is interminable. There are tons of references to pop culture from the late-50s and early 60s, mostly involving movie stars (obviously). Since I have never seen a movie made before 1980, these references were completely lost on me. The novel is set in New Orleans and is very Southern, so I missed a lot of the cultural context, since I’m a Yankee and all.

A lot of the book is dialogue between characters, but the tone is so detached and cool and ironic that they often didn’t seem like conversations, but rather two people responding to each other apropos of nothing. Something like:

Me: Oh hey Matty, how about those Mets, LOL?

Matty: Never never will I understand men who throw over everything for some woman. The trick, the joy of it, is to prosper on all fronts, enlist money in the service of love and love in the service of money. As long as I am getting rich I feel that all is well. It is my Presbyterian blood.


The nice writing interspersed with laborious fluff is kind of how I look at jazz music. Every once in awhile you come across a great solo or piece of transcendent music, but you have to sit through a lot of self-indulgent playing to get to it.

Kind of like my writing on this blog?!??!

The Golden Compass (Book 9 of 10)

I must say I did not enjoy reading this much at all. A fellow blogger said he dug these and that it has a Hunger Games-vibe. I see the comparison to some extent, in that it’s a young person fighting what seems like insurmountable odds in a hostile world. But overall there was too much about magic talking animals and shit. I liked The Hunger Games trilogy because it was so raw, there was no fairy dust or magic or any of that shit. Just Katniss Everdeen, stone cold killer, holding down the block. As soon as this book got into talking bears I was out. Fuck talking bears, fuck magic animals and fuck instruments made of gold. I want that real gangsta shit.


John Carter (Movie 13 of 50)

Here’s my review on John Carter:

The guy from Friday Night Lights fights on Mars alongside a hot chick and some aliens and it was amazingly mediocre.  

Jeff, Who Lives at Home (Movie 14 of 50)

This is from the Duplass brothers, who are associated with ‘mumblecore’, which are movies with hella naturalistic dialogue, meandering plots and miniscule budgets. I actually saw what is considered the first mumblecore movie, Funny Ha Ha when it was released in 2005, which makes me WAY MORE FRESHER THAN YOU. I AM ON TOP OF TRENDS!!!11!!

Obviously this movie had a bit more money with Jason Siegel, Ed Helms and Susan Sarandon starring, but the mumblecore elements were still in effect. The movie meandered and was largely absurd in a subtle way. Ed Helms annoys the hell out of me and there’s no way a douche like his character would have gotten with my homegirl Judy Greer. But hey, they’re movies, not documentaries.

I still liked it, although I am in no hurry to see it again. The message is something about family and love and blah blah blah. It probably made more than John Carter even though it had a budget that was equal to a day’s work for a busker on the Barcelona Metro.

You like my worldly reference? SEE HOW WELL-TRAVELED I AM?!?

21 Jump Street (Movie 15 of 50)

I have to be honest, I freaking loved this movie. I hadn’t laughed this hard in a movie theater since Superbad. Now, it’s not as good as Superbad, but what both experiences had in common was that the audience was really into it, and that created a group mob mentality of laughter. I saw Superbad in a theater filled with a bunch of southern frat boys and their over-the-top reactions heightened my own, making the movie 20 percent funnier than if I saw it alone.

Yes, I go to the movies alone. Because I have no friends.  

ANYWAY, this was a similar experience. There were moments I was laughing so much that my head was in a lot of pain and it actually hurt to continue laughing and made it hard to breathe. It was awesome. There is one particularly ill sequence where Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are tripping on drugs and it made it seem like drugs were the most awesomest thing ever. I was LOLing like a motherfucker.

I love Jonah Hill, and he killed it as always, but Tatum was surprisingly funny. The guy has some comedy chops and could be a good straight man in the funny pictures. The door was open for a sequel and I sincerely hope they walk through that door.

Count me as one of the many who would like to see 22 Jump Street.

The Hunger Games (Movie 16 of 50)

I thought the trailer was so ill that I went out and bought the books immediately, something I have never done. The books were great and I just hoped that the movie could live up to the hype I had set for it in my head.

It did.

Jennifer Lawrence was the perfect Katniss Everdeen. She exuded the strength and cold-blooded nature of the character in the book, although I will say movie Katniss was slightly less badass than book Katniss. Overall, the movie took the edge off a lot of what happened in the book, and some of the relationships in the movie lacked the depth of those in the book, but there’s only so much you can fit into a film, and this was almost two and a half hours.

Although it didn’t follow the book’s plot completely (and really, people who complain about movies not slavishly following books are fucking assholes), the changes they made worked.

The most touching scene in the movie was when the kids in her home city gave her the silent salute after she volunteered to enter the arena for her sister. It gave me goosebumps, real talk.

I don’t have much else to add to what you’ve probably already read.

Dope movie totally worth seeing. And it didn’t have talking bears and magic animals and shit. Just Lord of the Flies-esque killing. What’s not to like?

Monday, April 9, 2012

2 Books and a Movie

11/22/63 by Stephen King (6/25 books)
For the first time enact a rule that apparently exists in the real "50/50" challenge, in that book over 500 pages actually counts as two books. Well, here you go, and I admit that if I didn't write that then no one would be the wiser. Anyhow, the book: I go back and forth on the whole Stephen King "thing", I guess like anything else: when he is on he is really on and when he is off he is really off. That being said, I haven't paid too much attention to him lately until this book and Under The Dome started to get all sorts of attention and thus grabbed my attention again. This book, I feel like, is way more entertaining than it has any right to be I think, ostensibly about time travel, it also contains a tragic love story and as with most time travel, a lot of ideas about how the choices we make, big and small, effect the world and people around us. King sets up the rules of the time travel device early on, and later sort of, but not really explains why there exists these bubbles that take people to a certain time and/or place. Here the protagonist has to live 5 years in the past so that he can prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy, it's about that mission, of course, but also the people he meets along the way. It sounds dumb, but it is a page turner of the highest order, with a really nice  emotional center. There might be a little too much talk about harmonizing and how the past can be "obdurate", but the more I think about it, I wonder of the repeat mention of these things goes along with the idea of patterns in time and history that King was trying to bring up.

One side note, I didn't realize until I read this AV Club "Gateways To Geekery" article on Stephen King that I realized that in his latter day books he tries to link all of his books as happening in the same universe. This isn't giving away too much, I guess, but the main character goes back in time, and spends time in Derry, NH, where he has some other business before the "big business", and it is the same Derry, NH as the one in "It" with the about a year or two removed from the child disappearances. I found it more odd than anything to have that sort of thing linked, but, in a way I found it kind of fun. That sort of detail right there may or may not tell you whether you would be into this book. But, in a way, it sort of makes sense that, sure, portals to another time would just appear in the stockroom of a Diner in NH, it's Stephen King's universe. Which, in a way, is a lazy way of getting out of giving a real explanation. But when the book's this entertaining and engaging, in a way, it doesn't really matter.

Old Man Logan by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven (7/25 books)

Someone with more in depth knowledge of comic books can tell me whether I am off base or not here but Mark Millar seems to be one of the kings of taking comic book characters and giving some sort of alternate history. I had to look this up but he had also done Red Son, which was a Superman story where they took Superman and instead of having his spaceship land in Kansas, it landed on a collective in the Soviet Union, and how that changed the world that they existed in. It was really well done. Now,Old Man Logan, is a bit different. The story takes place fifty years after all the Marvel villains teamed up and sneak attacked the Marvel heroes, destroyed most of them, and then proceeded to divvy up the United States into four quarters. Basically, the Logan of this story is like Clint Eastwood's character in Unforgiven, because of something that happened on that night he hid his identity and turned to pacifism, until pushed too far of course. It's really interesting a combination of Western mythos, Mad Max, and the heroes' journey, and of course, some sci fi. I mostly liked it but it ended with what seemed like the setup for a sequel which would be great but I am not sure if it is forthcoming. (Looking around it looks like Millar wanted to do a sequel, but who knows what happened to it. This is one of the few times I would welcome it)

Semi-Pro (23/50 movies)

I'll admit that I love Will Ferrell. I think he's really funny (duh). But at the time Semi-Pro came out I felt he was going to the well one too many times on a couple things :Will Ferrell in the 70's and Will Ferrell in sports-specific comedy. (I think it came out around or after the time of Blades Of Glory-another movie that has it's moments, as well as it's cool co-stars) Now, I happened to catch this on Comedy Central, and it would probably be better to watch the uncensored version for a variety of reasons, but this did indeed, have it's moments, and was a fun trifle, and I definitely laughed, but overall it wasn't the best. I mean, sure, it might be unfair to compare it to his classic, Anchorman, because it doesn't reach those height, but even on it's own merits, it had some fun and funny stuff, but I am not quote sure it worked overall. But it's not a terrible waste of a couple hours either. What was pretty amazing though is the cast of costars he assembled for this thing: Will Arnett, Andy Daly, Woody Harrelson, Andre 3000, David Koechner, Rob Corddry, Kristen Wiig, Maura Tierney, Andy Richter, Matt Walsh etc. The list goes on and on.


Monday, April 2, 2012

The Raid: Redemption (2012) (22/50 movies)

The Raid: Redemption is probably one of the greatest action movies I have seen in a long time. I don't even know where to start. I'll start with the fact that it is truly an international movie, it was made in Indonesia with Indonesian actors but is directed by Gareth Evans, who is Welsh. It has the simplest of premises, one which has been, shall we say, explored in other movies before, a team of cops go to raid an apartment building that is the headquarters of a top crime lord, and soon find themselves locked in and having to battle their way out against the criminal element that live there. The AV Club in their interview with Evans brings up the fact that there are shades of everything from Die Hard to Assault On Precinct 13 to 80's Hong Kong movies in this movie. (No one has mentioned this, but how about shades of New Jack City, Nino Brown owned and operated of one apartment building to, you know. At least in that one small detail it reminded Tina and I of). Oh, also it stars Iko Uwais who is a rookie cop but complete bad ass who has to fight his way through the building and its inhabitants to freedom. Uwais practices an Indonesian martial art called silat, which really and truly involves machetes and, oh boy, are there machetes in this thing.

Anyway, once inside it hardly matters that you can guess who is allied with who and who is going to betray who. As they get inside, there is some backstory, betrayal, and corruption. But you’re not watching The Raid: Redemption to dig into characters’ relationships or decipher complex histories. You’re here to see shooting and kicking, neck snapping and back breaking, flips and falls, as well as a series of amazingly choreographed battles. These are rendered in awesome long takes. Two things jumped out at me here: one in these long takes, where battles are taken to a balletic level of choreography, there are spots before the BIG spots that would have been the big spots in American action films that are glossed over because the action is moving so quickly, which I found interesting. Also in my review for The Hunger Games I mentioned that Paul Greengrass should teach Hollywood action directors who direct with that shaky camera for action sequences, I take that back because Gareth Evans should teach that. The camerawork is speedy here, but still legible, where you understand completely what's going on. It really is pretty amazing. And really fun to see with an audience just gasping away at what is going on at the screen. 

It's 100 minutes of this:

If you feel like you'd be into then you will, basically. If not then steer clear.


Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Concert Series - Part VI: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

With concerts, as with anything else in life really, there are various levels of greatness.  There are so many different ways to see a live show with all the divergent types of venues and festivals and setups that we now have today.  Talking about the greatness of such shows becomes a completely subjective venture and it’s hard to pinpoint any one objectively phenomenal show.  I find this all the time when I go the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Tennessee every June.  I tend to see upwards of 50 acts in four days and am always amazed at how just about every show is jam packed with fans.  And no matter how much of a no-brainer it is for me to see a certain band in a timeslot, there are thousands of others who have another must-see act at that same time and couldn’t care less about the band I’m so excited to see.  It’s clear we’re all looking for something different and that’s really great because it allows for stimulating debates and conversations about music in general.  Having said all that, I can’t help but think that amongst all these subjective opinions and interests, there is one objective truth (well, as close as you can get to one anyway) that the greatest performer we have with us now is Bruce Springsteen.  And I found myself at one of the first shows of the U.S. leg of his current tour in Tampa, Florida last Friday night; from the highest seat in the very last row of the Tampa Bay Times Forum.  And there was no place I’d rather be.

To close out my Concert Series, it is quite apt that I’m doing so with a performance by one of my all-time favorite live acts.  I first saw Springsteen in 1998 in Philadelphia with my brother.  At the time I didn’t really care much for him and I think the only album I had was Born to Run.  After the show, I was singing a different tune as I was experienced to the most energetic, passionate, and exciting show I had ever seen.  Since them I have seen him six more times, including the most recent one, and I have done so from all vantage points.  From the very last row in Tampa, to a nosebleed seat behind the stage in Albany, to the box seat in the arena in Philadelphia where I was served beer and appetizers, to a seat on the field of Shea Stadium, to the right side of the stage during the 5 hour “Vote For Change Tour” back in 2004, to the 20th row in the pit at Bonnaroo where Springsteen fell right into me as he shredded a solo during “Out in the Streets”.  Yes, though I’ve only seen him 7 times, I feel like I’ve seen it all.  And it’s never been disappointing.

For this show, I attended with mostly family members as my uncles are all crazy Springsteen fans and have been ever since I can remember.  My two cousins were the ones who got the tickets and although they tried to get tickets as soon as they went on sale to the general public, the best they could do was the last two rows.  Springsteen sells out in minutes, even in a crappy music place like Florida.  No matter though.  The show was nearly three hours long which is two to three times the length of most shows.  What’s amazing about it though is the fact that when he plays it’s almost like one continuous song.  He barely takes any breaks between songs and after rocking out one tune for 8 minutes or so, the band will be holding out a long note while Springsteen walks to the back and picks up another guitar, comes back to the microphone, screams out “One, Two, Three, Four!” and then rocks out into the next song.  The energy level is unparalled and regardless of your affinity for him or not, you have to respect that.  Nobody else does what he does in the way that he does.  And the dude is 62 years old.

This tour is in support of his most recent album Wrecking Ball which has been hailed by many as his best post 70’s and 80’s album.  I’m not entirely familiar with his catalogue, but I can say that the album is excellent.  He played many tracks from the album but he also did a great job of mixing up the tunes from all of the decades and albums.  He kicked off the show with two new tracks and then dove into a blistering version of “Prove it all Night” which ends with one of the best guitar solos you’ll see at a Springsteen show.  Blown away afterwards I turned to my mom and said, “That was only the third song!!!!”  He could have easily closed the show with it.  Another highlight was his selection to play “American Skin (41 Shots)” which was originally written in response to the Amadou Diallo shooting back in 1999 who was shot 41 times by police officers.  Springsteen made no comment about the song to the crowd but it was quite evident he played this in response to the recent and tragic killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida.  I had totally forgotten about that song but was glad he played it.  It was stunning.

This is also the first tour Springsteen has played since the death of founding E Street member Clarence Clemmons.  In his stead, was his nephew Jake Clemmons who was featured quite prominently during the show and he did an amazing job of filling in for someone who is nearly irreplaceable.  One of the great things during a Springsteen show is when he introduces the band and when he speaks to the crowd.  The man talks like a Southern Baptist preacher and it’s hard to not feel spiritual when he gets going, saying things like “We’re here tonight to put a whoop-ass session on the recession!!!”  and goes on about the spiritual and healing powers of rock n’ roll.  Nobody does stuff like this and if anyone tried, I would venture to guess most would come off as cheesy and lame.  Springsteen makes you believe it.

He also makes it a point at several moments to get down from the stage and run onto the floor while he shakes hands with fans and climbs into the seats with them.  At one point he ran to about a quarter of the way onto the center of the floor and leaned back into the crowd with arms spread open and just laid in their outstretched arms in his own version of a crowd surf.  He gave no instructions but just laid there as still as possible with a huge grin on his face and the hands slowly but surely passed him towards the front to the stage.  It was a total organic moment and it was cool to see the fans converge on the floor to try to help out and get a hand on the Boss.  My dad is also 62 years old.  No way could I see him doing this.

The encore came about two hours into the set and was played with most of the house lights up so from our perspective we could see just about everything, including the security guards chasing people on the floor who had somehow made their way out there without having the right credentials.  I had to hand it to the guards, they were tenacious in their pursuit and retrieved each of hooligans and returned them to their rightful seats.  The closing songs were mostly the hits you’d expect, “Born to Run”, “Glory Days”, “Dancing in the Dark”, and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”.  And with that, it was over.  I looked at my phone and noted he played for just under three hours, 2 hours and 50 minutes to be precise.  It felt like 45 minutes.

Throughout this series, I’ve written about different types of shows and I’ve tried to center each one on a varying theme to keep it a little more interesting.  I still feel the Avett Brothers are a band that just about anyone can like, the Lemonheads are a better band because of nostalgia, Radiohead is on another planet, the Black Keys have skyrocketed to fame in a short period of time, and JustinRoberts writes some of the best pop hooks even though he is for the kids.  But if there was one that I would say is a must see regardless of your tastes, it would be Springsteen hands down.  I don’t care if he’s not your thing.  I don’t care if you never really got into his music or if you don’t get him.  If you are a true appreciator of music and in particular, live music, he should be at the top of your list of must see shows.  He is a living legend but unlike other such artists he can still bring a live show and do so better than most of the younger acts out there.  His shows are more of a happening and cultural and spiritual experience than anything else and are worth every dollar of the 63 you’d spend to see him from the last row.  As an added incentive I’d say that given his age you’d better go see him soon since he can’t do this forever, but in actuality the opposite is the truth.  The way he’s doing this whole music thing, he’s just getting started.

I think I've mentioned before that my uncle Danny regularly complains that he's always left disappointed by other live shows because they can never compare to a Springsteen show.  I always tell him how unrealistic this statement is.  It's like saying that you can't read any poetry or literature because nobody is able to hold a candle to Shakespeare, or that you don't like to watch movies because nothing has come close to as being as fantastic as The Godfather, or that sitcoms are all lame and unwatchable because The Honeymooners make them all pale in comparison.  Hell, why eat anything else because lobster tail is the greatest thing you've ever had and nothing will ever top it?  Live concerts all have their benefits and all try to do different things through different mediums.  To forgo all other live shows because they're not Springsteen is totally ridiculous and unfair.  You might as well hole up and just give up on listening to new music.  Uncle Danny has chosen to go down this path and I feel bad for him because there is so much that he is missing.  But every time I see a Springsteen show, I understand where he's coming from.  And in some ways, he's not wrong.