March 30, 2007

Blades Of Glory

Honestly, we're trying to cut back on the moviegoing this year, but we needed a release after a long work week, and we couldn't wait 4-6 months for the DVD. A mildly funny comedy, Blades only really sparks when drunken debaucher-er Chazz Michael Michaels (Ferrell) and sensitive perfectionist Jimmy MacElroy (Jon Heder) are forced to drop their mutual loathing and join forces. I found Ferrell's character to be a dull blend of the ignorant macho posturing of Ron Burgundy and Ricky Bobby.blades
Jenna Fischer's under-written character doesn't really belong in this movie, but there are glimpses of possibility- when she's forced to crash a sex-addict group therapy session, she has to fake a sex addiction, which could have been much better. Speaking of missed opportunities, Romany Malco (The Forty-Year-Old Virgin) is totally squandered.
In comparison to the great Will Ferrell comedies, Blades of Glory does not rate alongside his best work with directors Ben Stiller (Zoolander), Todd Phillps (Old School, Starsky & Hutch), or Adam McKay (Anchorman, Talladega Nights.) (AMC Burlington)

March 17, 2007

What Would Jesus Buy?

whatwouldjesusbuyWhile visiting Austin Texas, for our bi-annual Spring Break, our friend Karen took us to a screening at the South By Southwest Film Festival in the Paramount Theater. What Would Jesus Buy is a startling, sobering wake-up call on runaway consumerism in America, What Would Jesus Buy follows The Reverend Billy and The Stop Shopping Gospel Choir as they cross America in the weeks before Christmas, staging rallies in Wal-Marts, Starbucks, Victoria's Secrets, and The Mall of America, all in the name of Stop Shopping. His sermon may seem pretty simple at first -- Celebrate Christmas with love and goodwill instead of material possessions -- but the Reverend Billy testifies before crowds of shoppers as if they are possessed by the Devil himself. Possibly a parody of the iconic Pentecostal tent preacher, no one can ignore Billy in his white suit, shouting into a giant megaphone, sweating through his bleach blond Aqua-Net helmet hair. While following the Rev. Billy & Co, the film fairly portrays The American Consumer riding straight to hell on a battery-powered Baby-sized Escalade, drunkenly gorging itself on material excess, enabled by easy credit and supplied by the slave labor in the Third World. What kind of America are we living in where parents believe it's a virtue to deny nothing to your children? What kind of reality are we preparing our children for, if the Barbie Pleasure Palace is built on a foundation of eternal debt? Giving a five-year-old child twenty presents for Christmas might make the parent feel temporarily better about their shaky parenting, but the child would be happiest with one simple toy and a giant hug on Christmas.

This was my first-ever film festival screening, so it felt kind of surreal to be watching a movie when the subject of the film (The Rev. Billy) shook my hand on my way into the theater, and sat in the theater with us.

March 15, 2007

111 and 112: Odyssey

Mixes 111 and 112 were composed at the same time. I used a photo taken of an art installation for the cover photos. We had just returned from a trip to Texas, where we visited an art museum. The cover for #111 (in orange) is the original color of the art installation; #112 (in blue) is the "negative" image of the same photo.

The Title: Odyssey is the name of an avant-garde Journey cover band we saw perform while we were visiting Texas.

The Tracks: I really dug deep into the history books for some of these songs:

  1. Claire - The Push Stars
  2. In the Meantime - Spacehog
  3. Hey Jude / Sgt. Pepper (Reprise) - From The Beatles "LOVE"
  4. Why Does This Always Happen to Me? - "Weird Al" Yankovic featuring Ben Folds on piano
  5. In Between Days - Ben Folds
  6. One-Sided Love Affair - Elvis Presley
  7. Ain't Never Gonna Give You Up - (the only) Paula Abdul (song I like)
  8. Big Bang Baby - Stone Temple Pilots
  9. Cinnamon Girl - Suzanne Hoffs & Matthew Sweet
  10. Poison - Bel Biv Devoe
  11. You Only Live Twice - Pat DiNizio (the Smithereens lead singer, on solo piano, covering the Bond theme song.)
  12. Divine Intervention (DEMO) - Matthew Sweet
  13. Where Or When - Dave Edmunds
  14. Hey Porter - Johnny Cash
  15. Memphis - Chuck Berry
  16. See the World - Gomez
  17. Speed of Sound - Coldplay
  18. Help Me, Suzanne - Rhett Miller
  19. Better Days - Bruce Springsteen, featuring Randy Jackson on bass
  20. Age Of Consent - Grant Lee Phillips

  1. Sly - The Cat Empire
  2. Driven To Tears - The Police
  3. Tell Her This - Del Amitri
  4. Nothing Lasts - Son Volt
  5. You're So Damn Hot - OK Go
  6. What'd I Say, Pts 1 & 2 - Ray Charles
  7. Life On A Chain - Pete Yorn
  8. New Frontier - Counting Crows
  9. TLC: Creep
  10. Going Through The Motions - Aimee Mann
  11. Think I'm In Love - Beck
  12. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is - Jet
  13. Sold Me Down The River - The Alarm (I put this Alarm song next to the Jet song because they both remind me of the Rolling Stones.)
  14. I Want It All - Queen (I heard this Queen song on a Coca-Cola commercial.)
  15. Jesusland - Ben Folds
  16. Somebody Told Me - The Killers
  17. Get Back - The Beatles, from the CD "Love"
  18. Bizarre Love Triangle - New Order

March 11, 2007

300: Guys Movie Night

300A brawny and single-minded battle movie, 300 is linear and direct in its purpose, like a spear to the gut. I found the photography, production design, costumes and effects to be superb. Gerard Butler is compelling as the ancient Spartan king Leonidas. His pointy beard is frickin awesome! However, I found the battles as a whole to be repetitive, and the story slow and boring. I don't think sophomore director Zack Snyder (Dawn Of The Dead) can be held completely responsible for the monotony- I think the nature of the material is inferior to other ancient battle movies (more on that below).

The 300 Spartan warriors of the title are an elite fighting force of the larger Spartan army. Sparta's warrior leader and king, Leonidas, is offered an ultimatum by an emmissary of the decadent Persian emperor Xerxes: become subjects of Xerxes' empire, or be destroyed. Unfortunately, Leonidas has never heard the expression "don't shoot the messenger" because it hasn't been coined yet, so he takes the less diplomatic route. He hollers "THIS IS SPARTA!" and kicks the emmissary into a convenient nearby bottomless pit. Meanwhile I was left thinking "If you kill the entire Persian detachment, who's going to go back to Xerxes and tell him 'go screw'? Why did they build this pit in the middle of the town square? Do they really use it that often? What would OSHA think of this? The bottomless pit was kind of like a trampoline or a swimming pool you don't use that often- it takes up your whole backyard, and it's an attractive nuisance. Now that I think about it, if a Spartan fell down there and no one witnessed it, you'd never know where they went! Wouldn't a pit which was deep enough to break every bone in your body be deep enough? At least dig your pit on the outskirts of town, not right in a high traffic area!

Anyway, let's move on. After Leonidas decides to defend Sparta from the Persians, the Spartan Council of elders refuses to support a defensive war. Leonidas and his 300 are left to hold back wave after wave of invading hordes on their own, staging their defense at the bottleneck of The Hot Gates.

Based on the monochromatic graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley (The Dark Knight Returns, Sin City), 300 offers great cinematography. The color palette is limited in post-production, much like Sin City and O Brother Where Art Thou. The images are intentionally grainy, which subtly places this ancient story in historical context— perhpas a movie which takes place over 2000 years ago should not be crystal clear 70mm?

The meat of the movie are its fighting sequences. The choreography of the combat is impressive. I have seen far too many movies where slow-motion is overused and without purpose (the most recent example is Michael Bay's The Island). There is plenty of slo-mo in 300, but I found it appropriate and thrilling. The realism of the stabbing, impaling, and dismembering is perfect. The blood spattering is stylized, but well done.

Where 300 fails is putting its hand-to-hand combat into a larger context. Their battling is not part of a bigger war, there is no strategy. They kick ass against Horde Wearing Silly Hats, they win, they rest. Next: they kick ass against Ninjas wearing Scary Masks, they win, they rest. Repeat. Every battle is fought on the same nondescript patch of ground. Most of the action between warriors doesn't include much background action or context. The voice over narration by Spartan Dilios (David Wenham, Faramir from Lord of the Rings) makes it clear how 300 warriors could hold off an army of thousands for so long, but their campaign is boringly straightforward.

In this age of ancient battles in cinema, 300 simply cannot hold up to comparison to other, superior battle movies like Braveheart, Gladiator, and Lord Of The Rings. Even the mediocre Troy had characters we cared about: of the 300 Spartans of the title, the only ones with any characterization are King Leonidas, Dilios, The King's captain, the captain's son, "Keanu Reeves Lookalike" (who thankfully gets decapitated), and that's basically it. All the other 296 Spartans simply grunt, kill, and look manly in their leather briefs.

Pacing: the opening 20 minutes were murderously slow: we learn about the King's upbringing as a warrior, that's all good. But the political "intrigue" which gets the plot going is incredibly boring. I even found a sex scene tedious (and since when do they put a sex scene in the first 20 minutes?) Once the King decides to defy the council and march to war, they march, they meet some other warriors, they march some more, they build a wall of corpses (don't ask), and I just kept waiting for some ass kicking! Finally the first horde arrives, but after that's done, we return to Sparta, where the King's wife is attempting to negotiate for Council support for zzzzzzzzzzZZZZZZ...... The King's wife is played by Lena Headey, who looks like a hybrid of Connie Nielsen in Gladiator and Saffron Burrows in Troy, with the voice of Keira Knightley.

Perhaps I am being too hard on a movie which I'm giving a B minus grade, but it shouldn't be so hard to please me when making a movie which promises to kick asses. Plus, the bar is set pretty high by Braveheart, Gladiator, and Lord Of The Rings, so if you're going to deal in shields and swords, you gotta bring something new. The production values, cinematography, effects, and choreography were all top-flight, but everything else was neglected. (Regal Fenway Stadium 13, with George, Ilan, and Jed)

Now's Not A Good Time To Lose One's Head!

While dining prior to 300, Guys Movie Night participants George, Ilan, Jed, and myself discussed our favorite decapitations in the movies. Yes ladies, this is the kind of thing guys talk about when you're not around. Here's a brief selection:
  • George reports that he was desensitized to decapitation by years of viewing the Conan The Barbarian movies on HBO growing up.
  • Jed and I enjoyed Lucy Liu in Kill Bill, chopping off the crime boss's head at the conference table. I don't know why his head would shoot up in the air, but the blood pulsing out of the neck was very realistic. Jed pointed out that he imagined the PA crouched under the table with the squeeze-bulb, making the blood gout on cue.
  • There were three great decapitations in 300:
    1. Leonidas defeats a giant by slicing its head off with his sword: at first we can't see if he's made contact or not, but then the head topples forward in slow motion, and we get a good look at the bone, sinew, and gristle. This shot actually got some applause from the audience!
    2. When the campaign is going poorly, Emperor Xerxes has a general executed, by an unusual method- Xerxes's executioner is a obese giant with lobster-claw hands. The general's head is put on the block, the lobster-claw gboes down, and then we're treated to a slow-motion shot of the severed head ascending and rotating through the air. Once again, I am not clear on why the head would spin through the air, intead of simply falling to the ground, but it was cool to look at.
    3. Thirdly, and inevitably, the Captain's son, Keanu Reeves-as-Ted Logan Esquire, is decapitated. As soon as we learned that the Captain was bringing his warrior son along, we all knew he was marked for death. After one of the battles, Faux Keanu is standing amongst the dead when a random enemy on a horse gallops by, chops his head off, and disappears. The severing head isn't the cool part- the horseman did such a nice job, that the body stays upright for a few seconds, almost as if Keanu is so dumb he doesn't know to fall over when he's dead.
  • You gotta give it up to Aragorn in The Fellowship Of The Ring. Just as the Uruk-Kai is about to finish off Boromir with a point-blank arrow shot, Aragorn arrives. The orc doesn't want to go down, until finally Aragorn lops his head off.
  • Speaking of Hobbits, Ian Holm's head gets knocked off by Yaphet Kotto in Alien, but they plug his android melon back in long enough for Bilbo to be snide and patronizing, then they flame-broil him.
  • Speaking of aliens, doesn't someone's severed head grow spider's legs and crawl around in John Carpenter's remake of The Thing? I think Kurt Russell says "you gotta be f***ing kidding me" before he roasts that one too.
  • I have not seen all of Resident Evil, but there's a creepy-cool part where some of the soldiers are trapped in a chamber with slice-and-dice lasers. The type that cut though you so easy that the parts all stay in place for a second until you fall apart like a hard-boiled egg.
  • There's a cute decapitation in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, where a Persian emperor chops off his Treasurer's head, which goes flying and falls in a harem girl's lap, where he winks at the girl.
  • Then there's the movie which made America scared of storage lockers forever: The Silence Of The Lambs, where Clarice Starling finds a cross-dresser's severed head in a jar.
  • When Maximus first becomes a Gladiator, he finishes off his rival with a dual-sword decapitation, followed by the line "Are you not ENTERTAINED!?"
  • Of course, we can't forget Highlander, a movie devoted to chopping heads off, where Clancy Brown repairs a near-decapitation with some staples?
  • While we're talking about near-decapitations, let's recognize Nearly Headless Nick (John Cleese) in the Harry Potter films.

March 4, 2007

Zodiac

zodiac"A West-Coast 'All The President's Men'!" raves my wife. A compelling thriller, David Fincher has created an epic rumination on The Zodiac Killer, a publicity-hungry serial killer who held the Bay Area in a grip of obsessive paranoia of sick fascination. The Zodiac killed at least seven people in 1968 and 1969, but thanks to inter-jurisdictional congestion and press involvement, the authorities never had a chance to catch the guy. The movie follows the search through three men:
  • Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), a political cartoonist. At first, he simply has a fondness for solving puzzles like the Zodiac's ciphers, but after the Zodiac quits the killing business and the media and police attention has faded, Graysmith can't let the Zodiac go. Graysmith needs to solve the puzzle of the Zodiac, as if finding the sociopath will offer an answer. Not just "who is the Zodiac", but "why"?
  • Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr), an unraveling, alchoholic journalist. At first, he seems to be interested in a good story, but he eventually finds himself chasing down blind leads and muddying the waters of the criminal investigation. When the Zodiac threatens Avery directly, Avery goes off the deep end and spins off into orbit.
  • Inspector David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo), a homicide detective who never really lets go of the Zodiac case, long after he acknowledges that he'll never be caught.
The movie is not about the killer himself, like the other great serial-killer movie, The Silence Of The Lambs. Zodiac is about how trying to understand the unknowable can affect your soul. Fincher took a great risk making a long long movie about a serial killer they never catch— he risked alienating audiences much like the cop-out endings of movies like Contact and The Da Vinci Code— but his movie is a success because he presents a suspect we can believe in. (Showcase Cinemas Randolph)