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Posted : 9 years ago on 1 October 2009 09:10 (A review of 9 (2009))

9 is a stunningly gorgeous looking film that’s an art-house minded action adventure. It mostly succeeds in its goal to mix the two of them together and create something new and fun. I love any animated film that proves that the entire genre isn’t chock full of cuddly anthropomorphic creatures, pretty princesses and handsome princes. These little rag dolls look like something out of a cyberpunk vision, the cityscape is disturbingly quiet and accurate to real life images of post-war cities, the less said about the mechanical monsters the better – one of them even freaked me out.

Yes, at times the movie hits too close to brainless popcorn action, but with such intriguingly disturbing images and a new enough screenplay, it remains as far away from “generic” and “safe” as possible. I’ve seen a lot of strange science-fiction films, a lot of strange animated films, but I’ve never seen an animated science-fiction film where the (dead) mad scientist is literally the hero and the enemy. This premise – about dividing the soul and placing it in different creations in order to recreate and bring new life to the dead world – can overcome any of dialogue problems – lots of action movie cliché lines, but the astounding visuals are the real reason to see the film.

The stitched together dolls are quirky and fun to look at, each looking similar but very different from each other. It helps that you can see an improved design with each new doll. My favorites were the silent twins who communicated with a form of Morse code involving blinking and flashing their eyes. But the odds-and-ends robotic demons from Hell are even more impressive. The first monster looking like a mechanical exoskeleton for a large feral cat or a prehistoric dog, another looking like a pterodactyl, another looking like a baby-doll/snake hybrid (creepiest one, by far).

If any of this sounds even remotely interesting I suggest that you see 9. It’s not a perfect animated film, but this film, Up, Ponyo and Coraline are the best animated films I’ve seen all year. Hopefully at this year’s Academy Awards the Best Animated film ghetto the nominees will go up from three to five. It’s happened once before, and this year it needs to happen again.

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Practical Magic

Posted : 9 years ago on 1 October 2009 09:09 (A review of Practical Magic)

Too funny to be a horror film, too dark to be a comedy, Practical Magic suffers from multiple personality disorder. Which is quite a shame since it’s got a very talented and promising group of actress – Nicole Kidman, Sandra Bullock, Stockard Channing and Diane Weist, the latter two being criminally underused, give it their best, but their best isn’t good enough. I like when Nicole Kidman does her best Excorist impression and the movie enters into horror territory, complete with Goran Vijsnic doing his best to be broody, troubled and sexy as her abusive ex-boyfriend/vengeful spirit. The love story feels like a ploy to soften the horror, and the cutesy happy ending just raises a new question – if all the men that these women love die, wouldn’t Aiden Quinn’s character not be long for this world once he got involved with them? Or did her spell as a child cancel that out? Also – does anyone else remember a period of time when it seemed like every movie about female bonding included some scene where they drank, danced around something and giggled way too much? Yep, this movie has that scene too. There’s something for everyone, and nothing for anyone.

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Star Trek

Posted : 9 years ago on 1 October 2009 09:09 (A review of Star Trek)

Oh Star Trek, I wanted to like you a lot more than I ended up liking you. I found you to be quite often over-hyped, slightly generic and a serious case of flash and style over very little substance. I heard a lot of people talk about the rejuvenation of the franchise with this film, but I felt like it was too often just another Star Wars-lite tale of a farm boy making good on saving the universe from a vengeful, wounded bad guy. That and the lense-flare bothered after the third or fourth go round in the Enterprise. There’s no new ground being explored here, it’s just been pumped full of steroids and ignoring real science, which science fiction was based upon, and telling everyone that black holes make time travel much quicker! And the characterizations are beyond paper thin. Kirk is as cliché ridden as any other generic action hero as of late: troubled childhood, I’m told he’s a badass but he spends the entire movie getting his ass kicked, rebellious nature, ladies man, I’m also told he’s very smart but he keeps making stupid decisions (or he needs very obvious plot points pointed out to him). The best part of the entire movie is Leonard Nimoy showing up as the deus ex machine…I mean…Old Spock. He comes in to wrap up plot points, spoon feed information and basically act like the only intelligent human being in the entire film, which is saying something since he’s an alien who’s not supposed to have human emotions. I didn’t hate Star Trek, but it wasn’t the movie that everyone hyped it up to be. I do have a theory as to why that happened: in a summer with so many terrible films (Transformers 2 and Wolverine being at the top of the list), everyone was probably very glad to see a decent summer film. And that’s all that Star Trek was – perfunctory, generic, loud, slam-bam, brainless popcorn entertainment. I expected something more.

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Posted : 9 years ago on 1 October 2009 09:08 (A review of Heathers (1988))

I love Winona Ryder. After that whole Mr. Deeds/shoplifting one-two fiascos she went missing. Pity since her smart-but-slacker quirky girl vibe always intrigued me. Here I am convinced that she is just playing a variation of herself. But it works like gangbusters. She’s funny, dark and appropriately complicated. Heathers was her big coming out party.

By now everyone should know the basic gist of the storyline: Goth former outcast Veronica gets in with the most popular clique in school – the Heathers, learns to regret it, gets romantically involved with a sociopath, chaos and subversion ensue. This isn’t John Hughes’ high school movie. This is an unwieldy beast that is both very disturbing and extremely hilarious. At times painfully accurate to the experiences and senses that I remember about high school; and at other times completely and utterly deranged. It doesn’t hurt that before there was such a thing as Mean Girls or Diablo Cody there was this immensely quotable screenplay. My favorite? Well, I’d say that it was “If you want to fuck with the eagles you’ve got to learn to fly.” But “I love my dead gay son” does have its own hilarious edge.

The most venom comes courtesy of former teen pin-up Christian Slater. There is such a thing as a short shelf life for teen idols and their looks, but Slater was only swoon worthy and kinda sexy in this movie. He’s also completely and totally insane. I want to believe that there’s some kind of psychological depth being explored in his character, but I think that they were just aiming for b-movie/cult figure head. He’s the most like a John Waters character.

The semi-happy ending is a bit confusing to talk about in the rest of the film’s context. Yes, a revamp of the societal hierarchy in high school is a great thing. But coming after so much death, violence, sex, drugs and one-liners (sounds like a typical high school, no?) done in the darkest black of black comedies feels odd. There’s no other word for it. But Heathers has deservedly become a cult classic. If you haven’t seen this at least three times by now, what’s your damage?

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X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Posted : 9 years ago on 1 October 2009 09:08 (A review of X-Men Origins: Wolverine)

Was an origin film for Wolverine absolutely necessary? Considering that so much of the screentime was occupied by him and his backstory in X-Men and X2, this just feels redundant. It doesn’t help that everything is surrounded by the most cliché ridden storyline imaginable. There’s not one, not two, hell, not even three, but at least five shots of Wolverine screaming “NOOOO!” towards the heavens. Oi vey, how the once mighty superhero franchise has fallen. The cast gives it their all, but there’s not much that they can do with the material. Leiv Schreiber tries to inject some menace and a sense of (demented) fun into his portrayal of Sabretooth, but he can’t rise above the poor costuming and makeup. Lynn Collins looks like she’s been bronzed and dyed to look like a Native American and absolutely nothing like one. Shameful casting choice? Oh yes. Especially since in the eleventh hour an Emma Frost cameo is shoved in as her sister…? I believe a lot of the film was shoved into being during the eleventh hour. The scene with Wolverine examining his claws in a bathroom is just laughably bad. It’s nearly ten years after the first film and the special effects work looks worse. Or the scene at the very end with the extremely obvious Ryan Reynolds stand-in and the change over to his stunt double between shots. What good can I say about the film? Not much. The introductory scene is amazing, the male cast members are delicious (check those ass shots of Jackman! Or Taylor Kitsch in general) and uh…well…that’s about it really. Skip it and rewatch the first two X-Men films.

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Posted : 9 years ago on 1 October 2009 09:07 (A review of Catwoman (2004))

Since I can’t give a zero as a star rating a half star will have to do for this dreadful piece of “filmmaking.” Halle Berry is woefully miscast as Catwoman, who bares absolutely no resemblance to her comic book counterpart and suffers from a literal interpretation of Tim Burton’s metaphorical cat resurrection. Her costume offers no body protection and is so ridiculous that I imagine even the most extreme of leather and dominatrix fetishist found it just too weird. Sharon Stone and Frances Conroy, both talented actresses, even if Stone often seems to forget that she can be an effective actress when she wants to be, find themselves somehow stuck in this shlock as the villainess and crazy/wise old mentor figure. I could go on and on about the awful special effects – wires holding Berry in place are visible in one scene and the needless jumping between live action and SFX work is distracting, at best – but there’s so much rip apart in the storyline. Why did they need to change this so much from the source material? Catwoman has been in DC publications for about seventy to eighty years. She has staying power and great material to work from. This is not what Bob Kane had in mind. It also speaks to how horrible a movie you have when even the image of Halle Berry in skintight, ultra-revealing leather makes straight teenage boys long for the images of Hugh Jackman and Tobey Maguire in their skintight outfits.

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Superman Returns

Posted : 9 years ago on 1 October 2009 09:07 (A review of Superman Returns)

I think Bryan Singer’s successes as a filmmaker are all flukes at this point. Superman Returns is a pathetic excuse for a big screen return of, arguably, the most well-known and popular superhero of all time. At times a complete rehash of the previous Donner films and at others a vague sequel. There is not one ounce of life, joy or thrill-making in the entirely too long film.

Superman has never been this glum, dull or out of character. He would never abandon the Earth without telling anyone for such an extended period of time, father an illegitimate child or be as vaguely creepy as he is in several scenes. Brandon Routh, however, is a fantastic choice for the role – his clean-cut all-American good looks really work for the role, and he’s got the right potential and mixture of nervous ticks and charm to play the Clark Kent role, his Superman needs some work, but that’s alright. It’s such a pity he’s stuck with such a poorly written and underwhelming take on the character. Superman is not Batman brooding away in some cave. Superman is the ultimate boy scout, and while I understand the need to make the character more human and palatable there’s a fine line between doing that and taking him completely out of character.

Kevin Spacey, on paper, seems like a great choice for the role of Lex Luthor, but he appears to be sleepwalking through much of the role and is stuck having to rehash Gene Hackman’s take on the character since he’s, basically, involved in the exact same scheme. That makes Kal Penn the Ned Beatty role, minus all the dialogue, and Parker Posey the Valerie Perrine role. The last thing I wanted to see in another Superman film was campy sidekicks for Luthor. Give me Mercy. And give me businessman Lex, no more of this land-crazy homeless mad scientist stuff.

And what can we say about Lois Lane’s new actress, Kate Bosworth? First of all, she’s got the worst possible wig and makeup job to make her look older, which makes her look matronly and homely instead of older. Second of all, she’s way too young for the role – especially if they’re going to saddle her with a ten-year-old son. Third, Lois Lane is stuck as the scatter-brained reporter, who’s amazingly skilled at putting herself in danger, but can’t spell or type very well despite being a Pulitzer Prize winner. That sounds believable, right? There’s not a spark of fire or ounce of spunk in this Lois Lane.

I was excited about the new Superman film when I first heard about it finally getting made. The original Richard Donner film is one of the my favorite movies, and I was excited about the rumors of the storyline being adapted from Death of Superman, which would have been a great way to reintroduce the fundamental aspects of the character and his world. What I got was a chick flick with Superman and his mythos (from 30+ years ago) shoe-horned into the mix. Bryan Singer – I never want you to go near a Superman movie ever again. And when they finally get around to making another Superman film – drop everyone but Routh, he’s got the goods.

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Posted : 9 years ago on 1 October 2009 04:51 (A review of Suicide)

Suicide’s self-titled first album, from the vantage point of 2009 when I first heard it, sounds so hugely influential that it's hard to believe there was ever a time that this was looked at curiously. The synth-punk/dark electro-alternative rock of the entire affair sounds exactly like something straight off the radio. Where would Nine Inch Nails be without the dark drum-and-synth notes of “Ghost Rider”?

It’s amazing to hear how many different and contradictory genres and influences crop-up in their ominous minimalism. “Johnny” sounds like a long lost rockabilly Sun single gone techno. “Cheree,” in both the normal and remixed versions, has a simple almost Stooges-like drum beat, but sounds more pop-orientated than anything The Stooges ever turned out. “Rocket U.S.A.” has the chilling nihilism of anything the punk era ever cooked up, but it’s given a synth-pop sheen that wouldn’t become the norm in New Wave/punk until about six or seven years later.

But nothing can prepare you for the Velvet Underground-esque noise-rock assault of “Frank Teardrop.” In the horrify story about a man who goes insane under the soul-crushing banality of suburban American life, Suicide practically invents the industrial rock genre. The drum-loops and synthesizers sound unsettling before Alan Vega starts his almost primal scream therapy-like wails, yelps and moans. His screaming was a rhythmic device on the album. The first time I listened to this album – at roughly two in the morning – I was freaked out and totally scared by the ten-and-a-half minute opus that I wanted to run for cover from it. I do not recommend others to discover this track in that way.

This is one of my favorite records – from the street art/graffiti looking album artwork to the last dark moment of the synths and drum programming – and I can’t believe just how often I have heard new bands sound exactly like this. Case in point, She Wants Revenge must have listened to this record on repeat before recording anything of theirs. DOWNLOAD: “Frankie Teardrop”

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Trans-Europe Express

Posted : 9 years ago on 1 October 2009 04:50 (A review of Trans-Europe Express)

This is one of my all-time favorite albums. The proto-New Wave, vaguely early industrial rock and Euro-obsessed robotic nature of the entire album intrigues me. From the beginning notes of “Europe Endless” to the machine-like stomps and crunches of “Metal on Metal,” this is a great headphones album.

The sonic landscapes and textures are perfectly constructed things of beauty. The repetition and bloops sound like nothing a human could have possibly constructed – they’re repeated too perfectly and segue too smoothly into new and richer sounds. Quite a few of the songs are instrumental only. The best of the instrumental tracks is the harmonious and gorgeous “Franz Schubert.” It borrows elements from “Europe Endless” and “Trans-Europe Express,” but contains its own repeated set of tingling keyboard notes which can only be described as classical music played by a computer. Which says nothing of the practically inhuman and cyborg-like vocals. If a speak-and-spell could record an album, a better reference for today’s kids – the speech function on your Mac, this is what the vocal tracks would have sounded like. Spacious and airy or deep and troubling depending on how the vocal tricks were needed. This is perfect midnight listening if synth-pop fills your heart with joy and electronic music has always intrigued you.

This stuff wasn’t just weird and wonderful for the time period, this stuff was hugely influential. With their minimalist approach (yes, minimalist) to creating robotic and electronic based music, Kraftwerk blew the door wide open for the army of New Wavers who came with synth-orientated singles and robo-posturing. More than that, before there was a Daft Punk, and their entire Euro-disco/eletroclash/club scene, there was Kraftwerk. DOWNLOAD: “Europe Endless”

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The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning

Posted : 9 years ago on 25 September 2009 07:57 (A review of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006))

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning is the kind of trash you’d watch at three in the morning on HBO when you’ve got a bad case of insomnia, which is what I did. You watch junk-food movies like this for the clever kills, and this was such a disappointment on that front. Basically, it’s about an hour and fifteen minutes worth of watching the four main characters getting tortured and then all of them get stabbed to death with the chainsaw in the closing final minutes. Oh, and every so often a random character shows up long enough to get shot, beat to death with a hammer or cut in half with the chainsaw because they fell on it. Yawn. Luckily, there were two good things – gorgeous looking cinematography and Matt Bomer, who is one exquisite looking man. Pity he gets his face cut off, but there’s always that shirtless swimming pool scene at the beginning to remind and watch. Even as trash this fails.

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