Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Soup's Joel McHale on Tour

Given the amount of laughter produced in my house from The Soup each week, it bears mentioning that host Joel McHale is coming to Dallas next Friday, August 9th, at the Majestic (8:00pm).

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DVD and CD Releases - July 22nd & 29th

[Sorry I missed last week - the releases for the 22nd are below]
July 29th DVD Releases:

The Band's Visit
Doomsday: Unrated Edition
Harold and Kumar: Escape from Guantanamo Bay
Never Back Down
Shine a Light

Click below for more DVD and CD releases.

DVD Special Editions/Other Releases:

TV Box Sets:

Beverly Hills 90210: Season Five
Centennial: The Series
Freakazoid!: Season One
Girlfriends: Season Four
The Hills: Season Three
Human Body: Pushing the Limits
Law and Order SVU: Season Seven
Tiny Toon Adventures: Season One, Volume One
Witchblade: The Series
The Wiggles: You Make Me Feel Like Dancing

Special Editions/Other Releases:

Dark City: Director's Cut
Inglorious Bastards: Explosive Edition
Lost Boys: The Tribe
Stargate: Continuum
WarGames: 25th Anniversary Edition
WarGames: The Dead Code

New CD Releases:

Coolio - Steal Hear
Alice Cooper - Along Came A Spider
Richie Havens - Nobody Left to Crown
Rick Springfield - Venus in Overdrive
Andre Williams Can - You Deal With It?
Young Jeezy - The Recession

July 22nd DVD Releases:

The Last Winter
Turn the River

DVD Special Editions/Other Releases:

TV Box Sets:

Las Vegas: Season Five
The Legend of Zelda: The Power of the Triforce
Masters of Horror: Season Two
Robot Chicken: Star Wars
Spaced: Complete Series

Special Editions/Other Releases:

The Boston Strangler: The Untold Story
Kiss of the Spider Woman: Collector's Edition
Picture This!
Six Reasons Why

New CD Releases:

Sugarland - Love on the Inside [sounds priest-y]
Miley Cyrus - Breakout
U2 - Remastered Boy, October and War
Paul Weller - 22 Dreams
Black Kids, "Partie Traumatic"
Black Sabbath, "The Rules of Hell"
David Bowie, "Live in Santa Monica '72"
Candlebox, "Into the Sun"
Dr. Dog, "Fate"
Bob Dylan, "Best of Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour Vol. 2"
Noel Gourdin, "After My Time"
Buddy Guy, "Skin Deep"
Janis Ian, "Best of Janis Ian--The Autobiography Collection"
Danny Tenaglia, "Futurism"

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Dark Knight Box Office

I’m not usually one to discuss box office much since it has even less to do with quality than the Oscars, but there is something quite extraordinary going on with The Dark Knight. It’s already made around $315 million in 10 days, the fastest money-grosser ever and it’s hard to say where it will end. $500 million doesn’t look like too much of a stretch, but Titanic’s $600 million seems safe. Get as much as you want about this here.

Click below for Heath Ledger discussing The Joker in front of an I'm Not There poster.

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John Adams - B+

This HBO miniseries aired in March and April 2008 and was nominated for 23 Emmys (most this year) this past week. It’s based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by David McCullough and stars Paul Giamatti as the 2nd U.S. President and Laura Linney as his wife Abigail. There are seven parts (now on DVD) span from Adams defending British soldiers from the Boston Massacre in 1770 to his death in 1826 . . .

For history junkies like me, quality shows (or movies) like this are rare. Everyone from top to bottom speak intelligent, often witty dialogue. Characters’ motivations are quickly yet perfectly laid out. The famous founding fathers are well-played by David Morse (George Washington), Tom Wilkinson (Benjamin Franklin), and Stephen Dillane (Thomas Jefferson). It’s great to watch the strengths of all the men used to their full effect to support such a complicated and tricky endeavor. It's also great to see one of the lesser-known founding fathers finally get his day in the sun.

The music by Joseph Vitarelli is obviously inspired by Last of the Mohicans, but is still as dynamic and rousing has anything heard on television in recent years. There are too many tilted camera angles by director Tom Hooper, but the sets/costumes/locations are impressive. There are several moments of R-rated violence, from a realistic tar-and-feathering, to kids with small pox, to a squirm-inducing leg amputation. And that’s just the first 3 episodes. At 501 minutes, I haven’t squeezed the time in to watch it all yet, but if you’re inclined to watch historical dramas, the founding fathers have never been done as well. B+

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1. W. Trailer Looks interesting, at least...must-see for me.

2. Darren Aronofsky directing Mickey Rourke in a movie called The Wrestler? And following it up with a new Robocop incarnation?

3. Must Download: "Long Haired Country Boy" - Charlie Daniels Band. Best verse: A poor girl wants to marry, And a rich girl wants to flirt.
A rich man goes to college,And a poor man goes to work.
A drunkard wants another drink of wine,And a politician wants a vote.
I don't want much of nothin' at all,But I will take another toke.

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Stop-Loss - C-

A decorated sergeant (Ryan Phillippe) returns to Central Texas after his tour in Iraq. His last mission was a failure and several of his men died. This incident makes him want to leave the military and live the simple life. But when he is called back into duty via a clause in his contract, he sees this as a “back-door draft”. After punching out some military police, he goes on the lam with his best friend’s fiancée (Abbie Cornish). Meanwhile, his old friends and war buddies (Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Channing Tatum) struggle at home as they prepare to go back to Iraq.
Click below for the rest.

The movie goes way out of its way to make Phillippe a hero. Of course he’s from Texas, because a story with an AWOL coward as the “hero” wouldn’t be as valid if he was from San Francisco. The worst Texas stereotypes are reproduced as only Hollywood jerks and Northeast liberals can. Phillippe tells his commanding officer (a pretty-good Timothy Olyphant) that he’s fulfilled his commitment to the army and not returning, but I’ve read lots of places this stop-loss “loophole” is hardly one at all – it’s stated explicitly in the contract that men and women sign when they go into the military that they may have their tours extended if there are an insufficient number of well-trained soldiers to take their place.

But setting the politics aside (somewhat impossible for a film as one-sided and politically motivated as this), the film just doesn’t work as a movie. The men drink a lot, make a lot of mistakes, and say stupid and nasty things to each other. Motivations of the characters aren’t well-explained and/or are senseless. The film seems to be heading toward a serious conflict at the Canadian border until it takes a hard right turn (or is it left?) and decides to sell out its own agenda. It’s the worst deus ex machina in recent memory in one of the most infuriatingly naïve and blatantly motivated films of the year. C-

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21 - C

Ben Campbell (London-native Jim Sturgess) wants to go to Harvard Medical School after he graduates from MIT. That will cost 300K – tough to reach making $8/hour at a men’s clothing store. When he’s recognized as an unflappable math genius by Professor Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey), he’s invited to participate in a “club” that goes to Las Vegas on the weekends to count cards and make big bucks. Of course, when millions of dollars are involved, there will be double crosses; there will be payback; there will be blood.Click below for the rest.

Campbell initially declines to participate, then suddenly agrees. Likewise, love interest Jill (Kate Bosworth) declines Ben’s advances, and then suddenly jumps him. It’s like most of the character-building scenes were deleted, but the film still feels long at 123 minutes. It also lacks dramatic tension throughout. Since it opens with Ben getting pursued at a casino then flashes back, you already know he’ll join the group, won’t get caught by the cops, or searched by airport security (nice Moby track!). The change of editing and lighting styles between the Boston scenes and Vegas scenes are a nice touch, but some of the other directorial choices are uninspired (Ben sitting at a card table slowly moving while everyone else moves fast – indicating the passage of time – haven’t seen that since last week.)

As a casino security expert, Laurence Fishburne exudes force, but does not induce fear. Spacey hasn’t been this good since American Beauty, which isn’t saying much, but it’s nice to see him relaxed and having fun. Sturgess is as stiff as he was in Across the Universe, but how else would you play a 21-year-old MIT student – like Bluto Blutarsky? Based on an actual events and a book, the real MIT students were all of Asian descent (save one) - including Campbell’s character (Jeff Ma – in real life). Here the lone Asian male is a kleptomaniac and the lone Asian female is ditzy and fragile. Nice going, Hollywood. The movie is watchable during the Vegas scenes, but that can’t make up for the familiar and forgettable Boston scenes. C

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Friday, July 25, 2008

A Ricky Gervais Moment

Nothing on the US version of The Office comes even close to David Brent's Free Love Freeway.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Superhero Movie Article

Great article assessing this summer's glut of quality superhero films, and the limitations of the genre. And here's Christopher Nolan discussing The Dark Knight, in particular the IMAX filming.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Great Debaters - C

In 1935, the small all-black Wiley College in Marshall, Texas forms a debate team that will eventually beat the National Champs at Harvard. There are few surprises in the paint-by-numbers plot, including a love triangle and a developing father-son relationship. Everything is respectfully and ardently recreated and performed. But the whole thing just sits there, taking no risks, and giving us nothing we haven’t seen in hundreds of underdog movies since the original Rocky. Worst of all, for a story based on debate, which relies on historical references and accuracy to prove points, the movie makes egregious mistakes in its facts. I can look past a too-early reference to Hitler. But the real Wiley College faced the University of Southern California (not Harvard), and while they did “win”, they did not receive a trophy since they weren’t a recognized debate team.
Click below for the rest

Produced by Oprah Winfrey, white people in the film are shit-kicking hillbillies, racist redneck cops, or snooty elitist pricks. The movie wants the viewer to realize black people have been unfairly maligned for generations and portrayed as stereotypes. But then returns the favor by using the worst stereotypes of white people. The debates also play up the white liberal guilt. When a black debater is about to lose, he’ll talk about lynching and win. It’s like a Jewish debater yelling “Holocaust!” or an Irish debater yelling “Potato Famine!”

Executive producer Harvey Weinstein did get one thing right. Denzel Washington was originally hired to only direct, but was convinced to take a major acting role. He’s his usual dynamite, charismatic self and impossible not to watch. But when he’s off-screen you’ll be checking your watch, which shouldn’t surprise since the movie is essentially about talking. Denzel the director doesn’t help things with the slow pacing and the clichéd changing of film stocks. Denzel the actor is a man on fire. It’s an afternoon made-for-cable movie starring one of our greatest working film actors. The intentions of all involved are magnanimous, but the result will leave you bored stiff - and leave you wondering: since you’re stressing the importance of education, reason, and verbal communication, why change major historical facts? You even have one debater repeatedly praised as the best fact-checker!?! C

Note: I’ve avoided the joke about the original title being "The Master Debaters" as long as I could.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Dark Knight - A

What kind of comic book superhero movie is this? Batman, the expected protagonist, is merely part of a big ensemble and wants to retire. The actual lead, Harvey Dent, is praised by all (including Bruce Wayne), is dating Batman’s ex, and is cleaning up the city legally, not resorting to vigilantism. And Batman falters at nearly every turn for the bulk of the oppressive (but hardly depressive) film. The harder he tries, the more damage he does (America in Iraq, anyone?). His multiple failures recall another sequel that bested its predecessor, The Empire Strikes Back. And like that film, this one ends with a small beam of sunlight after a very nasty thunderstorm.Click below for the rest
The film opens with a Heat-inspired bank robbery, complete with Heat-alum William Fichtner. The Joker (Heath Ledger) steals money from the mob to get notoriety but also to begin his siege of Gotham City, which will descend into anarchy and chaos. As The Joker begins his murderous rampage, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), and Batman (Christian Bale) join forces to stop him.

No amount of hyperbole and praise will prepare you for the triumph of Ledger’s transformative creation. He is one of the all-time great villains, and has a delightfully murky and unexplained past. It doesn’t matter where he comes from, just what he will do next. As Harvey Dent, Eckhart is nearly as great in a tougher role. His impassioned speeches would be stilted if given by a less capable actor. Replacing Katie Holmes as Rachel, Maggie Gyllenhaal brings more life and depth to the role. Michael Caine steals every scene he’s in and Oldman is terrific as the subdued Gordon. Christian Bale is reliable as the backbone of the film. After the horribly executed and morally reprehensible Wanted (C-), I’ve had my fill of Morgan Freeman, but he is good in his scant minutes here.
Director Christopher Nolan balances the actors very well, never letting Ledger run off with the film (unlike Tim Burton and Jack Nicholson). There are a lot of characters, but they are cast well, with memorable faces. The plot is dense, perhaps a little too full in the last 20 minutes when there is not 1, but 2 bad guys for Batman to capture. Like Batman Begins (B+), Nolan subtly makes his political points and slowly allows the themes of the film to creep in. I don’t fault him for taking his foot off of our necks during the ferry sequence and showing some hope for humanity. As with all the 9/11 references here, the best of humanity did eventually show itself on that day.
The coin that Dent flips isn’t quite as menacing or effective as Anton Chigurh, and the themes of chance and fate were handled better in that Coen masterpiece. But the fact that these comparisons are being thrown around is quite a compliment for a superhero movie. What kind of comic book superhero movie is this? It’s the best: it’s entertaining and unforgettable, and succeeds in its lofty ambitions to show the nature of man, evil, honor, and fate. I need to see it again to be sure about the grade. Can’t wait. A

Medical note: The lip smacking and strange movements of The Joker may have been inspired by a side effect of antipsychotic drugs known as tardive dyskinesia.

Medical note #2: I’ve worked in hospitals for over 10 years and have never seen anyone wear that Joker nurse outfit. But I have seen some nurses wear that much makeup.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

The Dark Knight, A Priest's Take A-

In theaters. Rated PG-13, 152 minutes

It’s not that Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight is the best comic book movie ever made, it’s just that it dreams much, much bigger. While the best of the genre examine the seductive qualities of evil and the cost of heroism, the Dark Knight wants to examine the very nature of evil. It’s dark heart. What if, it dares to ask, the scariest thing we can imagine isn’t an understandable desire warped by selfishness or greed? What if it’s not a twisted moral code, different from our own but still understandable and, once understood, predictable? What if it’s not about sex or domination or power? What if true evil is the very lack of these things—a lack of predictability, destruction driven without lust or end. And when we get to evil’s dark heart, we find Heath Ledger’s Joker. It is no coincidence that the heart of evil is also the beating, bruising heart of this film.

Maybe it’s because we now know that every moment with Ledger is like a mist in the morning, a vanishing gift that will soon be gone for good; but every scene without him seems a waste. The possibility that he could at any moment enter the action, could always appear in the next cut, propels the film forward. This is due in no small part to Ledger’s creation—the voice, with just touches of Nicholson’s Joker, the tics, the darting tongue almost snake-like and almost perverse, but ultimately like a forestalled attempt to lick the scars around his mouth—yet owes every bit as much to Nolan’s creation. The key to Nolan’s Joker is found in the mouth of Michael Caine’s Alfred. “Some people just want to see everything burn.” And so we see the Joker, later, burning his half of the millions he’s acquired for attacking Batman. And we, the audience, don’t know what to make of this, because we understand you can’t fight something that doesn’t have an end-game. You can’t fight something not driven by an ideology.

In this The Dark Knight calls us to a more ancient terror. Modernity has striven for 400 years to find answers in reason and science. Psychological determinism has told us that if we grasp the DNA and background of people, their actions, no matter how bizarre or apparently chaotic, are understandable. The Joker scoffs at this notion, making up numerous self-histories, all of which are false. Likewise, Christianity in the Middle Ages and modernity increasingly fell in love with Satan as a rationale figure working in opposition to God, with a determinable telos of damning as many as possible and seducing the hearts of humanity. Nolan suggests that we’ve domesticated evil and made it in the likeness of our domesticated God, predictable, understandable, and, perhaps, misunderstood. But long before the Christian notion of a Satan began to work its way into our moral unconscious, there existed the notion of Chaos, exemplified by the Deep and the sea monsters that occupied it. This is why we can’t look away, because we feel that, perhaps, Nolan is giving us a place at the adult table. That’s he’s telling us things that are True. True about our enemies and about ourselves. We understand Johnny Cash when he sings, “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.” We know sometimes we break things just to watch them shatter. Sitting next to this villain, Two-Face seems positively childish. Arbitrary chance deciding things? We saw that last year in No Country for Old Men’s Anton Chigurh. We know Two-Face’s backstory. We understand he wants (admittedly misguided) justice. This is the domesticated evil modernity has shoveled our way, and in the past this might have scared us, but not after looking into the eyes of the Joker.

So, in the end of the film, when the Batman would like to become a curious Christ-figure, willing to take on the sins of Two-Face because Gotham needs that hero, we understand that Batman has seen his own dark heart in the Joker and knows full well he’s committed those sins, too. He takes the rap in lieu of being punished for his own sins.

As for the rest of the film, the actors are uniformly superb (if Morgan Freeman is a bit underutilized). Maggie Gyllanhaal brings much-needed gravitas to her role. Christian Bale is, again, solid as Batman, although he’s almost an after thought here. His whispering, rasping Batvoice is better than in the first, but still seems a bit ridiculous to me. Keaton is still my favorite, though Bale’s the only one that has brought the necessary physique to the role. The last act does not flow with the rest of the movie and might have derailed a film with a lesser head of steam. As it is, it’s only an annoyance. One gets the feel that Nolan was willing to trade a technically perfect film for a very good one that examined exactly what he wanted to exam. Oh, and the Batbike absolutely rocks. A-

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Friday, July 18, 2008

The Dark Knight - A- (Updated)

In theaters. Rated PG-13, 152 minutes. Trailer.

"You've got a little fight in ya...I like that." This Joker (Heath Ledger) quote pretty much somes up my feelings for this film. Freed from the shackles of a hokey backstory (Batman Begins - B+), director Christopher Nolan and Co. have crafted a thoroughly dark, mesmerizing and challenging superhero film for our times. The raves we've all heard about Ledger are dead on, as he delivers a villain that anchors the film and puts him in the Villain Hall of Fame along with Jack Torrance, Bill the Butcher and Alex from a Clockwork Orange. Click below for more DARK KNIGHT:

All the old familiar faces (Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, and even, briefly, Cillian Murphy) are back, except for a spot on Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel Dawes (replacing Katie Holmes) and a perfectly cast Aaron Eckhart as the "White Knight of Gotham", District Attorney Harvey Dent. But this time, instead of a comically bearded Liam Neeson as Batman's primary foil, we get Ledger's ultraviolent and anarchist Joker.

Thankfully, this film lacks the jokey tone and sci-fi/futuristic Gotham of the prior Batman films (Batman Begins had about 20 jokes about how cool the Batmobile was....enough). The city feels more real, gritty and modern, which strengthens the feel of the characters and the film as a whole. The Joker bursts onto the scene trying to cut a deal with the mob and criminal element that he will "kill the Bat-Man". They scoff at first until he does his 'hide the pencil' trick and demonstrates his prowess as a chaos maker. His mannerisms, make-up, voice, and irony are all perfect as he portrays a man that can't be bargained or reasoned with. He is oddly sympathetic as he tells the story of his facial scars ("Why So Serious") and slices 'polite society' by calling their moral code only something that is adhered to when convenient. This is the central tenet of the film...are people basically good or basically evil? I'll leave such a weighty issue to Priest to sort out, but for me the one false note of the film (although it was expertly executed), is the feel-good resolution of one of the Joker's set-ups.

Batman teams up with Harvey Dent, a pre-2008 Eliot Spitzer type, and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) for a sort of holy trinity of incorruptible men hell-bent on cleaning up the city. They are successful at first, but their success breeds desperation by the criminals and helps to empower the Joker. The film follows this trinity as they battle Joker. There are several exhilarating action sequences set to one of the best scores in recent memory by Hans Zimmer. Nolan uses lots of close-ups and cool one on one action to allow the characters to actually advance during these scenes, especially the Joker. When he is awaiting Batman screaming "Hit Me" "Hit Me", I got chills. Any scene with Joker and Batman is high quality, especially when Joker is explaining his odd affinity for Batman, declaring "You complete me."

The main complaint I have heard (though I have avoided all reviews and clips other than the trailer linked to before) from the major reviewers is that the film is too dark. That's precisely what makes it great in this viewer's mind, and its the light touches that kept me from giving it a full A. I prefer my dramas dark and moody, not whimsical and light. Though the tone of this film is much darker than Batman Begins, there are still several funny moments that are perfect for the situationa nd don't break up the tone of the applicable scenes.

There are some slight political overtones in the film, with the Joker possibly represnting terrorism and Islamists, and Batman overstepping his bounds by 'wiretapping' everyone in the city to catch him, only to be rebuked by Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) for such drastic measures. I didn't need to have FISA points made during a Batman movie.

I will be seeing this again with Bride once my regular sitter returns, and we'll be going to the IMAX, as 4 scenes were filmed in this format and cannot be fully viewed on a regular screen. The film is dense and may move to a full A upon a repeat viewing.

Viewing note: At the Plano Tinseltown last night, Appraiser and I took in the 12:30am showing, one of 15 fully sold out midnight screenings. We parked further away than I ever had at the theater and we had to sit in the 3rd row even though we got there 30 minutes early. For those watching this weekend....get your tickets online and go early for a decent seat. New previews shown include Body of Lies (Ridley Scott, DiCaprio, Crowe) and the new Terminator (Bale).

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Gangs of New York - B+

I thought Gangs of New York was a jumbled mess of a movie when I first saw it. Daniel Day-Lewis was great as Bill the Butcher, obviously, but his greatness created an imbalance with Leonardo Dicaprio that director Martin Scorsese and editor Thelma Schoonmaker couldn’t fix. It also seemed Scorsese was trying too hard and added too much to the film he had been developing for 25 years. But every time lawyer posts a comment, I felt like giving it another chance. Click below for the rest.
The movie is still a bit of a mess. The opening gang fight scene has distracting rock music on the soundtrack and Scorsese has trouble coordinating the action. I think I’ve finally found a Scorsese weakness: crowds. He’s a master of intimate dramas around a kitchen table, in a boxing ring, or in a taxi cab, but give him a ton of extras and you’ll lose the geography of the scene quickly (think the night-club scenes in New York, New York – or better yet, don’t).

Day-Lewis completely inhabits the character and the scene where he talks about his first encounter with Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson) is perhaps his best (above). And the mirror is a nice touch as DDL reflects.

“Whoopsie-Daisy” is right. It’s a rather unpleasant movie, but Scorsese was trying to portray an unpleasant time (mid-19th century). And give him credit for making you feel every stabbing and head-butt (and there are a lot). Being effective doesn’t make it bad, just unpleasant.

DiCaprio is still outmatched. He seems coy and intimidated by both Scorsese and Day-Lewis. Sure, he’s struggling with guilt and cowardice, but he’s much better in his 2 subsequent Scorsese collaborations. This is his best scene (above) when Brendan Gleeson returns his father’s blade. Howard Shore's musical score is great and epic, especially in this scene.

Lots of research went into the movie. On the right is an 1888 photograph “Bandit’s Roost”, taken by Jacob Riis.
Scorsese copies the photograph when DiCaprio hangs the dead rabbit in the center of the 5 points.

“Here’s the thing: I don’t give a tuppenny f@ck about your moral conundrum you meat-headed sh!t-stack. That’s more or less the thing. And I want you to go out there, you – nobody else, none of your little minions. I want you to go out there and punish the person who’s responsible for murdering this poor little rabbit. Is that understood?”
What DDL does with this speech is nothing short of amazing. (And “tuppenny” is slang for “two-penny”)

Despite the unwieldy plot and subplots (class struggles, pickpockets, Civil War, religion, draft riots), some nice Scorsese touches come through. Immediately before his death, John C. Reilly has a “Satan” puppet next to him. He is one of Bill’s puppets, after all.

Likewise, right before his death, Henry Thomas shares screen time with the “Satan” puppet (screen right).

The star of Titanic blows the brains out of the star of E.T. I think this is how box office bridesmaid Scorsese has always viewed people who place monetary value on “art”.

A fascinating mess, it’ll finally crack my top ten for 2002

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

New JibJab 2008 Election Video

From the makers of the genius 2004 "This Land" video spoofing Bush and Kerry, comes the 2008 "It's time for some campaignin'" video skewering McCain and Obama. Pretty funny; my favorite part is BHO on the unicorn.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Guns 'n Roses New Song Prompts Musings

Apparently Axl and company are (finally) dropping new song "Shackler's Revenge" via the admittedly genius platform of the new Rock Band (article here). Granted it's been twenty years, but no band rocked harder than these guys back when rocking was all that mattered to me. Which got me thinking, what are their top five songs? For my money they're:

5. Mister Brownstone (for my stoner buddy Ben)
4. Don't Cry (either version works for me)
3. Welcome to the Jungle
2. Civil War
1. Sweet Child O' Mine (the most distinctive riff of their era)

I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention their cover of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door". When you take a Dylan song covered by Clapton and record the definitive version, well that's saying something. What are your G 'n R fav's?

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Hellboy 2: The Golden Army B

Having prepped myself last month by renting the original Hellboy, when The Golden Army dropped I called up Brother-of-Priest and we struck out for nearest Cineplex, wondering what Guillermo del Toro could do with a bigger budget and more freedom. Answer: Lots (and lots) of cool monsters. Looking like a mix between the Cantina scene in Star Wars and Harry Potter’s first trip to Diagon Valley, a sizable chunk of the budget is on display on a ten-minute trip to the fantastical, monster-heavy Troll Market. What isn’t on display in this follow-up is the even tone of its predecessor. While the first struck just the right balance between playing it straight and laughing at itself, this one veers back and forth, now too whimsical, now taking itself too seriously. Also missing is a tight plot (admittedly, not a hallmark of the original either). This one suffers in trying to set up another sequel, introducing characters and subplots that go nowhere before veering back on course.

The back story is provided by an eye-popping animated piece couched as a children’s story (another animated version of which functioned as a trailer for the film. See it here). In a pre-historic time, power-hungry humans are ravaging elves and other mythical creatures in a war that ends in a truce after the creation of an unstoppable Golden Army by the elves. Alas, the humans have ignored their half of the truce (a small nod to environmental concerns here), and a Prince from this by-gone kingdom has returned to awaken the army and return the world to the hands of its other inhabitants. Naturally, Hellboy (an again excellent Ron Perlman) and his FBI-employed band of paranormal misfits stand in his way. Returning are on-fire (literally) Salma Blair as Liz, Doug Jones as fish-man Abe Sapien (this time also doing his voice), John Hurt as Hellboy’s pops, and Jeffrey Tambor as the FBI man trying to lead the operation. Added to the mix is voice expert Seth MacFarlene (“Stewie” from TV's Family Guy) providing the voice of the German-born Tom Manning, a para-normal creature in his own right, employed by the government to keep Red and company on a leash.

As in all del Toro’s films, the visuals are stunning. There’s a nifty little crane shot just up the Doctor’s alley, and the cinematography on the whole is way better than the average creature feature. But what’s got me thinking after this one is how he’s crammed his movie full of Biblical references. Crosses are ubiquitous (Liz wears a prominent one around her throat that glows when she catches on fire, Red carries a rosary on his wrist like a bracelet, a neon sign of one is in nearly every frame of a battle against an ancient woodland god), the characters off-handedly quote scripture, and the parallels to the Adam and Eve narrative in the opening story are undeniable. Del Toro wrestles with the trappings of a monotheistic faith in a pluralistic world that bares striking resemblance to our own. In this film he seems to be playing with it, never really exploring it, allowing it to stay in the background. While he offers some intriguing glimpses of where he’d go with this as a major sub-theme, I’d love to see him explore it more fully in a future piece.

No matter its theology, it’s a fun film if you’re into things that go bump in the night. I’m looking forward to Del Toro helming a non-sequel, non-prequel original film again, but this will do until he gets around to it. B

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DVD and CD Releases - July 15th

Recent DVD Releases:

The Bank Job
College Road Trip
Meet Bill
Shutter: Unrated Version
Step Up 2 the Streets

Click below for more DVD and CD releases.

DVD Special Editions/Other Releases:

TV Box Sets:

Birds of Prey: Complete Series
Dallas: Season Nine
Eureka: Season Two
Reno 911: Season Five
Saving Grace: Season One

Special Editions/Other Releases:

The Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell
Roxy Hunter and the Secret of the Shama
The Year My Parents Went on Vacation

New CD Releases:

ABN - It is What It Is
Blackmore's Night - Secret Voyage
Delta Goodrem - Delta
Bajofondo - Mar Dulce
Elisa - Dancing
David Banner - Greatest Story Ever Told
The Hold Steady - Stay Positive
LLoyd - Lesson in Love
John Mellencamp - Life, Death, Love and Freedom
Nas - Untitled
O.A.R. - All Sides
Randy Travis - Around the Bend
Wire - Object 47
Ace Young - Ace Young

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

It's "Business Time"

It's "The Most Beautiful Girl"

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Goodfellas – in 10 Pictures – Part 2

Part 1Jimmy considers roughing up Morrie.

Jimmy roughs up Billy Batts. (Cue Donovan’s "Atlantis")

Jimmy and Tommy finish off Billy Batts.

Paulie slices some garlic.

Henry hears some good news about the Lufthansa heist.

Jimmy dishes out some Christmas spirit.

Jimmy considers killing Morrie. (Cue Cream’s "Sunshine of Your Love")

Tommy finishes off Morrie.

Cue the piano exit of Derek and the Dominos's “Layla”.

Frankie cools off in the freezer.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

My Last 5 I-Tunes Downloads

Flight of the Conchords - "If You're Into It"

I laugh out loud every time Jemaine says “stuff”. And it really takes a lot for me to laugh out loud. He doesn’t do it quite as well here. Jemaine’s baritone voice is perfect and Bret is the perfect balance.

Beck - "E-Pro"
I’m way late to the party on this one, but at least I showed up. Great percussion and a great chorus that’ll be in your head for days. Beck’s still going strong. Can’t wait to explore his new album.

Bob Dylan - "I'm Not There"
A predictable choice after my review of the film. The title could be applied to the themes of disassociation and change in the film, but the lyrics have something to do with a troubled relationship. No matter, Bob’s voice is earnest and honest and the chords are timeless.

Mott the Hoople
"All the Young Dudes"
It was written by David Bowie so the group wouldn’t break up. It can easily be said they wouldn’t be remembered without it. Love the Oasis live version of “Whatever” where they tack on the “All the Young Dudes” lyrics.

The Moody Blues
"Your Wildest Dreams"
Everyone goes nuts for "Nights in White Satin", but this is my favorite. Perhaps a little too melodic and light for this crowd, but everyone can relate to the lyrics which deal with regret and love lost.

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