Saturday, July 31, 2010

I've Liked You For A Thousand Years. I Can't Wait Until I See You.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Wright, 2010)

In the past few years the Hollywood interest in comic book films has continued to crescendo with huge critical and financial successes such as the Spiderman, Iron Man, and Batman franchises. Aside from being overly saturated by testosterone, such hits have lined summers with blockbuster after blockbuster by sticking to a generic story telling structure of origin stories and world threatening conflict to provide enough action to coerce the adrenaline to come out and frolic. But top tier names are only so plentiful, so the surge in comic book popularity led to various graphic novels getting translations to the silver screen in the form of Watchmen, Sin City, and most recently Kick-Ass. These films focus heavily on action, but the visual flourishes in these films are much more prominent and distinctly separate them form the larger hyped films. So when a director whose claim to fame is his astounding ability to deftly blend genres tackles a film that asks him to combine the entertainment of high action sequences with the charm of a niche graphic novel when I reach a killscreen am I going to want to press continue?

Edgar Wright's follow up to Hot Fuzz details the life of titular protagonist Scott Pilgrim as he literally fights for the love of Ramona Flowers whilst seeking success with his band Sex Bob-Omb. So, naturally, the film is an action film, correct? Well, not exactly. Edgar Wright makes comedies, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is stuffed to the brim with more big laughs and subtle touches than I have had the pleasure of seeing since Superbad. But the film, it's certainly not a comedy, as the central relationship is far too much of a driving force. So essentially Scott Pilgrim is a video game meets a graphic novel makes love to a comedy spawns a romance and genetically engineers an action film, donning a musical thong. So I can naturally expect this film to have tonal inconsistencies, but Wright avoids this incredibly common pitfall by keeping the film moving at such a rapid pace, and really packing each and every frame with such a completely realized vision that it never has time to stray from the mood set from the opening Universal logo.

What I notice in this film, and even in Wright's former films, is exactly how much care is placed in every shot. Each use of pixelation, each blur, every censor, all the logos and the outfits, they all establish the world so perfectly. The visual aesthetic works wonderfully with the editing and other visual flairs of the film which include segments that play out at graphic novels and other forms of visual media. But what stands out the most on a visual level is the jaw dropping fight sequences. Each one plays out so differently and allows Wright to showcase a range of film making techniques and styles that synthesize action with comedy and even with music when the script calls for more flashy fights. The more time I have to sit with these sequences and really consider how visually intensive the scenes are, while still maintaining a delightfully charming low budget look.

And of course there's the soundtrack. Anchored by Beck and Broken Social Scene serving a stand ins for Sex Bob-Omb and Crash and the Boys, respectively, the variety of sounds are an absolute delight while still feeling natural and unforced in the context of the film. But not only do the songs serve the overall tone of the film, they also enhance the action, and they enhance the comedy. Rarely have songs ever felt so integrally tied to a film that is not a musical. I suppose the easy comparison to make is to the score in I Am Love, despite the shift in intensity and purpose, the film is elevated incredibly by the use of a very specific type of music employed in a simply masterful manner. But even above the soundtrack is the film's score, a string of wonderful compositions littered with signature video game sounds that play lightly in the background of many scenes. These effect creates such a wonderfully engulfing mood that I found myself completely sucked in every moment of this ride.

However, despite my gushing so far the film is certainly not without its flaws. While the film runs at a neat, and incredibly quick, two hours, I did get the feeling that a complete story is not entirely present. Now I am aware that the film is based on pre-existing source material, so I was able to fill in a few of the holes, but even with this background knowledge I did not find myself incredibly invested in all of the plot lines. Wright juggles so many characters that I was not surprised to see some catch the short end of the stick, but the Kim character is treated as such a removed character that one of the emotional pay offs does not work much at all. Perhaps having her not be important is meant to show the distance between her and Scott though, which does add up but still does not make the plot nearly as satisfying as many of the other threads running throughout the film. The movie needs room to breathe, to completely bring life to all of these characters, and to better reinforce the intensity of the central romance. These aspects are not the strongest, but one of the strengths in O'Malley's series of graphic novels is in the ability to insert quietly beautiful meditations on love amidst the action, and the film does capture the occasionally sickeningly, yet always infectious, feelings of human connection near perfectly.

Another aspect of the comic that is captured in the film, and can stand alone without reading any of the graphic novels, is the character of Scott Pilgrim. Scott is meant to be sympathetic, but we are also asked to realize that Scott is both ignorant to the world around him and as a result kind of a self centered dick. Cera brings this sense to the character wonderfully, combined of course with Wright's inventive way of conveying to the audience how exactly Scott's mind if working. As a viewer I do not always condone Scott's actions, but I can understand them, and the commentary on the illogical human mind is wonderfully woven in to the film, as well as the idea of a society that promotes such behavior. Of course these qualities all rely on the right type of delivery and Michael Cera further cements his status as the best comedic actor of all time by perfectly delivering Scott's lines and conveying his disconnect with his environment. For much of the film Cera does stick with his comfort zone, and the film does really benefit from him doing so, but he does also have big scenes in the action sequences and he further proves his ability to be legitimate 'actor,' depending on one's definition of the art form. Scott is not the drastic change that the Dillinger character is in Youth in Revolt, but not only is he in top form in this film, his ability to work with the fight choreography, both on the ass kicking and ass kicked ends, is simply stunning and further sells what are likely the most enjoyable action sequences I have ever seen.

The film's diverse cast also boasts a ton of other talented actors, but the one that practically steals the show is Kieran Culkin. He impressed me in Lymelife, though I was certainly not prepared for simply how excellent he would be in the role of Wallace Wells, Scott's roommate. He floats through scenes with such poise and precision, delivering his dialogue with such sincerity and charm. His performance is truly a sight to behold. Jason Schwartzman is also excellent doing Jason Schwartzman, and actually all members of the League of Evil Exes play their character uniquely and wonderfully. A few of the secondary character in particular were a huge hit with my audience as well. The females in the film are enjoyable as well, but very few are given very much to do. I wish that more time could have been spent with Envy Adams, not only because Brie Larson is mighty pretty but also because her The Clash at Demonhead performance is one of the best tracks in the film, and the sequence between her and Scott has the potential to be even more emotionally resonant. The stand out of the females is found in the form of Ellen Wong as Knives Chau, a heartbreakingly impressionable Scott super fan girl who exists as a wonderfully satirical spin on Caucasian perspective. Many of the supporting characters play one note roles, but each and every one plays that note pitch perfect.

Coming out of the film I was unsure of exactly how much value I found in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, but as I started writing about the film I not only learned that I enjoyed the film far more than I had initially imagined (and I am certainly looking forward to seeing it again upon its theatrical release) but the film is also considerably more admirable than I had considered. The startlingly inventive construction and editing are enough to make Wright's latest film a truly uniquely enjoyable experience, but the film's ability to capture such raw moments of beauty in a minefield of laughs cements Wright's status as one of my favorite filmmakers, despite the abysmal Shaun of the Dead, and - finally - left me completely satisfied after seeing a much as the label is applicable. At its worst Scott Pilgrim is a masterclass of filmmaking, but this film exists, on practically every level, as a film constructed for me to love. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is imaginative, inventive, and a film that truly exists as a representation of the time in which it spawned while still holding enough timeless qualities to make it one of the year's finest.

Comments are encouraged and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure.

Also I am on the old Twitter thing so I guess you can follow me at

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

But It Grieves My Heart, Love, To See You Tryin' To Be A Part Of A World That Just Don't Exist

Ramona and Beezus (Allen, 2010)

In our world technology moves at a break neck pace, you practically buy the latest gadget and the device has already been outclassed by the next technology on the horizon. I turn on the news and hear the horrors of the world, I see the Datelines, the rehabs, the violence, the predators, and the beaters. So amidst all these horrors is it possible to find solace in a film that acts as a pure artifice, in a world that technology and horror has seemingly left in the past, the America of yesteryear, an America that perhaps has always been idealized but has never purely existed? Standing on the outskirts of these horrors is Ramona and Beezus, a little light of hope, a town where trouble exists, but is veiled by the wonder. I have little knowledge of the source material which has spawned the latest G Rated family film, yet even without this affinity I found it near impossible not to be captivated by this film's charm.

Detailing the journey of titular protagonist Ramona Quimby as she struggles to come to terms with her existence on Klickitat Street. While she confronts standard conflicts such as fitting in at school and dealing with a home life where she also stands out from her seemingly perfect sister, the film adds a compelling layer by having Ramona cope with the loss of loved ones, feelings of isolation, and the conflict of a completely changing home environment. And in this layer is a beautiful sincerity and respect for the audience, regardless of age, that is not afraid to explore the darker side of childhood and stray from the beautiful hand made day-dream sequences for incredibly effective dramatic segments.

These aspects create such a wonderful tone throughout much of the film, and the central performance from Joey King goes a long way in selling these scenes, but it helps that she is surrounding by a surprisingly talented cast. The actors who play the adults in the film all do believable jobs of handling their lines, and as the film continued on I found myself taken by the turn that John Corbett makes as the father; however, the stand out of the adults has to be the repentant egotist Hobart, played by Josh Duhamell. And then, of course, there is the most recognizable face in the film, Selena Gomez portraying the eldest girl in the core family, Beatrice "Beezus" Quimby. Selena possesses such a glowing and infection charm that it seems near impossible not to be taken by her acting, but despite her character being mostly irrelevant considering she is a titular character Selena's big scenes show an impressive range that she has demonstrated before, but not in such a concentrated capacity. One scene has Beezus walking home with her childhood friend Henry, and Selena turns in such an impressive performance in this specific scene that she appears to be set for much future success. King gives the better performance overall, though a good amount of that has to do with the character's role in the film and Selena's wise choice to play Beezus as human rather than an over the top vehicle to showcase her range.

But underlining all of the performances, the conflict, and even the wonder is the portrayal of an idealized America. What struck me while watching the film was the relative absence of technology, especially in relation to one incredibly contemporary problem that plays a large part in the story. This absence creates such a tension in the film by juxtaposing timeless aspects of the narrative and world with the contemporary concerns. And the more I consider the film I also notice an incredible absence of ethnicity, so much so that the only trace of African Americans came in the background in the final scene, and Sandra Oh, but even her role is minimal. Selena is even asked to pass as white. These aspects, perhaps even more than the ideas the film concerns itself with, offer a fascinating look at the Hollywood presentation of the ideal America, one that proves as uncomfortable as appealing. The simplicity of life, the wholesome concerns, and the importance of human bonding is all appealing and beautiful, but much like the wonder and charm in the films plot, a disturbing and dark side lurks underneath the surface.

Still, Ramona and Beezus does offer a celebration of nostalgia that, at the very least, constantly entertains and, at its best, proves to be enlightening. An America that has passed displayed in a genre of film that has apparently been all but forgotten in the wake of CGI extravaganzas and 3-D opuses. The film can likely be faulted for less than stellar comedy, but the film never seems incredibly concerned with generating laughs, just chuckles, the chief concern is the characters and the plot, letting these aspect develop naturally, and in that regard it succeeds. Ramona and Beezus is not a great film, perhaps it may even be mediocre, but is does offer a cinematic gust of fresh air that has only sat better and better with me since leaving the theater.

Comments are encouraged and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure.

Also I am on the old Twitter thing so I guess you can follow me at

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Try This Trick And Spin It, Yeah, Your Head Will Collapse When There's Nothing In It

Inception (Nolan, 2010)

At some point in time every person sleeps, and at some point we all dream, but in this universal trait of humanity do we ever truly experience this sensation with any sort of uniformity? Is this uniformity even necessary in such a personal experience? What happens if our personal experiences, all of our repression, hopes, desires, and fears are not only open for others to witness but to directly manipulate to the point where we do not know if the process is even personal anymore? But, above all else, when we peel back all the layers of our dreams are we left with the purest essence of our thoughts or behind all the twists and turns - the layers and the puzzles - do we find a nothingness? Christopher Nolan's Inception literally delves into the dream world and starts working out these puzzles, taking us along for the ride as we hope to discover something, or rather anything, at the center.

Running throughout the film the script presents two recurring ideas: ideas can act as a cancer that grow and consume us, setting the stage for the titular act to take place, and dreams are elaborately constructed puzzles in which we willingly or unwillingly lose ourselves. And the entire film follows these ideas to their logical conclusions, adding in parlor tricks to cause the audience to further explore the puzzle in hopes of finding the definitive solution. Yet if we - as DiCaprio's Cobb does in the film - become too focused on this mystery, losing sight of the other elements that make up the film. And for much of the film Nolan's use of action and flash make for interesting spectacle to distract from the lack of substance behind the style.

But for each Joseph Gordon Levitt floating through layer two we also have Cobb explaining the previously unmentioned concept of Limbo, and then having Hardy and Levitt talk about it a few minutes later, and then Page doing so near the end of the film. The film is so loaded with exposition that the world and story have about as much breathing room as a man dangling from a noose constructed from the labyrinth the film displays.

And the deeper I venture into this maze I am able to find a few more conclusions, brief glimpses of answer and satisfaction amidst the entire transformation of cities and case scenes, but the farther in I go the more this creeping notion at the back of my mind becomes more and more prevalent: I am not watching people. By the end of the film we are, quite intentionally, left wondering just how much of the film is reality and how much is fabrication, but in this wonder compassion is absent no matter what conclusion is reached. I can understand the need to purposefully make many of the secondary characters two dimensional in order to make one specific interpretation work, but even if I overlook the lack of humanity on display from any of the secondary players then I should be able to feel incredible compassion, or at least understand the motivation, for Cobb.

Unfortunately Cobb is written in such a way that makes him neither sympathetic nor interesting, despite DiCaprio's best efforts to bring a level of humanity to the character. Cobb needs to get back to his children, to reconcile his past, by any means necessary, but we are never meant to know how honest he is in any of his actions (past, present, or future) until the film's conclusion, and for a specific interpretation to work even then we cannot be completely sure of what motivates the character.

Which reveals the film's most notable flaws. Nolan constructs a film that is so concerned with working as a maze that he fails to present any sort of overarching theme that ties the entire film together. Because the ending poses a very simple dualistic question to the viewer I am led to believe that the film is concerned with the nature of reality and perception, but even when considering if it connections to the meaning of perception the film does not necessarily relate it to any greater purpose. The film strives so hard to be a puzzle, to plant ideas in the viewer's head, that at some point each viewer is going to reach a satisfying conclusion, and then the film stops. I am not sure if I am finished with this film, if I have reached a comfortable conclusion, but I know that if I see it another time, or a few more times, eventually I will reach a point where I will have gotten to the end of the maze.

When I watch a film, when I enjoy a film, I am hooked by the theme, the promise that no matter how much I watch it I will continue to learn more about myself and my place to the world, that even when I reach a conclusion in a year, five years, fifty years I should be able to take what I have learned and discover more from the text. When I call a film, or any work of art, great I do so because it reveals a part of humanity, the film can never end. With Inception a promise of finality exists, found each time Cobb or one of his cronies gave a monologue explaining the intricacies of the world, or the repetition of these same rules time and time again in the film, in the most simplistic manner imaginable. Not only did I feel unfulfilled walking out of the theater, but as I draw closer to the end of the puzzle my sense of completeness will only lessen, and that thought depresses me.

Depressed. Unfulfilled. Hollow. Ultimately meaningless. These are the conclusions that I found in Inception; when the layers of dreams are peeled away, when the smoke has faded, when the mirrors have broken, the core of the film attempts to stand naked and nothing more than a shell remains. I have other problems with the film as well, such as an inconsistent use of shaky-cam mixed with fixed and quick cuts, and an imposing score that acts far too obviously and overtly in every scene. Yet the film has its share of positives including a phenomenal performance from Tom Hardy and some immensely intricate and engaging action sequences. But positives and negatives not only break down along with the film, they seem meaningless in comparison to the lack of any shred of humanity, any real theme or purpose. Like our dreams Inception is an escape that occasionally proves to be exciting and compelling, but eventually we are going to hit a kick, bringing back all the stark, harshly depressing realities.

Comments are encouraged and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure.

Also I am on the old Twitter thing so I guess you can follow me at

Monday, July 12, 2010

When You Punish A Child For Dreaming His Dream Don't Expect Him To Thank Or Forgive You

Cyrus (Duplass and Duplass, 2010)

In the past couple of years there seems to be one runaway indie comedy that is usually distributed by Fox Searchlight that reaches an unexpected amount of people and is met with surprise financial success. The most notable of these films are Juno and Little Miss Sunshine, both comedies that attempt to combine dramatic elements and complex characters to create genre hybrids offering more meat than the average romantic comedies that inundate theaters on a near weekly basis. In many ways Cyrus follows in the footsteps of these films, but unlike the other Searchlight features the new film from the Duplass Brothers seeks to bring an entirely new genre, mumblecore, to the masses. As a result the two have crafted one of the most interesting cinematic experiments in recent memory, creating a blend the likes of which your local coffee shop can only dream of concocting.

Cyrus takes so many conventions and places them directly at odds with the audience's expectations throughout the film, and from this aspect a portion of the film's genius is found. While I am no expert of mumblecore as a genre, of the films I have seen it appears that certain conventions of that genre are a heavily improvised script, generally lower key actors, and minimal camerawork to create a more 'realistic' film. So how do you do this when you have the queens of the indie scene, Catherine Keener and Marisa Tomei, Seth Rogen 2.0, Jonah Hill, and dramatist turned Tim and Eric vet, John C. Reily, headlining your film? Well you coax a magical performance from each and every one of these actors. In each performance is a brutally honest depiction of humanity, the complexities of love and the need for security. Stripped down to their basic elements we have a man seeking a major change clashing with an individual attempting to hold on not only to a life of security, but hoping to avoid being completely alone in the world around him. What Hill does with the Cyrus character is absolutely breathtaking, but not only is his turn completely stunning, the Duplass brothers have crafted such a wonderful character that he really deserves much more inspection.

The name Cyrus is, in many ways, completely fitting in regard to the film's themes and the character. While the source is questionable, the entomology section of the Wikipedia article states that the name means either "to bestow care" or "humiliator of the enemy in verbal contest," two traits completely attributed to the titular character. He has a need for nurture, and the film establishes his relationship with his mother as being the only fulfilling one in his life, so Cyrus's decision to act out against John is understandable. The stakes are so intense, but because Reily serves as the film's main character we are asked to also sympathize with him, and the character is incredibly easy to sympathize with throughout the film. At the very start of the film a party occurs, and the energy captured during this scene is so intense and well constructed that it absolutely gravitates throughout the rest of the film. This energy, paired with the sympathy that Cyrus does generate for himself, provides a beautifully engaging central conflict.

The construction of the film is also incredibly important when looking at Cyrus as well because the camerawork also plays against so many conventions. The most distinguishing trait of the film is the abundant use of zooms, giving the viewer a more intimate look at these characters, but even above that the zooms act as a way to work with the tension created between all the different aspects of convention playing against one another. The movie is a comedy as much as it is a drama, and because of the type of comedy, a much quieter and serious style, an underlying melancholy is found in the words, which generates an uneasiness throughout the film. The zooms don't allow the viewer much time to breathe or gain a sense of security, not only giving a layer of direct sympathy to our connection with Cyrus's grasp to hold on to what is comfortable at any cost, but also to heighten the uneasiness in each individual scene.

Cyrus is a film that finds complexity in its simplicity, but also does not allow the narrative to carry all the weight. The construction of the film, each zoom, each shot, each quietly creepy look from Hill, they all work simultaneously to enhance both the tone and themes. The film constantly builds to an ultimate clash of enormous forces until it crescendos beautifully as we see ideologies lashing out against each other. And I was left staggering back to my car after the credits started to flash by, and then I broke down in tears, and while I had a feeling during the film, after having a chance to mull it over more and see how perfectly all the elements work together, I knew Cyrus was not only a great film, but one of the year's best.

Comments are encouraged and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure.

Also I am on the old Twitter thing so I guess you can follow me at

Thursday, July 1, 2010

We Raise Up A Little Roof Against The Cold

Winter's Bone (Granik, 2010)

While I sat in the theater watching Winter's Bone I had memories begin flooding back to me, memories of films of a similar ilk. Shotgun Stories, All the Real Girls, and even the magnificent George Washington all stand as similar films to Granik's first feature length film since 2004. In many ways I half expected to see David Gordon Green's name flash across the screen as a co-director, or at least, as is the case with Shotgun Stories, a producer. But it never did, and when the credits started to roll and Granik's name rolled across the screen I had a throbbing desire to check out the rest of her work because, to be quite honest, Winter's Bone is currently a top contender for my best film from the first half of 2010. Granik brings a harshness to her landscapes and its inhabitants that compliment one another brilliantly, a world that has slowly plodded on simply to keep up with the rest of the country. The barren hills and shacks are populated with televisions, stoves, and machinery, but the film's look is decidedly bleak and causes these marks of modern times to echo the citizens.

Ree Dolly, played brilliantly by the startlingly enticing Jennifer Lawrence, is a seventeen year old woman who works as her house by day, caring for her younger brother and sister, and tracks her father Jesup down by night in order to save her home. I watch her on screen and it becomes apparent that, while she appears to be a modern individual, she is like the land. She continues to move on throughout the film, but ultimately she is stagnant and broken down. Her attempts to join the military are ill placed, her attempts to find her father are constantly met with failure, and she is surrounded by drug dealers, users, and violent posses. Lawrence brings the perfect resolve to this character, unwavering determination and drive the face of adversity, and as the film progressions we as viewers become like Ree; without question we continue and hope because we see that, if she can keep watch over her siblings, there is a chance her brother and sister do not have to be contained. I still do not completely know how Lawrence so masterfully captures this resolve, but her turn as Ree is complex and gripping. She is, of course, surrounded by a terrific supporting cast, but just as Ree is the anchor in this world, Lawrence is the film's ballast (side note: this film also reminds me a bit of Ballast.)

What strikes me so much about this film is not only Granik's ability to create such a well developed mood through the characters and the landscapes, but to also maintain a sense of urgency through the script. Very often films of this nature get so caught up in character development that standard 'action' falls by the wayside, and while the characters here, and certainly in other films, are strong enough to sustain a feature length production, the plot's driving force is genuinely intriguing and engaging. Granik lays out the film's stakes so perfectly that we realize the severity of the situation even before events become violent. If the Dolly house is seized a good chance exists that this family is doomed for at least another generation. But the strength of the script does not stop in its ability to weave character study aspects with traditional plot elements; instead, the script even reaches farther to address basic aspects of humanity. The familial unit, in so many diverse forms, is examined, as is the entire concept of humans as social beings. The building of a society and the construction of values. The film's subtext is not only staggering, but truly astounding.

I knew little of Winter's Bone going in, and what little I did know I had expected to enjoy, but in many ways this film is built for me to love. The film is as meditative as it is tense, as layered as it is simplistic, and a rare film that bleeds atmosphere while hardly ever faltering in any other aspect. Winter's Bone contains all the detail and beauty of a wonderfully painted portrait, knock out cinematography, and such an incredibly strong central performance that I imagine Lawrence will be one of the first names to pop up come December when I am making a year end wrap up list. More films should be as expertly crafted as Winter's Bone.

Generals Gathered In Their Masses Just Like Witches At Black Masses

Micmacs (Jeunet, 2010)

The French are a people filled to the brim with whimsy. At least what I know of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's filmography gives me grounds with which I formed this notion. I have never seen Juenet's most famous film, Amelie, but if Micmacs is any indication of what I can expect from that film, I suppose I ought to spend some time watching the other film. What struck me so much about Micmacs was the way that the scenes simply flow into one another, capturing perfectly the a range of emotions that each scene demands. While the film is, by nature, an incredibly light hearted event, what surprised me was not how well the comedy on display is handled, but rather how suspenseful and dramatic the film became during the 'heist' sequences. These scenes blend comedy with delightfully dark moments to create such an engaging mood.

The film also never takes itself incredibly seriously, which adds to the mood created by the blending of reality with surreality. The film opens with a shockingly jarring few sequences involving a few bouts with death that, for me, came completely out of left field. These scenes were completely necessary though, as well as very enjoyable, as they provide set up for the rest of the film. Actually, this film narratively bears a remarkable amount of resemblance to one of my favorite films of last year, Fantastic Mr. Fox. Our protagonist attempts to take down two big businesses in a decidedly whimsical manner. But the difference is found in the much more overt social commentary that comes along with Jeunet's film. While Fox reaches greater understanding by serving as a critique of classicism, Jeunet is more concerned with the directly 'human' troubles that companies, specifically companies designed to create war, cause in the world. Early on in the film one of the company heads boasts that his weapons are designed to maximize on collateral damage to cost the enemy more money than dead soldiers would require.

One aspect that I particularly loved was the inclusion of billboards throughout the film that boasted the film's title and were direct mirrors of the scene that was currently playing out. Given the film's introduction this aspect added another layer of intrigue, causing me to wonder exactly how much of the world on display is 'real.' The entire film builds to a climax that is immensely rewarding, tying the film up wonderfully and solidifying the generally fantastic pacing on display. While Jeunet's work does occasionally feel a bit too topical in its approach, and despite a number of scenes occasionally carrying on to the point where the whimsy became slightly overwhelming, Micmacs is an enjoyable and self aware romp through a just barely surreal France.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The FOXHOUND Chronicles - Metal Gear Marathon Introduction

In the 1960's Bob Dylan recorded three records that collectively have come to be recognized as one of the era's greatest cultural triumphs. Years later George Lucas's Star Wars films built a universe that captivated a nation. Even after that literature is revolutionized by the release of Twilight! All culture, good and bad, uses the series format to create worlds, explore complex themes, and even uncover a bit about humanity. I propose that, since Bob Dylan released his records all those years ago, no single individual has crafted as important a cultural touchstone as Hideo Kojima. In the form of the Metal Gear Solid series (and, I suppose I will soon discover, the Metal Gear series) Kojima displays a brilliant awareness of the world surrounding us all, traditional story telling techniques, and the uniqueness of the medium he uses to tell his stories.

I hope to apply a closer inspection of each game individually and in a larger context, discussing the artistic merits of Kojima's universe with a specific focus on the aspects that distinguish Kojima's games from those of his contemporaries and the similarities his works bear to other storytelling mediums. Combined with the man's one of a kind perspective these games not only transcend the medium, but also demand inclusion in the cultural cannon. Even more impressive is Kojima's future prospects, as he clearly is showing few signs of slowing down in his output, even if his time int he Metal Gear Solid universe is finally drawing to a slow close. Through weekly, or more depending on time, blog entries I will track my progress in these games (though mostly all are replays) and record my observations. At the conclusion of each game I will post a lengthy entry that is more focused on specific aspects of each game in relation to my larger goals.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

And The Ancient Empty Street's Too Dead For Dreaming

Toy Story 3 (Unkrich, 2010)

With Toy Story 3 Pixar has attempted to return to an incredibly successful universe years later and capture the same charm that made the originals so endearing to so many viewers. Flashes of Star Wars. But will Pixar be able to follow in Lucas's footsteps and effectively deepen their world and characters while improving in nearly every way over the original material? With years of mediocre films clogging up their studio in the past decade, yielding only two and a half films of any substantial value, I was skeptical that the studio would have success. While I certainly am not surprised with the results, I found myself a bit surprised at how well specific aspects of the film are handled.

First let us talk about the positives, my friends. We shall strip away all of the fat: throw the shoehorned in jokes away, toss aside the sight gags, forget about all the action and adventure, and focus squarely on the idea of transition. Whether transitioning from life at home to life alone, high school to college, teenager to adult, any change and the gray area between our own prescribed blacks and whites. Early on in the film we see Andy sit back in his chair and peer around his room for what will be one of the last times in his life, and he lets out a sigh. In this sigh the film captures more power than any of the dialogue can hope to ever encompass. Similarly, Woody's pleas with the toys to return to Andy after a mix up has them feeling cast aside, we see both humans and non-humans struggling to reconcile their old life with an unformed future. Later in the film an incredibly touching moment is shared between Andy and his mother. These brief glimpses at honest emotion, conveyed excellently in context, do what successful works of art accomplish: hit on aspects of humanity without feeling artificial. And for the most part, surprisingly, these moments are spread out instead of lumped together to simply 'get' the audience as they were in Up, or far too few as they were in Wall*E. The final scene goes on far too long and becomes a bit too manipulative, but the outline of honest humanity still shines through, at least mostly.

However, Toy Story 3 is hampered by all the fat around the edges, despite the film's attempts to conceal the weaker points that seemingly weave their way in to keep audiences entertained as a standard action/adventure film in the vein of Up and Wall*E's dreadful final 'chase' acts. Essentially, Toy Story 3 is Toy Story 2 except better paced. Remember the not so funny part in Toy Story 2 where the two Buzz Lightyears got mixed up and the one acted like Buzz did in at the start of the first film? That aspect is mostly back again, except now Buzz is back to acting like a 'real' spaceman while speaking Spanish! And dancing! Zany! And the whole lovable, elderly, fat guy who turns out to be controlling, manipulative, and downright despicable, remember that bit? Well that plot line is recycled in the form of Lotso, a bear abandoned by his former owner, making a nice foil for Jesse. Speaking of Jesse, recall how intolerable she was in the previous film? Well she is better in this one because her role is incredibly downsized. Since the film cuts between so many different areas so quickly, and has the characters constantly moving forward, Jesse, and really very few of the toys, ever get to take center stage, which results in some fairly underdeveloped characters. At one point Woody encounters three new toys, all of which seemed interesting, but these characters are on the screen for such a short time they feel more like joke devices than actual characters, resulting in really simplistic interpretations of these individuals. The same can be said of the figures in Lotso's 'family.'

The simplicity is the largest problem that I have with Toy Story. When you have such a complex and layered concept at the center of the film I imagine that the characters would not be so black and white. But with the exception of the giant baby, and I guess Ken, the film is packed with stagnant characters. None of the toys make any major changes, even Woody's supposed realization that they are better together with someone else than separated while he stays with Andy, is complicated by the way Woody essentially becomes a figure comparable to Lotso. But the film pays no attention to this idea, the toys are happy, so Woody is right.This aspect is one of many small bits of logic that break apart when one looks very deeply into the film. How does Lotso know the telephone is in league with Woody and gang? How does that kite get blown so far up in the sky? How can the aliens operate a crane? Why does Lotso need a cane if the spa area can fix even the oldest toys? Why can he run so quickly at the end? They just happen.

A number of the aspects of Toy Story 3 just happen, seemingly because that is what is supposed to happen. So we get an excruciatingly long heist sequence at the end. We have a confrontation with Lotso, an inexplicable grasp of Woody's leg to keep the 'action' sequence going. We also have a Dreamworks~esque back and forth with Barbie and Ken, complete with pitch perfect musical cues and slow motion that would fit right in during the lowest of Shrek films. And a costume changing montage that, if I recall correctly, makes use of "Kung-Fu Fighting." The only thing missing was "Barbie Girl" at some point. The back and forths are not funny, actually there are only a few occasions of legitimate humor in the film. What makes the movie tolerable, and oddly what prevents it from being very good, is how quickly it moves the plot forward and how little time we spend with each group of characters. Barbie and Ken are painful to watch, but these bits are fine because they do not go on incredibly long. Same with any bits involving Jesse. Sadly that means the portions with Andy and Woody are also short, but better these good parts be brief than the bad parts be too long.

As a refinement of Toy Story 2, Toy Story 3 works on just about every level. As a successor to Toy Story, this film falls incredibly short. As an entry in Pixar's catalog, Toy Story 3 is, like many of the studio's films, a middle of the road feature that contains flashes of enjoyment and even brilliance, but is held back by so many paint by numbers story telling techniques, irritating characters, and flat jokes that these features seem lesser by comparison. However, the greatest achievement of Toy Story 3 is the restraint in how emotion is handled. My largest problem with the first ten minutes of Up the obvious manipulation going on in that portion of the film, a trait that only became more apparent as the film tried to integrate emotion further in the run time, and the same can be said of Wall*E and even parts of the masterful Ratatouille. When Toy Story 3 attempts to create a specific mood it works so well, it is just a shame the rest of the film has to exist.

PS: The short before the film was pretty good, and watching Night and Day pal around was enjoyable. The short film genre works for Pixar so well because it allows them to take an incredibly simplistic concept, and the ultimate message of this film certainly is painfully obvious early on and incredibly generic, but through they can play with visuals in such inventive ways and break out that message in an interesting enough way that it makes the simplicity forgivable. I prefer more experimental short films because they allow for much more complex and ambiguous ideas to be explored while engaging me on a cerebral level, but for the opposite end of the spectrum, Day & Night does a pretty great job at being entertaining.

Comments are encouraged and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure.

Also I am on the old Twitter thing so I guess you can follow me at

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Pause And Reflect With The Blade At Your Wrist

The Secret in Their Eyes (Campanella, 2009)

I walked into The Secret in Their Eyes with a number of reservations. I knew little about the film, but apparently it's a man's recollection, and eventual compilation into a novel, of a murder case that his law firm handled years back. Esposito is haunted by memories of this time in his life, seemingly without explanation, but he knows he has a story to tell and these recurring dreams only further compel him to write. Along the way we learn about lost love, the strength of friendship, and the power of memory in an individual's life. The Argentine film won 2009's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, besting Michael Haneke's brilliant The White Ribbon and the sleek French prison drama Un Prophete. I love the former and consider the latter to be one of this year's most enjoyable films, so saying this film would need to do a ton of things right in order to convince me that it deserved the victory over the two big name films. But I am getting ahead of myself, I suppose, as the film needs to first and foremost be examined by its own merit and then look at in a broader context. So let's get on with the reflection.

The Secret in Their Eyes is a perfect film. Well, not perfect in a traditional sense, but certainly at a technical level the film is in the upper echelon of movie making. Each and every angle, each cut, every frame. They are all so well timed, so fully realized, so exact and calculated, so beautiful. The film kind of stumbles a bit in the pacing, but that problem is more found in the script rather than in the way the camera is used or how the film is edited together. I suppose the score could have been a bit less imposing, but even that aspect is used fairly well without ever being too distracting. Actually, much like the film itself, the movie never knocks you over on a technical level with sweeping shots of majesty, but taken as a whole it washes over you and prides itself on consistency and precision, producing a wonderful blend that adds to the tension and helps establish more of an investment in the characters on screen.

Despite the script dragging on a bit, The Secret in Their Eyes does a spectacular job of combining comedy with drama, a task that many films have failed at in the past. What this film does is not keep the two worlds separated, in its attempt to capture the reality of life, a trait that is crucial to the overall impact of the film's themes, it lets these two worlds intermingle naturally. The comedy plays off the drama, the jokes don't always land, the characters don't just talk, they actually speak. While the film does tend to stray into the realm of unbelievability with one character in particular, his larger role in the film, as explained by the movie's protagonist, makes these earlier lapses much easier to forgive and adds a layer to this supporting character. The movie actually employs this device a number of times, adding minor details to develop smaller characters slowly in order to make them more complete. But where the script truly succeeds, aside from the thematic material that I will get to shortly, is in the framing device used. As the film plays out it becomes more and more clear that the film is using a framing device within a framing device. The novel frames the murder, the story frames the exploration of Esposito's life, Esposito's life serves as a microcosm for humanity on a grand scale. But how, you may ask. He's just a damn lawman. I'm a rebel!

Well, so is Esposito. He doesn't have time for regulations, these rules, he needs to know the truth behind this murder. And in this examination of obsession and memory the film hits a stride that

As I walked out of the film I still was not sure if this was the best foreign language film from the previous year, but I found myself considering the way life is lived, by myself and the world around me. I am obsessed, obsessed with so many different aspects, and these obsessions, whether great or small, do govern my life. Or perhaps not, perhaps obsessed is not the correct word. Interested works better most of the time, I suppose, but what this film does is examine the point where interest becomes obsession, and what we as people lose when we obsess. But the film never completely paints this quality as negative either; instead we see self fulfillment, therapy, human connection, and justice achieved, partially, through this obsession.

At least until the end of the film when the movie becomes a bit generic, and slightly plodding, as it springs twists, mostly masterfully handled, on the viewer in order to reach a more upbeat ending than I would have expected. But in this ending time is lost, life has gone on, and obsession yields consequence alongside the self fulfillment. For the most part The Secret in Their Eyes is a beautiful and enjoyable film. It blends comedy wonderfully into the drama and is told in a remarkably interesting manner that allows the larger ideas on display to be engaged with by the audience. Is this the best foreign language film of 2009? I would doubt it, and I doubt I will ever truly know, but this film is fantastic.

Oh yes, and as a disclaimer, scores are finished. I'm not using them any more, nor am I using grades. I'll let the words do the talking in order to better focus my thoughts. So yeah, that's that, no more of this stuff. I'll probably keep them, somewhere, for my personal records and year end lists (I should make a 2009 one of these), but otherwise they are gone.

Additionally, I find joy in this title as the connection is not as direct as lyrics I have used to title a few of the more previous entries, so if you get the connection you kick ass, I suppose.

Comments are welcome and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure.

Also I am on the old Twitter thing so I guess you can follow me at

Friday, April 16, 2010

All Roads Lead Toward The Same Blocked Intersection

Kick-Ass (Vaughn, 2010)

Christopher Nolan. David Fincher. Quentin Tarantino. Zach Snyder. And now, I suppose, Matthew Vaughn is a name to add to the list of directors who can be charged of crafting films that ooze style while skimping on the substance. While I would debate the grounds of many of these claims, as most of the directors have crafted at least one film that would serve as an effective counter point, whether found in the strong subtext present in Fincher's Fight Club, the sprawling narrative in Snyder's take on Watchmen, and just about all of Tarantino's library, (though I suppose that does leave Nolan out in the cold), Vaughn's latest effort (following up his 2007 sophomore film Stardust) may justify such a claim being leveled at the filmmaker. Though I haven't seen either of his two previous pictures, meaning I shall concentrate mostly on my reaction to the man's latest creation, Kick-Ass, an adaptation of Mark Millar's series of graphic novels by the same name, Vaughn has created an interestingly diverse set of films. But sometimes I need more than interesting to keep me going, or maybe I don't, or maybe Vaughn just doesn't want me to know what I want at all.

If the director does, in fact, want to keep me feeling off kilter throughout the entire film he has successfully accomplished his initial mission because, for all intents and purposes, Kick-Ass is a messy and inconsistent film in just about every regard. The score ranges from overbearing to needlessly quiet, yet this pairs with such a delightfully scattershot soundtrack that features a hodgepodge of styles and sounds with each cue seeming almost too perfect for the current scene, practically mirroring the construction of the film as a whole. The three act structure is followed incredibly strictly, so much so that, unlike just about every other successful film based on a graphic novel, no twists or turns at all occur in the narrative. It remains entertaining, but devolves incredibly quickly into predictability, which also mimics the camera tricks that Vaughn employs throughout the film where, during each and every tense scene, we are expected to wait until the a character is placed in a deadly situation before, at the very last second, the tables turn. For a film that is so intent on taking risks with its content the tale is told in a mighty generic manner, and I know I don't go for generic. Even stylized generic, so despite using all those wonderful long shots and top down angles, and starting off by using comic book cues such as text boxes reading "Meanwhile" and other descriptors before eventually abandoning that idea completely, I don't know if the minimal technical flourishes are enough to keep the film afloat by my traditional standards.

But this is an actor's film damn it! Or maybe not. Sure Nicolas Cage follows up one of 2009's best performances in The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans with a smash up performance that succeeds where the film tends to stumble, blending comedy seamlessly with action. And even Chloe Moretz does a decent job of that as well, but I got the feeling while watching her that the character, the disturbingly ruthless preteen Hit-Girl who cares just as much about dropping the C-Nuke as she cares about slicing apart one of the many nameless goons she confronts in the film, is more interesting than her performance. I guess between this and her annoying turn in (500) Days of Summer that means I have even more reason to be concerned about the upcoming remake of Let the Right One In. Anyhow, what seemed so odd was not the actors in the film, but the fact that none of the characters ever seemed fully developed, and nearly all the secondary characters were reduced to caricatures nearly by default. Thankfully the smaller lead roles were anchored by two of the best performances in the film. I do not know if the public as a whole is still unable to separate Christopher Mintz-Plasse from his McLovin character, but I have little problem doing so, and he brings such a presence to the screen each time he is on camera that believing him in the role of Red Mist is a simple task. And then there is Clark 'Bar' Duke as one of Kick-Ass's best friends, allowing for him to generate the funniest moments in the film. Yeah he's doing a similar shtick to what he did in Clark and Michael, but he pulls off that undeservedly cocky, overly hip, self aware comedy that it doesn't matter. Speaking of Michael Cera this is the part where I start to bash lead actor Aaron Johnson. Johnson is supposed to be playing this socially outcast high school student who doesn't communicate well with the opposite sex, yet we still need to be able to identify with him and root for him for the film to work. However, what we get are a few fleeting glimpses of the types of characters that Cera and Eisenberg have perfected with none of the chemistry that Cera could bring to those Clark Duke and Mintz-Plasse scenes. Hell, even Anton Yelchin could have worked better than the emotional sinkhole that is Aaron Johnson.

But now I'll take a page out of Vaughn's book and switch this shit up at the drop of a dime without any warning or sense.

Up until this point I feel as if I have been deceptively negative, perhaps betraying just how much I enjoyed this film. It seems ever since Avatar that action scenes are becoming much more tolerable as traditional editing is used to keep pace while directors intelligently color code each side to make these fast paced sequences simple to follow. And boy damn are the action scenes on display here a rush and a half, they are, for lack of a better term, the definition of bad ass. In fact, some may say they kick ass (how can I pass something like that up?). But even the action scenes are off kilter as Vaughn crafts the world in such a way that the viewer is constantly questioning the purpose of this gratuitous violence. Early on in the film he establishes these make shift superheroes as incredibly human and capable of dying, yet like a lamb to the slaughter this realism is sacrificed without explanation when it would enhance the cool factor. And don't get me wrong, it does, and maybe the desensitization that goes along with the violence is part of the satire, but for that to be the case it would make more sense to not include those scenes that show the gruesomeness of violence, and, really, watching a young girl get punched in the face or gun down a ton of different guys is going to get a reaction no matter how desensitized we may be.

And with that I ask, among the separate realms of action and comedy, in a film that seems to go out of its way to not establish a consistent tone, for a movie that succeeds so well at entertaining but is so stiff and calculated that outside of the shock any traces of heart are severely minimalized, does Kick-Ass have a point? Perhaps not, but maybe that's okay? At one point the film seems ready to begin exploring the idea of escapism and the futility of this exercise, and then all the pieces are set to look into the creation of celebrity in relation to the physical toll this takes on individuals, but none of these ideas are followed through in any substantial manner. But in not probing these ideas am I being asked to simply watch, to be a hog in the mud and revel in the ultra-violence while not looking any deeper into this film? I cannot do that. The obvious point of comparison for this film, I assume, is Watchmen, but while that film suffered from having too much going on outside of the action sequences Kick-Ass is concerned with accomplishing too little outside of its action. Yes, it appears to be a love letter to the comic book lover. Yes the dialogue is fun, and the film is a blast, but it is also just so problematic and personally distressful. I take no offense to the content, in fact I wish that more films would take the risks that Kick-Ass takes, but with those risks there needs to be a purpose outside of simple entertainment.

This reflection has been more rambling than I had intended, but I firmly believe that, as a writer, my obligation is to best convey my experience and response to a piece of culture, and without getting into spoilers that add a few more specifics to my reaction I think that is what I have done here. Films like Kick-Ass only serve to further negate the meaning of rating systems. At the end what I have learned is that the film is fun, it is stylish, and despite all its faults key members of the cast increase the enjoyment to be had. But those inconsistencies, the lack of purpose, the absence of themes outside of the most basic type, I should be ripping this film apart, not considering seeing it again on DVD. Either way, a film like this one does, in retrospect, make me appreciate something like Speed Racer all the more, a stylized tent pole film (though the origins of Vaughn's film hardly qualify as traditional studio fare as it effectively straddles the line between perceptions of independent and mainstream cinema) that blends the humor with the action, that gives purpose to the events, that may not be perfect but provides all the fun of an event movie with the cerebral simulation of more 'serious' films. Or even a Sin City that uses hyper violence and a unique visual style that weaves seamlessly with a consistent and intriguing narrative. I'm going in circles now. Kick-Ass is fantastic and fun. Kick-Ass is terrible and pointless. Kick-Ass is a thrill ride that challenges conventions while being cliche ridden and trite. The film is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Is it August yet? I need Scott Pilgrim vs. the World to show me what a great director can do with similar material.

B or 3.656247572394862375832657932

Comments are welcome and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure.

Also I am on the old Twitter thing so I guess you can follow me at

Monday, March 22, 2010

I Want Your Everything As Long As It's Free

Bandslam (Graff, 2009)

With The Secret of Kells I watched a stunningly beautiful and utterly captivating re-telling regarding the creation of a famed Irish manuscript. With Un Prophete I was sucked in to a tense prison drama ripe with thematic depth and engrossing characters. Likewise, Shutter Island and Alice in Wonderland are two insanely enjoyable entries from what I consider to be two of my favorite director's best fictional films in impressive filmographies. Hell, I even finally had a chance to watch the stunning 2001: A Space Odyssey, likely cementing the third of three Kubrick films I have seen that will appear on my Top 97, and the mildly amusing In the Mood for Love from Wong Kar Wai. And of all these films, during this far too long hiatus, is it any surprise the that film that inspired me to log back in and share my thoughts would be Bandslam?

Let us make one thing abundantly clear before going much farther in to this reflection: Bandslam is not a complex film, it does not take twists or turns, you know where this film is going right from the cliche voice over beginning to the puzzling cameo at the end. So what, you may ask, has this film done to make me want to start writing again? One scene, that's it, one magical, beautiful, reserved, fascinating, charming, wonderful scene. One scene that, after I get the boring majority of the film out of the way first, I will devote a full paragraph to later in the reflection.

Basically what we have with Bandslam is the love child of Adventureland and 17 Again without all the complexity or hilarity of the Greg Motolla film or all the charm and charisma of any non-High School Musical film headed by Zac Efron. Speaking of High School Musical, series alumni Vanessa Hudgens has a prominent role in this film, and for the most part she turns in a solid performance. Actually, performances are solid across the board, which I suppose is part of the problem. Nothing really stands out. Even Lisa Kudrow, who had a decent enough turn in Hotel for Dogs, does nothing of merit in a role that she probably could have taken a couple of liberties with here and there. Much like a majority of the humor, the actors are all so bland.

But what is not bland, at least not as much as most other aspects of the film, is the direction. I am always puzzled when films like this, mainstream affairs that tend to bomb at the box office, consistently surprise me on a technical level. In recent years many more directors have been making wonderful use of the wide shot, one of my favorite ways to frame a scene, and the use of symmetry, or at the very least the positioning of actors in a frame, is generally used to great success. A shot of Hudgens' Sa5m (the 5 is silent) and lead actor Gaelan Connell's Will Burton sitting on an overlook is absolutely stunning, quiet, and reserved. All of these aspects add to selling the romance between the two, but they sell it not in the bombastic kiss me in the rain manner that so many mainstream romances impress upon the viewer; instead it's calm, it's quiet, it's beautiful, and it's a bit awkward, and a bit natural. And this tone, when present in the film, is mind blowing.

Unfortunately, this tone is not in the film very often. The main premise of Bandslam is that a band from across the country wins a big battle and gets a record deal. And while the film is quick to tout its rock and roll knowledge and name drop The Velvet Underground, Led Zeppelin, The Who, and countless other classic acts with little regards for the target demographic, the desire to cater to a PG crowd and the notions that casting Vanessa Hudgens forces the audience to bring to a film result in such figures being placed alongside the modern notions of the genre has progressed in the modern era. For so many kids who claim to be inspired by Bowie and Lou Reed it certainly does not come through in the type of music they play. Not to say the music is bad, just that the maths don't really add up.

But who cares? You know why? Because this film could be 18 hours of trite, humorless, monotonous bullshit and still get a pass from me. Remember when I talked about tone and mood? Well here come some spoilers as I attempt to accurately convey my reaction to that majestic occurrence that happens a little more than halfway through the film. We are in class, presenting on the Who Is Your Partner (my title not the film's) Project. Last weekend Will totally blew off his first official date with Sa5m, unintentionally, to scope out the competition from one of the rival bands. So a vindictive same, in a stunningly effective reserved turn from Hudgens, is armed with a mirror as she, word by word, tears Will apart. She is vicious, you know Will deserves it and so does she, as she works in a wonderful extended metaphor about how he will casually reflect upon anyone exactly what they want to hear, obliging anyone except his nonexistent self. As my mouth is agape at the intensity of what is transpiring the teacher injects some throw away comedy about how it is mean. And I feel bad, bad for Sa5m, and bad for Will, who I had completely bought in to by that point in the film. And then it's his turn. He takes a DVD and places it in the projector. I assume it's of Sa5m singing as a child, a DVD shown to Will a few scenes early that Sa5m told her mom never to show anyone. But it's not. It's a Will Burton film featuring the director and a cardboard cutout of Sa5m sitting on a blanket, drinking Coca-Cola from Twizlers, one can, two straws. And the music plays, and the montage within the film happens. We need no words, it's teenage infatuation, it's fleeting feelings and an eternal magic that lies dormant, or perhaps awakened, in myself, likely in any adult watching the film. And the juxtaposition. I do not do my scene, nor my reaction, justice, but it's one of the most emotional reactions I've had to a film in quite some time. Why can't more films do this?

What more can I say? Bandslam is generic, it is bland, it is puzzling, contradictory, and all types of other adjectives that make it not even half as entertaining as 17 Again and barely a fraction as profound as Adventureland. But it has one of the most spectacular scenes in any film I have ever seen, and God damn is that impressive.

C+ or 3.182376218462178946239845623

And with that, at least for now, I am finally finished with 2009, I think. What a year. I need to do a complete re-cap in the near future.

Comments are welcome and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure.

Also I am on the old Twitter thing so I guess you can follow me at

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Photograph My Mind And Whatever Else You'd Like To Shoot, You Decide

Been a while since I have posted anything, let alone a film review, but I am currently, and slowly, engaging in a process where I examine the career of the world's best actor, Daniel Day Lewis. In no particular order I hope to watch all the films he has been featured in, with the exception of the ones I have already seen (just There Will Be Blood). So Last of the Mohicans, The Ballad of Jack and Rose, My Left Foot, Gangs of New York. All of those films. So, since I am still apparently not finished with 2009 yet, let's start with Daniel Day Lewis' latest film

Nine (Marshall, 2009)

So this is how you follow up the second best film ever crafted, huh Daniel? You're an interesting character, and boy damn is that aspect on display throughout the film, especially since the original actor to play the Guido character in Fellini's classic 8 1/2 was so spectacular that I thought displaying an equally great performance to be near impossible. The Italian accent is not always perfect, but Daniel Day Lewis is a force on the screen throughout this film. Each and every movement is so perfect, so accentuated, so completely realized. Hell, there's a scene towards the end where he says nothing, absolutely nothing, and his face speaks more than anyone else in the film. Now that is not to say that the cast is bad in the least, Hudson, Cruz, Marion, and Dench are all almost equally spectacular in their roles, and even the other minor characters are never weak in the parts they play. The cast truly is one of the films strongest points.

Also strong, as one would imagine, are mostly all of the musical numbers. Generally when the film goes for 'big' numbers they all succeed, and sadly the mostly reserved numbers, with the notable exception of "Guido's Song," are not as memorable. But between "Be Italian," "Cinema Italiano," "Take it All," and a number of the other tracks we have one Hell of a collection of tracks that really help keep the narrative focused and the themes mostly apparent, which is incredibly important in a film of this variety. I want to be Christ, Mohammad, and Buddha, but not have to believe in God!

Nine attempts to walk a very delicate line, existing as an adaptation of Fellini's 8 1/2 but also existing as a stand alone effort. For the most part much of the narrative structure of the film is similar, and even during the "Be Italian" sequence it seems as if the black and white footage is directly lifted from 8 1/2, but the film definitely explores different themes than the original film, which culminates in a radically different ending, but it certainly works in the context of the film and, despite initially disappointing me, is an incredibly fulfilling and suitable stopping point. However, had the film had a couple of more hours to add in a few more tracks and flesh out more of the plot lines the film would likely have been closer to a truly fantastic film.

When it comes down to it, Nine delivers as a truly enjoyable and never slow ride through a fairly fascinating musical. The film is paced excellently, looks great early on, though a good deal of that director's specific vision is lost in the second half, and tells an engaging narrative that really does bleed a style that seems lost in the modern age. What Rob Marshall does with the film is truly impressive and I do wish we had more time to spend in this world because, just like the original, Nine is a layered and complex film, one that would not initially appear so given its genre. Oh yeah, and it helps that Penelope Cruz is not only the best female actor working today, but also the prettiest. And Daniel Day Lewis. What a damn powerhouse. Without a doubt the best actor still starring in films. He has a natural talent and presence, one I was not sure I would be able to find since my only exposure to him thus far has come in the form of There Will Be Blood, a performance I feared would be inseparable from the actor, that is comparable to the once in a lifetime greats. There's Paul Thomas Anderson making movies, John Darnielle writing songs, and Daniel Day Lewis acting. I can't wait to continue with this marathon.

B+ or 4.0189243y782146213789462378

Comments are welcome and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure.

Also I am on the old Twitter thing so I guess you can follow me at

Friday, January 1, 2010

Top 2(2) CDs of 2009, A List in Pieces

It has certainly been a while since I have written about music, actually it has been a while since I have written much at all, so I am making a return to this writing show by doing a series of year end wrap up lists. Now you may be thinking that 2009 has already ended and these efforts are all irrelevant. You may also be thinking that such an endeavor is far too generic for this blog. Well, my year does not end until around March, so I'm technically ahead of the game by a few months. I also am going to attempt to avoid Top 5's, 10's, 15, and so on in favor of more obscure numbers. With that, let's get to the CDs.

One more disclaimer though, the top of the list is so tough, any one of my Top 4 can easily be my number 1, it's just an arbitrary order I picked, the records are all mostly fantastic.

20. Them Crooked Vultures - Them Crooked Vultures

I generally am a fan of these so called super groups, collectives of proven musicians all shunning their previous band mates and hoping that coming together will result in an amount of awesomeness that is both capable of destroying all other types of lesser music and probably ending world hunger, or aborting children, I'm not really sure. Either way, ASIA this is not, but I suppose that is not all bad, despite the involvement of the detestable Dave Grohl. Much like Grohl's other works, Them Crooked Vultures contains a ton of self indulgent mindless noise that is loud for the sake of being loud and, of course, thoroughly lacking much joy, but when the guys decide to focus on the music, shortening the length of songs and zoning in on provided concentrated loudness paired with simplistic lyrics, the record succeeds tremendously. At the very worst, there is nary a rock record that works better while driving, as long as you're driving with reckless abandon.

19. Jonas Brothers - Lines, Vines and Trying Times

Initially I had intended to conclude my list with this record, you know, really shock people when they opened up this countdown, but either way this record will serve as a barometer for the list yet to come, and what has already occurred/missed out on a spot. Jonas Brothers have never been my favorite band, sure "Burnin' Up" is fantastic but outside of that and a few other songs I have been mostly cold on spending any elongated time with the band. While this record did not convince me to reevaluate my previous feelings, this record was nothing short of an incredibly welcome surprise. While sitting down and resting on the sales success of records past was certainly an option, the record cast aside most prior convention and turned out to be a celebration of sound and style as the three sought to expand their musical capacity while making a slightly more mature record. From the heavy opening "World War III" to the hip-hop infused, sporting a guest appearance from talented artist Common, "Don't Charge Me For The Crime," Lines, Vines and Trying Times is a hopeful sign for the band's future records. The band does not sacrifice the heartthrob lyrics about love and life that have made them marketable in the past, but they do shed the traits that many detractors focused on in the past.

18. Bob Dylan - Together Through Life

Thirty two studio albums ago who would have guessed that Dylan would still be cranking out albums at an astounding pace and with such insane quality? Not I, because I probably wasn't even a sperm at that point in time. Either way, this album does prove that Dylan has lost little over the years, still beautifully written and delivered. Produced beautifully and a mystifying listen, this may not be on par with some of Dylan's best records, but when you have such a diverse and excellent catalog such a title is not nearly as important.

17. Miley Cyrus - The Time of Our Lives

In a year where nearly every Disney heavyweight released a full length CD the most successful starlet to date, Miley Cyrus, went against the tide and teased the world with an EP, collecting seven songs that boasted the wildly popular "Party in the USA." That song is more than enough to solidify a spot on this list, but top to bottom the whole CD is a fun ride that demonstrates Miley's ability to hop in and out of different musical styles from track to track, an impressive ability and one of her greatest strengths as a performer. I am still holding out for a proper follow up to Breakout, and less material under the less interesting Hannah Montana alias, this CD is enough to hold me over and another step in Miley's artistic development.

16. Annie - Don't Stop

The picture box tells me that music from Norway is all metal all the time. By extension, Norway must suck. But then along comes Annie to flip my perspectives all around. A pop parade that is a quick and joyful ride through wonderfully simplistic lyrics and catchy choruses which mask enough depth to make numerous listens not just enjoyable, but rewarding. From the in your face intro that is "Hey Annie" to the stunning conclusion that is "Heaven and Hell," this Annie record is not an experience, nor is it a mind changing listen, but it's refreshing, fun, and enjoyable. What more could you ask for from a record?

15. Various Artists - Hannah Montana: The Movie OST

Now I know I said I am not really a fan of Miley's work as Hannah Montana and I stick by that claim, but this CD isn't just Miley, and it's not just Miley being Hannah, and "The Climb" is way awesome. Plus there are some other great songs from Rascal Flatts and stuff, but obviously the standout tracks do come from Miley. Essentially what we have going on here is Purple Rain except the music is good, mostly, and the film is better, considerably. There are noticeable weak points on the record, but oh boy are those highs high. Plus it has "Hoedown Throwdown," what more could any CD ever need?

14. Various Artists - Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse Present Dark Night of the Soul

Another compilation album, right? Well mostly, I suppose, but when you put Danger Mouse mostly in charge of anything you know that the instrumental work is going to be top notch, and with the likes of Iggy Pop and company the record feels like a thrill ride of incredible proportions. The stand out track, "Angel's Harp," comes from former Pixies lead singer Black Francis, but there is nary a weak point on the album. I have not had a chance to check out the David Lynch visuals, especially after the marketing debacle that happened, but experiments like these, and obviously the mixture of so many different types of rock, are ventures I can fully endorse.

13. DOOM - Born Like This

Now I could spend this time talking about how it has been far too long for one of hip hop's most deceptively complex artists to release a new record, or I could go on about how DOOM's ability to change persona on command and from album to album is the marking that he has a better understanding of the genre than just about anyone else to ever hold a microphone, but I shall not. Instead I shall celebrate the magnificent "Gazillion Ear" track and the wonderfully tone setting "Cellz," beginning with a portion of the incredibly diabolical and moving poem "Dinosuaria, We," an artistic choice that hardly feels anything but natural. Much like every CD from DOOM it rewards repeat listenings and, unlike some of his weaker efforts, does not ever indulge in the beats; instead, the focus is right where it belongs, on DOOM's stunning lyrical prowess.

12. Various Artists - Have Yourself A Meaty Little Christmas

There are Christmas albums, there are comedy albums, and then there is this [adultswim] joyride. Hysterical from start to finish, with two standout tracks from Carl Bratananaluski about getting drunk, masturbating, and being unemployed before and after Christmas, a guest appearance from Neko Case, a great duet with Meatwad and Boxy Brown, and so much other comedic gold. Unlike other holiday music you just need to be ready to laugh when listening to this CD, it doesn't need to be Christmas. Which is genius, and is fantastic, and hopefully happens on a yearly basis because this CD is incredible.

11. Cage - Depart From Me

Cage is an incredibly interesting artist and with Depart From Me he continues to make strides from album to album. With Movies for the Blind he started getting used to his style, taking the most deranged rhymes and images a mind can create and stringing them together wonderfully. Then on Hell's Winter he built on that and started integrating the Head Automatica help on tracks. Then Depart From me happened and Cage essentially begins to craft a rap/rock hybrid that is artistically pleasing, mentally stimulating, and satirical enough without sacrificing the personal touches and disturbing marks that make Cage songs his own. A stunning record that needs to be listened to beginning to end in a single sitting for one Hell of an effect.

10. The Flaming Lips - Embryonic

It has been quite a few years since The Flaming Lips released Clouds Taste Metallic, one of the best CDs ever recorded. Of course The Flaming Lips are nota band that remains stagnant and the sounds on Embryonic are nothing like what one would encounter on Clouds. Though that is hardly a bad thing as the over distorted, hyper produced sounds blends with the lyrics to create a surreal experience. Add in guest spots by Karen O, including on the CD's standout "I Can Be A Frog," a childhood story told with hints of sexuality and a demonic vigor. It's hypnotic and it's stunning, like the CD as a whole.

9. Felt - Felt 3: A Tribute to Rosie Perez

An impressive trinity of hip hop's most interesting artists, the pairing of Slug and Murs feels almost natural, producing a lengthy record full of fun songs and some darker ones like "Ghost Dance Deluxe." What had me worried going in was having Aesop Rock, an incredibly talented songwriter and producer, handling the beats because, while Aesop does great work, his beats always seem so well crafted for his style that I was questioning Slug and Murs's ability to conform to Aesop's style without sacrificing their lyrical prowess. The results work much better than I could have ever anticipated. Is the CD a fitting substitute for a new Aesop CD or a new Atmosphere CD? No, but it's still a mighty fine package.

8. the Mountain Goats - The Life of the World to Come/The Life of the World in Flux

For about a year and a half now, I know that's not very long but give me a chance, the Mountain Goats have opened my eyes to the most beautiful music ever created. If I could write half as masterfully as John Darnielle I would probably kill myself because I would be so awesome incredible impressive. Either way, the latest from the band is a meditation on religion, an exposure of the faults and a celebration of the power. A brilliantly low keyed follow up to the insanely great four song Satanic Messiah EP. The partner CD, featuring scrapped tracks and outtakes is just as enjoyable. Darnielle makes poems come to life, a modern day Dylan, if Dylan wasn't still going strong. Religious or not this CD is incredible and revealing, it's what the Goats do best.

7. Japandroids - Post-Nothing

I'll keep things simplistic with the debut album from this duo. There is a certain majesty to the distorted instruments, the free vocals, the throw backs to power rock, the frantic nature of a few of the tracks, and the devastating beauty of "Young Hearts Spark Fire." Sure the record can evoke emotions, but it's the do-it-yourself nature of the record and how it all comes together to make something unique and magical that makes this record special. The downfall of lists is that this CD can't be my number one after proving for most of the year that it is nearly perfect.

6. Chamillionaire - Mixtape Messiah 7

This 4 disc behemoth is not nearly the artistic accomplishment that MF Grimm's American Hunger is, but as the final nail int he coffin that was Chamillionaire's glorious Mixtape Messiah series it is, with the exception of a non-existent final "Roll Call" track, as fine as a record could come. Cham proves, without question, that he is the most lyrically skilled rapper to ever grace a microphone, seamlessly sliding from beat to beat and making them his own on each and every track. Your mileage with the record will vary depending on how much you care for Screwed and Chopped music, but the brilliance on display here is astounding. Baller rap is not an apt title, Chamillionaire transcended that territory years ago. With Major Pain and Venom on the horizon, Chamillionaire's output remains impressive and the Mixtape Messiah Series has a fitting conclusion. Plus the CD was released for free on his website, which is even more incredible.

5. Lily Allen - It's Not Me, It's You

This CD almost escaped me in the shuffle, but apparently Lily Allen has been around for a while. Apparently she makes great music, as is proven by this record. The CD is devastating, it is funny, it is lovely. Lily assaults societal convention, consumerism, and various other topics over the course of the CD's run time, and all with a prowess and quite beauty that only serves to enhance the themes she hits on from track to track. "The Fear," for me, is one of the best songs ever written, but the entire CD does not have a blemish on it at all, from the opening bang to the closing "He Wasn't There," Lily Allen takes the listener on a ride to incredible places, whether you like what you find there or not. I am a weapon of massive consumption, but it's not my fault that's how I'm programmed to function.

4. Weezer - Raditude

I'll get this out of the way now, Raditude is, by a wide margin, Weezer's best CD since The Blue Album, and it may very well be even better than the band's masterwork. Rivers is at his finest here, taking the concept of "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived" and stretching it to an entire CD that makes use of Weezer's classic power pop rock, riffs on the club song trend in modern music with the delightful "Can't Stop Partying," and basically remains in full on sarcastic brilliance throughout the entire run with only a single lull in "Love is the Answer." I honestly cannot believe that this is not my top CD of 2009 because it is spectacular on each level. Rivers revels in the psyche of of an adolescent male, weaving in his ability to address deep themes with haunting lyrics, yet he improves on that and limits himself to simplistic rhymes and metaphors that are still more beautiful and impressive than even the best of writers. It captures the boy I once was and, as Rivers is more than willing to expose, in many ways still am. The CD is a power ride of unparalleled proportions and hopefully Weezer stays on this path for a long while to come.

3. Demi Lovato - Here We Go Again

Another CD I cannot believe is not at the top of this list. Easily my most listened to CD of 2009 Demi Lovato grows so much on her sophomore CD. Don't Forget is great, but from the opening bars of "Here We Go Again" to the sadly out of place "So Far, SO Great," Demi plays with the quietloudquiet dynamic that she first displayed in her debut CD, a technique perfected obviously by Pixies years before, but it takes center stage here as Demi separates from Pixies comparisons and shows a maturity that, if it wasn't for the Disney shackles, would likely make for one of the best CDs ever recorded. "Every Time You Lie," "Everything You're Not," and "Quiet," the last being a great encapsulation of Demi's style especially on her more rock heavy songs, are thrilling rides that not only pair excellent sound with great lyrics, but also show a development in her own unique style. And of course there are the more traditional pop stand outs like "Here We Go Again" and the wonderful "Remember December," but even these songs, like most of the tracks, have an underlying angst and maturity that I am sure will only grow as Demi is allowed to bring more and more of her own personality to her records. I cannot say enough good things about Demi, she is poised to own a genre of music with talent, grace, and maturity for years to come, existing not as a pop star, but as a rock musician and I cannot wait to continue the ride. I'm anxiously awaiting her next CD.

2. Lady GaGa - The Fame Monster

And now for the two CDs that completely blindsided me last year, one earlier in the year (that's coming up), and one in just the past couple of weeks. My aversion to the radio made sure that I had no exposure to Lady GaGa prior to my still unfinished (only 19 left, I should finish that) quest to listen to each song on Pitchfork's Top 100 Songs of 2009 list. And God Damn was I missing out. Sure the Deluxe Edition includes The Fame, a pretty great CD but one that is a bit top heavy, but The Fame Monster is an 8 song joyride that grabs hold at the very start with the incredible "Bad Romance" and does not let go until the rough "Teeth" at the very end. Mix in the entrancingly dark "Monster" about halfway through and the more upbeat "So Happy I Could Die" and "Telephone" throughout and you have an incredibly compact masterpiece. There is not one bad song on this CD, it is so well paced, so varied, and so enjoyable that I was, as I mentioned earlier, completely struck with how much I enjoyed this record. I don't know much about Lady GaGa's professional image, which is apparently all part of this artistic statement, but it doesn't matter, the CD is amazing. Perfect.

1. St. Vincent - Actor

So what could possibly beat out a perfect CD? Another perfect CD, obviously. St. Vincent has apparently done a few records before as well, but since I live under a rock I was completely unprepared for what Actor would deliver. With razor sharp talons Actor packs a scathing sarcasm that sits beautifully alongside the quiet voice that accompanies the dark and striking imagery on each track. With nary a low point to be found the high water mark arguably comes with the title track, but Holy Hell are "Marrow," "The Bed," "Black Rainbow," and "Laughing With A Mouth Of Blood" chillingly gorgeous. From the moment I heard this CD until I finish writing this list, St. Vincent has proven over the course of 2009 to have a tremendous lasting power and poetic beauty that has me eager to check out her back catalog. What a fucking brilliant piece of art.

And now for the two records that make this list a 21. I would provide some more exposition, but I'll do that as I list them.

Selena Gomez and The Scene - Kiss & Tell

I am upset that I was unable to put this on the list, but I am even more disheartened at what happened to Selena. Now I don't know her, I don't know what her artistic vision was, and I don't know how happy she is with the record. I do know that, for the most part, the CD is a thematic mess with flashes of brilliance. "Naturally" is a great single and a great pop song. "As A Blonde" and "Stop and Erase" are each fun pop-rock songs with a bit of commentary to each. There are other high points. But the record just lacks a uniform tone and it really feels like Disney is just throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. I mean the album art is reminiscent of the Demi CD, some of the songs are reminiscent of Demi, others of Miley, and very few sound like uniquely Selena. I wanted to love this CD, and Selena proves that she certainly does have singing talent, I still prefer her vastly as an actress, but that's neither here nor there, she shows she can sing and sustain an entire album. I just hope they allow her more freedom with her next record and that she does have a single tone and definitive identity because I'm really sad that such a tragedy happened to her with this album. Do note though, there are a ton of positives buried in the uneven record, it just needs to be more focused.

Neko Case - Middle Cyclone

There is no excuse here other than I haven't listened to it yet. Been sitting in my iTunes forever, but I got it the same day as the GaGa CD to end the year and I have been listening to Lady GaGa too much to give this one the chance it deserves. Case was great in The New Pornographers, she's great on Have Yourself a Meaty Little Christmas, and I'm sure the CD is great. Just haven't gotten a chance to listen to it yet. Sorry Neko.

Comments are welcome and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure.

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