August 28, 2013

The World's End

Another great puzzle-box from Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost. When compared with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, I might note that this installment is slightly more downbeat...or maybe "grown-up" is the right phrase? Rosamund Pike is outstanding again (reunited, briefly, with her Die Another Day Bond, Pierce Brosnan)...
I saw it twice, and the second time was nearly as funny as the first, and maybe more rewarding, in classic Edgar Wright fashion. It's one thing for a movie to be viewed and re-viewed and beloved and scrutinized; it's another level altogether to direct a film with the cult in mind, to honor their love of the movies with a film that rewards viewing, re-viewing, love, and scrutiny. Wright is a director who loves cult films and he directs films for cult viewing.
Somerville Theater, Main Screen, with Emily
ALSO: Hot Fuzz,

August 26, 2013

Guys Movie Night: Elysium

A brutal, relentless downer. The Third World/First World allegory is too broad and obvious to be satisfying, and the ending is a trite cop out.
The premise of the movie was well-outlined in the commercials and trailers; unfortunately, it takes about 10 minutes too long to establish the same information in the movie. "Okay, we know he gets irradiated and is forced to become a blue-collar hero; just get on with it already!"
Despite his performance as Will Hunting back in the 1990s, Matt Damon is unconvincing as a street rat gangster ex-con, reformed onto the straight-and-narrow.
The cars on Earth 2154 look very 2013, even upside-down.
The year is 2154. The 99% are scraping by in the smoking shell of civilization on Earth, while the 1% are living the clean and sparkly life on a really spiffy-looking Ringworld "Elysium" in orbit. This makes 2019 rainy Los Angeles in Blade Runner look like a paradise. Besides in-ground pools, cold cocktails, and well-manicured landscaping, the 1% also enjoy magical healing beds, which cure/repair any illness or injury in mere moments. I guess 140 years from now, not only can computers fix all human frailties, but they can do it quickly too!
Meanwhile, back on Earth, Damon's reward for his struggles is to get stuck in a giant microwave oven (plot hole #1). He's irradiated, and has 5 days to live before his insides turn to yogurt. Besides trying to save his own life - what he has to live for is a mystery to me- his character is given two convenient plot devices to live for:
  • Frey, an old girlfriend from his childhood: Alice Braga, who's already seen the world end in I Am Legend and Blindness;
  • Frey's daughter who has late-stage leukemia! Are you kidding? Could you make her more pathetic and sympathetic?
The corporate medi-robot gives him some pills, which apparently give you super-stamina (plot hole #2), because Damon spends the next few days testing the limits of human physical endurance, instead of, ya know, dying quickly in bed.
His old gangster boss wants to cyber-steal billions of dollars from a corporate weasel visiting Earth from orbit (Plot hole #3- this plan sounds impossible), so Damon volunteers for the suicide mission, so he can borrow a spaceship to visit one of those medi-beds (plot holes #4 & #5- there's no way Elysium would even allow a rogue ship to slip through their defenses, and there's no way they haven't solved the "forged ID" loophole to make the medi-beds work.)
Damon has a exo-skeleton bolted to his arms and torso, plus a USB port screwed into his skull. The exo-skeleton makes the patently impossible (a man dying of radiation poisoning in hand-to-hand combat) only extremely dubious instead.
The mission to steal the data and conquer Elysium is tied up with an unrelated coup d'etat plan between Elysium's Secretary of Defense (Jodie Foster) and her primary defense contractor, Mr Raytheon (William Fichtner, Foster's old blind astronomer friend from Contact- Fichtner has seen dystopian futures before, in Equilibrium, Ultraviolet, and Strange Days).
If Damon were just another prole who stepped out of line, he'd be squashed like a bug by the scary police robots that punish every rule infraction with a (literal) iron fist, but because of this coup plot device (the device is literally in his head) Foster needs him alive and delivered to Elysium, so she enlists Kruger, her personal ruthless assassin on retainer. Sharlto Copley's Kruger is sadly one-dimensional and boring. Simply bloodthirsty and driven (and mean to Frey and her daughter too), I wonder if director Neill Blomkamp let his old buddy off the leash and allowed Copley too much scene-chewing latitude than ideal.
The gun battles are jaw-dropping (there's lovingly detailed slo-mo weapon fetishization throughout) and hand-to-hand combat simply too brutal to be enjoyable. I had to turn away from the screen a few times. It's an odd blend of ultra-warfare and class-warfare; both waged without subtlety.
I only went to see Elysium because I was eager to visit with friends. The movie delivered exactly as promised from its commercials, which left me with a touch of dystopian PTSD. My grade: C-plus.
Regal Fenway 13 with Marc and Jeff

August 15, 2013

So I Married An Axe Murderer...Outdoors!

Twenty years and 10 days after I first saw it in the theater, my friend Amy and I saw it outdoors in Davis Square: I really appreciated Nancy Travis's thoughtful portrayal of the wife Harriet. Her character has a twist reveal in the last 10 minutes, and Travis carefully plays her role throughout the movie, so the character's actions and emotional state makes sense for both what's really happening, and what we think is happening. Well done!

August 8, 2013

144 Cut Your Hair

  1. "Cool For Cats" After I decided to include "Carried Away" on this playlist, I decided to pair it
    with another disco song...that I could stomach listening to. Thanks Squeeze!
  2. "Carried Away" As I began to like this Passion Pit song, I realized that it's a fine ABBA tribute!
  3. "What Comes Around" Beastie Boys; "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair..."
  4. "Polythene Pam" It's only a little awkward to extract this Beatles song from the Abbey Road medley. Come to think of it, The Beastie Boys would sound great covering this song.
  5. "Cut Your Hair" Pavement; covered by Wilco at Solid Sound in June.
  6. "Chemistry" [live and acoustic] Semisonic; Live at The World Cafe
  7. "Hey Hey What Can I Do?" Led Zeppelin; one of the best songs only released as a B-side in rock history (Beatles excluded)
  8. "You're On Fire" They Might Be Giants; from the new album Nanobots.
  9. "Don't Shed A Tear" Paul Carrack; I stole this 12 inch single from WECB. (Note: this is not an extended remix.)
  10. "Long Way Down" Pete Yorn is terrific, if a little mopey sometimes.
  11. "Modern Man" I finally listened to Arcade Fire's Grammy award-winning album The Suburbs [2010] all the way through. Arcade Fire are the first Canadian artists to win Album Of The Year since Alanis Morrisette and Celine Dion went back-to-back in 1996 and 1997.
  12. "Allison Road" Gin Blossoms
  13. "She Don't Use Jelly" Ben Folds Five covers The Flaming Lips. Another great B-side.
  14. "Make Believe Mambo" David Byrne
  15. "Don't Play That Song (You Lied)" Ben E. King's version [1962] is good, but Aretha Franklin's recording (with the Dixie Flyers) sold over a million copies! Written by Ahmet Erteg√ľn and Betty Nelson.
  16. "Marquee Moon" [live] I have never listened to the band Television, but I fell in love with Wilco's cover from Solid Sound 2013
  17. "Lazy" Deep Purple, from Machine Head [1972]. My rediscovery/re-appreciation of heavy metal begins now!

August 1, 2013

Guys Movie Night: The Wolverine

A thoughtful, soulful, vulnerable Wolverine is the highlight of this nonsensically plotted adventure. A vast improvement on the listless and forgettable X-Men Origins: Wolverine [2009].
The theme of the movie is strong and moving: what's the point of living if you have no purpose? Immortality is a curse when you have nothing to live for. Wolverine is in purgatory, having given up the X-Men after killing his one true love Jean Grey at the end of X-Men: The Last Stand [2006]. A mysterious man from Wolverine's past offers to take his healing powers from him. Granting him his mortality is a gift...right? The subsequent plot and its character motivations are muddled and nonsensical, but necessary to keep the characters moving across the map. Taking away Wolverine's healing powers was a bold move that pays off- he's even more powerful and threatening when he fearlessly enters battle while bleeding and limping.
This is my second movie in a row set almost entirely outside America, how refreshing! The Japanese setting was well integrated into the movie, although if I was Japanese, I might be offended by the cultural depiction: the heroine mostly speaks quietly, brews tea, and doesn't make eye contact. She has one gripping monologue where she calms a manic Wolverine with a compelling anecdote, but otherwise it's mostly following and cowering. Everyone else is corrupt, a criminal, a megalomaniac, or a combination of the three.

The secondary villain, Viper, is a unfocused mishmash of a superpowered mutant. She has a forked tongue, spits acid, and molts her skin and hair. She's also smug, wears ridiculous outfits, and explains her entire character and plot after Wolverine is captured, aka "monologue-ing". Somehow her entire character and costume fell through the cracks of the production and never got the necessary attention.
If you can survive the pointless plotting and the silly ending, The Wolverine is worth watching for the Wolverine. Hugh Jackman deserves an award for respecting this character so well through five-plus movies and counting. My grade: B-minus

Goof (minor spoiler)

In The Wolverine, we watch the Bockscar and its support craft approaching Nagasaki from a relatively low altitude. We see the bomb drop for a few seconds then detonate on impact.
In reality, the B-29 dropped the Fat Man bomb from over 31,000 feet above Nagasaki. The bomb took 43 seconds to fall from the aircraft before it detonated about about 1,500 feet above the city. It's a shame to see such an expensive movie recreate such an historic moment and fudge the facts so badly.

Stub Hubby Sees The X-Men Movies

...or click the label Marvel below