Saturday, November 30, 2013

November Cleanup

As we exit the month of November and hurtle full force into finals, Christmas, and New Year's I am struck by something: I have seen hella movies this month. Because I have a personal commitment to write about each of these films, I am going to expedite the process somewhat by releasing this series of mini-reviews for the older films I've seen that have already received a lot of coverage by reviewers and thus require my expert opinion somewhat less than the new releases I've seen. Or the important horror stepping stones that I'm still working on covering. Or my special holiday features.

I have a lot to do, is what I'm saying. So I'm spending this morning catching up.

The Apartment

Year: 1960
Director: Billy Wilder
Cast: Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray
Run Time: 2 hours 5 minutes
MPAA Rating: N/A

The Apartment, an early 60's sex farce by master of the form Billy Wilder (best known for his comic triumph Some Like It Hot) is the lurid tale of an everyday working bachelor (Jack Lemmon) who lets his superiors at the Company use his apartment for their extramarital trysts. When his tyrannical boss (Fred MacMurray) seduces the woman of his dreams (Shirley MacLaine), an elevator worker in his building, he begins a path to finding his courage and putting his foot down.

It's a silly comedy that still holds up fairly well today (his neighbors can hear through the walls and think the shy bachelor is some kind of ladykilling Lothario) but it is also notable for being decades ahead of its time with its discussion of sex, suicide, and short haircuts. In a pixie cut straight out of that same year's French masterpiece Breathless, Shirley MacLaine wows as a woman on the verge. 

Wilder was always one to push the envelope (just the year before he had made a mainstream comedy about cross-dressing) and his depiction of a suicide attempt is heartbreaking and tender in a way that had certainly never been explored in many films before. It's certainly unexpected in a sexy comedy but it adds depth and beauty to an already quite well done film.

Rating: 7/10


Year: 2005
Director: Paul Haggis
Cast: Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock, Thandie Newton
Run Time: 1 hour 52 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Perhaps my favorite moment in Crash is in the very beginning. A very self-serious Oscarbait monologue about how humans crash into each other just to feel alive turns out to be the delusions of an addled man waking up after a fender bender. Although Crash would end up taking those Important Themes very seriously, a moment of levity is very welcome.

Basically a racism-themed version of Love Actually, Crash follows a multitude of different storylines about Los Angeles residents of every imaginable race and how their lives intersect. The theme seems to be "everybody is a racist prick, even the people who know what it's like to be discriminated against," which is a compelling and heartbreaking thematic center point.

It's really not my cup of tea (I usually prefer movies that are either more lighthearted or feature more decapitations), but Crash is a good piece of "slice of life" storytelling and I always appreciate films that make it their goal to both tell a story about humanity's eternal struggle to stay afloat and make you feel something while they're at it.

Rating: 8/10


Year: 2003
Director: John Favreau
Cast: Will Ferrell, Zooey Deschanel, James Caan
Run Time: 1 hour 37 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG

Elf is a charming movie that is always welcome at Christmas time. Will Ferrell's over-the-top antics have a habit of landing on the more annoying side of things, but they fit in perfectly with this film's comic register. It's hard to take a film about a human who was raised by elves and returns to New York to find his biological father seriously and the film paints its emotional beats with enormous broad strokes that highlight the hyperbolic comedy.

Zooey Deschanel has a starmaking turn as a sarcastic love interest, but this is Ferrell's show. His childlike glee and lust for life are the backbone of a funny and loving film about bringing joy back to the New Yorkers stuck in the Rat Race. Like most children's comedies the directing and editing are mostly anonymous but the forced perspective visual effects and the epic and cheerfully wintry orchestral score by John Debney are platinum.

Rating: 7/10


Year: 2007
Director: Kevin Lima
Cast: Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, James Marsden
Run Time: 1 hour 47 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG

Possibly the most entertaining live action Disney film to this day. Amy Adams shines as a cartoon Disney princess who is transported to real life New York City by a wicked stepmother. Much like Elf, this story is about a fantasy character learning to come to grips with the harsh realities of urban life while bringing her own brand of joy and love to the bitter city folk.

Perfectly cast and featuring wonderful songs by genre veteran Alan Menken (in one of the many many overt and subtle Disney references that pepper the film), Enchanted is endlessly rewatchable and features one of the most memorable production numbers in recent history. 

An exploration of the Disney film and its impact on society and their perceptions of love as well as a rollicking fish-out-of-water romantic comedy replete with dancing rats and poison apples, Enchanted is effervescent fun no matter how old you are.

Rating: 9/10


Year: 1995
Director: Amy Heckerling
Cast: Alicia Silverstone, Paul Rudd, Brittany Murphy
Run Time: 1 hour 37 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13

Although I've never been as much of a fan of Clueless as the bulk of my generation, it is unavoidably a high school classic. A decade before Mean Girls, Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) ruled the campus with her matching plaid ensembles and boxy cell phone. 

This film is the celluloid embodiment of the 90's and the hairstyles, fashions, slang, soundtrack, and brown lipstick only increase the film's hilarity as time goes by. Based on Jane Austen's second-tier classic Emma, Clueless tells the story of a vapid California teen who discovers her place in the world after the matchmakes herself into a catastrophe.

Although the 15-year-old characters are rendered totally unbelievable by an obviously adult cast, the jokes are funny, the boys are cute, and the highway scene will strike fear into the hearts of anybody less than a stone's throw from age 16. Tremendous fun.

Rating: 7/10

Word Count: 1096

Friday, November 29, 2013

Census Bloodbath: A Wet Dream On Elm Street

Year: 1985
Director: Jack Sholder
Cast: Robert Englund, Mark Patton, Kim Myers
Run Time: 1 hour 27 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

When New Line's breakout hit A Nightmare On Elm Street brought in enough money to wallpaper the Empire State Building in 1984, they knew they had to act fast to capitalize on their newfound franchise. And it's a good thing too, because some of the Nightmare sequels are among the best horror films of the 80's and 90's. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge is not one of them.

Released less than a year after the first film, Freddy's Revenge is a hilariously confusing mishmash of garbled mythology, oddball visual effects setpieces, and a veritable mountain of homoerotic tension. Yes, this is the gay Nightmare and it is glorious.

Because of the bizarre, out of character nature of its story and the fact that A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is both awesome and an actual legitimate sequel that follows the story and characters of the original, many fans of the franchise dismiss the second film as a bizarre fluke of rushed studio filmmaking and ignore it in the context of the storyline.

This is a travesty, because Freddy's Revenge is a camp classic.

The 80's are present in every single frame, starting literally from the very first.

Taking place five years after Nancy Thompson's misadventures in 1428 Elm Street (in the newly named Springwood, OH) the Walshes have just moved in and already their teenage son Jesse (Mark Patton) is having terrible nightmares about a mysterious man in a red and green sweater who pursues him with a clawed glove. 

His little sister (Christie Clark) is perturbed by his daily shrill screams but his mother (Hope Lange) insists it's a normal response to the move and his father (Clu Gulager, who performs a Census Bloodbath Hat Trick in this film, 1986's Hunter's Blood, and The Initiation, one of the best slashers of 1984) is more concerned with the fact that Jesse hasn't unpacked yet.

He is given a beautiful teen love interest in Lisa Webber (Kim Myers) but would much rather spend his time with his jock friend Grady (Robert Rusler) pantsing and wrestling in the dirt in that way that straight dudes do all the time. I actually think their butts have more screen time than Freddy himself, who only appears in about 12 minutes of the whole film.

No, time is much better spent on moments like these.

Freddy (Robert Englund)'s endgame this time around is to take over Jesse's body and use it to further his killing range because... I guess he just has a taste for it now. I mean, after getting revenge for your violent death by manifesting as a dream demon and killing the children of your lynch mob, what's there left to do? Take up knitting?

As the people around him start to mysteriously die (and literally everything in his house/the universe spontaneously combusts), Jesse struggles with his sanity and guilt. It's really very similar to A Nightmare on Elm Street in that nobody knows whether it's a dream or reality, only it sucks. 

At the expense of sounding like a massive sourpuss, Freddy's powers over the mind extending into the real universe (including lighting a toaster on fire) and managing to kill other people from the dreams of one person are extremely divergent from the rules of the franchise universe. In fact, they would never be mentioned again because it's really quite stupid.

Freddy's Revenge stomps on and twists the Freddy mythology into obscene contortions.

Much like what Freddy does to Jesse's body (in this fabulous gore scene).

Did that caption sound a little gay to you?

Well this gay thing isn't a passing theory, oh no. Freddy's sole design is to enter Jesse's body. He frequently wakes up sweaty and shirtless and flashdances around the room. In a classroom scene there's a rectum drawn on the board. And then he's wrapped in a giant snake. A sign on his door reads "No Chicks." The board game in his closet? "Probe."

After unsuccessfully trying to make out with Lisa, he runs to Grady's room to "sleep with [him]" and at one point the evil baseball coach (Marshall Bell) and Jesse have a chance meeting at a leather bar (there is no explanation as to why our young buck came here) and the movie smash cuts to Jesse running (presumably post-coitus) laps in the school gym. 

Also everything about this scene.

It all kind of goes nowhere (it so easily could have been a much better film about Freddy manipulating a young man's latent homosexuality for his own purposes), but it's the hysterical result of an openly gay (and mischievous) production designer working with a (later) openly gay star under the nose of a totally unaware director.

If they had all been working together, they could have made a movie with actual impact. But what we get is pretty great anyway with the perfect combination of winking licentiousness and oblivious unintentional hilarity.

You are all my children now.

Killer: Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund)
Final Girl: Lisa Webber (Kim Myers), but only incidentally.
Best Kill: The Coach is pelted with balls, tied up naked in the shower, whipped with a towel, and slashed across the back as the shower heads spurt blood. Simultaneously silly and intense, super homo-erotic and kinda cool. A perfect representation of the film.
Sign of the Times: Nobody bats an eye at the kid in the back of the bus blasting tunes on a boom box; Jesse dons lightning bolt sunglasses and dances to synthpop in his room.

Scariest Moment: Jesse opens his little sister's bedroom door to find her jumping rope in slow motion and chanting "1... 2... Freddy's coming for you..."
Weirdest Moment: One of their parakeets goes rogue, dive bombing Jesse and his family in their living room before EXPLODING because this is the 80's.
Champion Dialogue: "Are you mounting her nightly or what?"
Body Count: 6 people give or take; 5 by Freddy's hand (3 in the Pool Party Massacre) and 1 trampled to death. All male, because slasher murder is a metaphor for sexual violence so...
Also 2 parakeets and 2 fish.
  1. Coach Schneider is tied up in the locker room and slashed.
  2. Grady is slashed across the torso after Freddy emerges from Jesse's body.
  3. Party Guest #1 is slashed in the face and throat.
  4. Party Guest #2 is trampled by escaping partiers.
  5. Party Guest #3 is slashed in the stomach.
  6. Party Guest #4 is thrown onto a barbecue. 
Stud Finder: Grady is pretty bomb. I can see why Jesse dug him so much.

TL;DR: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge is a terribly messy film full of misplaced homoerotic subtext and it is so so fun to watch.
Rating: 8/10
Word Count: 1147
Reviews In This Series
A Nightmare on Elm Street (Craven, 1984)
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (Sholder, 1985)
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (Russell, 1987)
A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (Harlin, 1988)
A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (Hopkins, 1989)
Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (Talalay, 1991)
Wes Craven's New Nightmare (Craven, 1994)
Freddy vs. Jason (Yu, 2003)
A Nightmare on Elm Street (Bayer, 2010)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Almost There!

With Thanksgiving out of the way, there will finally be no more obstacles on our way to Christmas! But in the meantime, here's

Five Hilariously Inappropriate Jokes To Share At The Dinner Table This Thanksgiving
(In Honor Of My Family)

#5 The Gynecologist

A young woman who had just moved into town was visiting her new gynecologist for the first time. Once the examination started, the gynecologist exclaimed, "Wow! This is the biggest vagina I've ever seen!" 

"This is the biggest vagina I've ever seen!"

The young woman frowned. "You didn't have to say it twice."

The gynecologist responded, "I didn't."

#4 The Field Trip

A convent of nuns was making their weekly field trip into town for groceries and supplies. On her way to their destination, one nun noticed a sign in the upstairs window of a ramshackle looking storefront that read "Quickies - $10." This confused her greatly, she had no idea what the sign meant.

She pondered the sign all day and when they finally returned from the trip, she visited Mother Superior and asked, "Excuse me, but what is a quickie?"

Mother Superior replied, "Ten bucks, same as in town."

#3 The Monkey and the Lion

One fine balmy day in the jungle, Monkey was feeling horny. There weren't any other monkeys around at the time, and nothing he was trying was working. So he went down to the watering hole where Lion was bending down to take a drink. Seeing an opportunity, Monkey lifted up Lion's tail and went to town on him.

Lion jerked up with a mighty roar and Monkey scampered off into the bushes. Hotly pursued, Monkey tore through the underbrush until he came across an abandoned safari camp. Hurriedly he threw on a safari hat and grabbed a newspaper somebody had left behind. He jumped into a chair and held the newspaper over his face to disguise himself.

Lion came tearing into the clearing, growling menacingly. He spotted the figure in the chair.

"You there!" he cried, "Did you see a monkey come through here?"

Monkey's hands trembled. The newspaper shook. "You mean the monkey who went to town on you at the watering hole?"

The Lion said, "What, it's in the papers already?"

#2 The Bartender

A man saunters up to a bar and orders three shots. As the bartender is pouring he asks, "What's the occasion?"

The man says, "My first blowjob!"

The bartender grins and says, "Well, congrats man! Here, have a fourth one on the house."

The man looks up at the bartender and responds, "No thanks. If three shots don't get the taste out of my mouth then nothing will."

#1 The Old Man

An old man stares out a rain-streaked window.

"Night is going to come soon," he sighed.

His petulant grandson looked over at him and said, "Tell me something I don't know."

The old man slowly turned to him and said, "Did you know your grandmother's ass can fit my entire fist?"

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

I'm thankful for each and every one of you, especially the ones who read my blog.
Word Count: 518

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Track by Track: Midnight Memories

Year: 2013
Artist: One Direction
Label: Columbia, Syco

Here we are at One Direction's third studio album. These poor boys have been put through the ringer, I think the studio is trying to squeeze as much money out of them as they can before they just collapse from exhaustion. 

Besides the interviews, video appearances, music video shoots, and trying to have healthy relationships with friends, family and girlfriends, since their first album dropped in November 2011 Harry Styles, Liam Payne, Zayn Malik, Niall Horan, and Louis Tomlinson have released two follow up albums, "written" two books, released a documentary and a live concert DVD, went on two world tours and are gearing up for a third.

This is a band, the oldest member of which is a mere 21 years old.

Somebody oughta call PETA or something.

But the fact remains that we have a new album out and by George, I'm going to tell you about it.

Track 1: "Best Song Ever"

Far be it from me to say the title isn't accurate, this is one hella catchy song. The (maybe maybe not stolen from The Who) opening riff captures the joyous essence of their concerts and stage presence in a way that none of their albums had fully expressed up to this point. "Best Song Ever" is bottled fun.

Perhaps it's punching that "FUN WE'RE HAVING FUN" button a little too hard, but this is a boy band we're talking about. We have to grade on a curve regarding cheesiness. Anyway I'm not gonna delve too deep into it, this song has been out for eons, I think everybody who cares has already formed a pretty immobile opinion on it.

Best Line: "Said I had a dirty mouth / But she kissed me like she meant it"

Track 2: "Story Of My Life"

The first track on Midnight Memories sees 1D veering off into a radical new direction (maybe there's more than one, hm?), namely the folk rock stylings of the likes of Phillip Phillips and Mumford and Sons. The pounding bass drum, the strumming guitars, and the abstractly sad lyrics would all indicate their influence.

It's certainly predicated on the success of the aforementioned bands as well as The Lumineers and every other freaking band we have that sounds like they're from the nineteenth century. At least the studio executives that own their souls have decided to try something a little different than the bubblegum pop they've been dishing out thus far.

And much to my delight, Louis is turning more and more into their secret weapon. After being largely ignored on their first album, Up All Night, he has slowly been taking the spotlight (vocally) because, out of all the boys, his raspy idiosyncratic voice is the most suited for this new musical style. He also had a hand writing 11 out of the 18 songs on this album (as compared to Liam's 9, Harry's 4, Niall's 2, and Zayn's 1), so I feel completely justified maintaining him as my favourite.

Best Line: "I drive all night to keep her warm and time / Is frozen"

Track 3: "Diana"

This is classic fast-paced quasi-ballad boy band material. A swift catchy beat, some thrown out background riffs, airy instrumentation that floats along like a cloud. And it's the third song in a row that features a heavy Louis portion. Praise!

The most interesting thing about this track is that, for (to my knowledge) the first time in their entire career, there is a specific girl's name mentioned in one of their songs. Their songs usually celebrate the nonspecific traits their nonspecific object of love has (What Makes You Beautiful is notable for only requiring the girl to have hair and smile sometimes) so as to appeal to the broadest audience possible.

Perhaps this specificity is evidence of a less pandering mindset that is evidence of them branching out of the comfort zones, bolstered by the success of, well everything they've done this far. Or they just got bored. Who knows. It's pretty good nonetheless.

Best Line: "I speak a different language / But I still hear your call"

Track 4: "Midnight Memories"

This one is clearly more rock influenced. There's some AC/DC in there, some Bon Jovi, some Bachman Turner Overdrive (wow, really?). And there's definitely some sprinklings of the Beach Boys and the chorus is unavoidably close to "Pour Some Sugar On Me." I know that's not the most hardcore list of rock bands available, but this is light years away from, say "One Thing."

This song is certainly in a hurry to go places. At a swift two minutes 56 seconds, the choruses tumble over one another and the song is over before it gets a chance to breathe. It has a great shoutalong chorus but it is marred by a sense of the boys wanting to do something new and the studios appeasing them but trying to get it over with as quickly as possible.

Also they pretend to say the S-word, but then they stop in the middle oh how edgy. Sorry. I'm being a bitter grandpa. That trick is getting old though.

Best Line: "Now I'm at the age when I know what I need"

Track 5: "You & I"

The first weak spot on a pretty strong pop album. This first ballad on the album can't at all cover the ground of the likes of "Gotta Be You," "Moments," or even the admittedly not stellar "Little Things." Already on this album we've had a song with more emotional impact in "Story of My Life" and this just seems like a bland and dreary star-crossed lovers song.

Zayn's voice hits the highest note it ever has in the breakdown though, so there's that. That was pretty impressive. And I can see this song eating it up live, but in a recording it just isn't really doing it for me. This is the first song since "Best Song Ever" that had not a single one of the boys credited as composer and it reeks of studio tampering.

Best Line: "Did they ever hold each other tight / Like us?"

Track 6: "Don't Forget Where You Belong"

This song about life on the road is starting to cement in the sound of this album - a lot more rock influences, real instruments, and the increased involvement of the boys in deciding the lyrics they actually want to sing.

It's got a stomp clap beat and some great harmonies that show off the boys' incredible abilities to work together as a unit. Usually in the mastered tracks their voices are dampened in the mix, reducing the unique qualities of each of their singing styles, but this track really shows off how their voices interact with one another.

Best Line: "I'm flicking through the pages / I've written in my memory"

Track 7: "Strong"

Led by a light staccato guitar sting, the song opens thinly but increases in strength with every passing verse until the chorus explodes across the sky. I'd like to think that that progression mirrors the idea of gaining strength from somebody else.

Just like a lot of the songs on this first half so far, it's quite good, but nothing has really stood out as an obvious album best yet. But this song explores an idea that's been on my mind for a while. I've been involved with a lot of feminists and supporters of female independence, which is a cause I wholeheartedly support.

But some people take it too far, to the point of completely denying the possibility of being in love. In my mind, love is about developing yourself as an individual, being completely comfortable and capable of living on your own, and then to be willing to share your carefully cultivated self with somebody else who you trust. It's not a shame to be alone or single or whatever, but I think there's a part of us as humans that craves the feeling of belonging to someone or some group.

Not in the "I'm giving up my entire self to be with you" way but in the "I need to share this experience with somebody" way. Anyway, this song to me is about that shift from independence to a mutually supportive relationship and the hangups with that and I'm almost definitely reading way too much into it, but it's an idea that really intrigues me immensely.

Best Line: "Is it so wrong / That you make me strong?"

Track 8: "Happily"

This is it! Imediately on first listen, this song is the best on the first half of the album. It's always a joy when the Boys' Britishness comes through and this track feels almost like a pop rock Irish drinking song! Instead of feeling like another limp manifestation of the anachronistic folk rock trend of Phillips Phillips et al., this is a perfect synthesis of all the best (and least dreary) parts of those songs.

Also check out that downright filthy Best Line. Them boys are growing up, yo.

Best Line: "And if he feels my traces in your hair / Sorry love, but I don't really care"

Track 9: "Right Now"

Although this song isn't the most compelling lyrically or musically, it's perhaps the most intriguing vocal song the group has ever done. First things first, Louis actually gets to open a song, which up til now has only been a forgotten pipe dream. I'm getting so much Louis love off of this album.

At no point in the song are all the boys singing together. There are a couple harmonies and some cosmic backing vocals, but the track is mostly a showcase for their individual voices, which is something they really needed to avoid amoebeating into one personality-less blob of quiffs and tattoos.

They really get a chance to show off here, especially Zayn who busts out some incredible falsetto that could only be the result of some traumatic vocal cord surgery, it's way too good to be human.

Best Line: "Lights go down / And the night is calling to me"

Track 10: "Little Black Dress"

The most alt rock song in their arsenal so far, this song would be at home on an album by The Strokes, something I never thought I'd say about 1D. The song even has a freaking guitar solo! I hope it's one of the boys playing, cuz if it's just some studio musician that's no fun.

It probably is. Oh well, it's still an invigoratingly different if not particularly envelope pushing in terms of the genre it's trying to access. Another majorly brief song that feels like it just barely squeezed onto the album.

Best Line: "Little black dress / Just walked into the room"

Track 11: "Through the Dark"

OK this one is just Phillip Phillips, I'm sorry to say. Where the other ones have taken him as a strong influence, "Through the Dark" feels like the illegitimate love child of "Home" and "Gone, Gone, Gone" as sung by a pre-pubescent Marcus Mumford.

Lots of talk of natural elements (fire & water for your love), a smashing bass drum, and a downright medieval atmosphere (When listening, I can't help but feel I'm in a room made entirely of wood. Go on. Tell me I'm wrong.) mean this song isn't even bad but merely too derivative to exist on its own. 

Best Line: "And I remember you laughing / So let's just laugh again"

Track 12: "Something Great"

Harry Styles had a major hand on this song, so perhaps that's the reason it's not my favorite. The beat is plodding and the lyrics are a little too whiny for my tastes. Frankly, I'm a little bored by it. I don't have much to say because I really don't want to listen to it again.

Best Line: "Come on, jump out at me"

Track 13: "Little White Lies"

Although I was secretly hoping for a companion piece to "Little Black Dress," I like what I got instead.   Finally, a throwback to the One Direction of yore (you know, 365 days ago). With a soaring harmonic opening like "Save You Tonight," one of my favorite songs off of Up All Night and an exciting dubstep-influenced beat, "Little White Lies" gives the back half of Midnight Memories some much needed energy and fun.

It's basically early One Direction with more Louis and I'm totally down with that.

Best Line: "If this room was burning / I wouldn't even notice"

Track 14: "Better Than Words"

A more turned down song to close up the album, "Better Than Words" leaves us on a welcome mellow note. More alt rock, a jaunty whistling opening, and Louis rocking it out like he's never done before (I'm aware that there's other members of the band, but save for Niall, they've all had more than their share of limelight, it's my turn now).

For some reason, the lyrics in the verses are almost one hundred percent comprised of the names of other songs like "More Than A Feeling," "Someone Like You," "How Deep Is Your Love," and even "Hips Don't Lie" and two Beyoncé songs. It's clever though and it's a lot of fun and it works.

Best Line: "I don't know how else to sum it up / Cuz words ain't good enough"

Overall: Midnight Memories is a new experience for One Direction fans, and seeing them branch out is a gratifying experience. However, like most of the albums this season, it's just a little less than the band's previous efforts. It's a good listen and the boys' vocals are really improving after a couple years of experience. There's nothing particularly lyrically exciting and listening to the entire album all the way through can be a slog, but there are enough vivacious pop tunes that'll be in circulation on my iPod for a while yet to earn this album my appreciation.

Also Louis.


#14 "Something Great"
#13 "You & I"
#12 "Strong"
#11 "Little Black Dress"
#10 "Better Than Words"
#9 "Midnight Memories"
#8 "Through the Dark"
#7 "Right Now"
#6 "Story of My Life"
#5 "Best Song Ever"
#4 "Diana"
#3 "Little White Lies"
#2 "Don't Forget Where You Belong"
#1 "Happily"
Word Count: 2363

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

This Movie Is For Real

Some thoughts on the Heaven Is For Real trailer (based on the insipid inspirational book Heaven Is For Real that is currently collecting dust on my Aunt's bookshelf):

1) Really? We couldn't change the title? On a book, it's kind of catchy and childish in the way that makes you want to at least read the back, but for a film it's an absolute travesty. It's hard to take the soaring orchestral music seriously when that title appears onscreen.

2) Greg Kinnear is not human. He is a programmable android shared by all movie studios to appear in the maximum amount of films possible. Maybe they're pursuing some sort of world record. Maybe it's something more sinister. But it's physically impossible to appear in as many films as he has.

3) People need to start hiring short adults to play children, because if this is everything the child acting pool has to offer, I want my money back. I want their money back.

I want my dignity back.

4) Last, and most importantly, why is this trailer shot like a horror film? This kid went to heaven and apparently he brought something back with him. Discuss.
Word Count: 196

Monday, November 25, 2013

An Olympic Sized Gene Pool

Year: 2013
Director: Ken Scott
Cast: Vince Vaughn, Chris Pratt, Cobie Smulders
Run Time: 1 hour 43 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13

On a whim last night, my friend Henry and I caught a late night showing of the new Vince Vaughn comedy Delivery Man. It was cheap and we had nothing else to do so we figured why not. The state of cinema this year is so dreary that this was our best option behind seeing Catching Fire again.

Much to my surprise, the film was actually pretty decent! I know, right? It's by no means the best comedy of the year (that title goes to Texas Chainsaw 3D), but I actually laughed - something I wasn't expecting at all.

Then again this guy was in it.

David Wozniak (Vince Vaughn) is a schlubby everyman (an interesting change of pace for him) who learns that through a clerical mistake at a sperm bank that he donated to in his 20's, he is the father of 533 children, many of which want to contact him but can't due to the company's anonymity clause.

With a pregnant girlfriend of his own (Emma, played by How I Met Your Mother's Cobie Smulders) and a life he needs to get back on track - he's a meat deliveryman who isn't particularly good at his job and also hey, he has $80,000 in gambling debts - he's understandably a little skittish about taking responsibility for hundreds of his offspring.

But when his lawyer friend Brett (Chris Pratt), who is defending him under his pseudonym "Starbuck," gives him the profiles of the children who are filing the lawsuit, his curiosity is piqued and he begins to visit his children without letting them know he's their biological father. Basically he acts as a guardian angel, helping them out when they need it without revealing his identity because that's a lot of pressure, man.

Also Aunt Robin is a cop, which is just too sexy to handle.

The opening scenes are, to be honest, an unmitigated train wreck. Jokes are bashed into the ground and beaten senseless like they pissed off the LAPD. As this was exactly what I was expecting, I was lulled into a false sense of superiority before the sweetness infiltrated the film and turned it into a charming if fumbling effort.

The moment the film makes its turning point is during David's first child visitation - it turns out one of his many little goblins is now in the NBA and he cheers that boy on like the proudest father this side of Harvard. It's perhaps not sweet enough or funny enough to really recommend, but it's definitely worth catching it on Netflix when it inevitably shows up on Streaming.

There are some laugh out loud moments, but the film mostly simmers in a charming register, content not to push the envelope but merely be pleasant.

Family dinners are more like a mosh pit than anything else.

Directed by Ken Scott, the director of the original French Canadian film, Starbuck, Delivery Man is by all accounts a watered down interpretation of its themes. However, it was good enough that watching it made me more interested in seeing Starbuck, so it at least does it enough justice to make it more enticing.

And then inexplicably, sh*t gets real. David bonds with a mentally handicapped son, one of his daughters overdoses on heroin, and the gambling bosses stop by to give David a quick drowning in the bathtub. In a sweet family comedy. What just happened? The gambling subplot is especially intriguing because it spends so much time on the sidelines that it comes as a shock anytime it returns.

Some real quick SPOILERS, if you care about such for Vince Vaughn family comedies. The momentous announcement in which David decides to admit to his paternity, the crux of the entire film in which he's learning to put his life together and take responsibility, the apex of the thematic through line of the entire film, the moment the entire film has been leading up to, takes place on Facebook. He tells the kids he's their father on Facebook. Talk about anticlimactic. If you want to see my angry face, pop this scene on, you will be appeased. SPOILERS

But Aunt Robin.

Postscipt: I would have spent a lot of time making fun of how so many of Vince Vaughn's kids turned out to be sexy beasts with sparkling blue eyes but I was too busy Googling shirtless photos of them. 

Say, that gives me an idea!

(NEW FEATURE! Every film I review now will be scanned by the Stud Finder to find the hottest person onscreen so we can all partake in the handsomest of the handsome. You know, to help build community. Or whatever.)

Stud Finder: David's Biological Children (Dave Patten, Jack Reynor, Amos Vanderpoel, Matthew Daddario)

Don't you dare try to tell me a single one of these kids could in any way be biologically related to Mr. Vaughn.

TL;DR: Delivery Man is more charming than it possibly seemed it could have been.
Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 855

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Hills Are Alive

Year: 1977
Director: Wes Craven
Cast: Robert Houston, Dee Wallace, Michael Berryman
Run Time: 1 hour 29 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Wes Craven's second official film (he directed an incestual exploitation film called The Fireworks Woman under the pseudonym Abe Snake in 1975) after The Last House on the Left in 1972, The Hills Have Eyes had a lot to live up to? Would it be just as brutal and shocking as Last House? (No.) Would it have the same level of intellectual subtext? (It tried, but no.) Would it cause as much of a stir? (Well, kind of.)

In all ways, The Hills Have Eyes is just slightly less than its big brother grindhouse flick. It ended up being a stepping stone to Craven's more palatable (and more ingenious) work, but at the time all that was obvious was that it merely couldn't recapture whatever grubby magic Last House had. It's still a charming 70's horror flick, but it's really not all that good when it comes down to it.

There aren't very many screenshots more exciting than this one.

When the Carter family's camper breaks down in the desert in the middle of nowhere on their way to a vacation in California, they are dismayed to find that they are being pursued by hungry cannibalistic mutants.

Although there are many members of the Carter clan, the only important one is the acrobatic son Bobby Carter (Robert Houston) who back handsprings his way into your heart with his blonde hair and the piercing blue eyes of a Siberian husky. Also Dee Wallace (E.T.'s mom) is there too.

Remember he had this haircut a full 17 years before Justin Bieber was even born.

After their dog, Beauty (Flora), runs off and is eviscerated by an unknown assailant, the Carters realize that something may be wrong. Things begin to get ugly (Geddit? Cuz Beauty is dead.) when the mutants kidnap their infant child and crucify their father, who they captured when he was learning their history from an old man in a gas station.

After having saved his life with the best suicide prevention line ever ("Get your stupid neck out of that belt, you jackass!"), he learned that the mutants were a result of nuclear testing in the area before one of them comes crashing through a window in the best and scariest shot of the movie.

All of this combined with the eerie playful voices in the darkness actually is pretty creepy, but the goodwill the first half of the film builds up slowly peters out and turns into a boring revenge flick. Although we will always have this baby's face to delight us.

Either she's being attacked by a bloodthirsty monstrosity or she just made a doody.

There's some halfhearted commentary on the nature of family relationships, economic downturn, and the folly of the military, but that is mostly forgone in favor of gruesome fight scenes that aren't really so gruesome five years down the line from Last House on the Left

The real star of the show here is Pluto (Michael Berryman), one of the mutant sons of the evil ringleader Papa Jupiter (James Whitworth). Berryman was born with Hypohidrotic Ectodermal Dysplasia, an extremely rare disease that left him without sweat glands, hair, fingernails, or teeth. 

Rather than get depressed and hide himself away, he turned in an excellent creepy performance in a high profile horror flick (and has since appeared in over 90 films). Although it's perhaps a bit of a shame that he felt he was compelled to use his condition to scare people, he nevertheless became a staple of late 70's horror.

And is featured in every advertisement despite being the third least important villain. Go Pluto!

But despite two strong performances, The Hills Have Eyes is bland fare that fades almost immediately from memory. Its director, breakout stars, and 70's ambient vibe have kept it afloat all these years but out of all of Craven's oeuvre, this one is perhaps the least deserving of being fondly appreciated.

Before we wrap up here, what is it with audiences that they hate seeing dogs die? At least 5 humans get eviscerated in this film, but the only death to provoke any response is Beauty's. Is it because dogs are perceived as innocents, much like babies? This is my current theory.

Either that or we're all sociopaths.

TL;DR: The Hills Have Eyes starts off strong, but is weak tea compared to the Craven shocker that came before.
Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 757
Reviews In This Series
The Hills Have Eyes (Craven, 1977)

Saturday, November 23, 2013

In District 12, Fire Catch You

Year: 2013
Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth
Run Time: 2 hours 26 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13

Let me tell you something, once Mockingjay - Part 2 comes out (Of course they're splitting it into two parts. Studios always save that trick for the final book with the least plot.) they'd better be ready with that new Harry Potter film otherwise the vacuum of YA cinema will devour us all.

Traditionally the previews before a big hitter film like the second installment of the Hunger Games franchise are gonna be for the superstar blockbuster films. Studios know everyone and their kitchen sink is lining up to see Katniss' further exploits so what better opportunity to get the word out?

Unfortunately the trailers for the upcoming bland YA adaptation Divergent and the Aaron Eckhart vehicle where sexy Frankenstein fights CGI gargoyles (Mary Shelley is currently reanimating herself so she can spin in her grave) would indicate that dark times are ahead of us. But that is the future. For now we have Katniss. We have Peeta and Gale and Finnick and that is not a bad place to be.

No, not at all.

Before we begin let me just say that if you're gonna properly adapt a young adult adventure love triangle novel, you might as well throw in some pretty guys. You know, for the children. It's the least you could do. And the clumsily titled The Hunger Games: Catching Fire certainly delivers with newcomers Sam Claflin and Alan Ritchson as Finnick, the sprightly seafaring Tribute and Gloss, the hard-edged Career Tribute respectively.

I like a man who knows what he's doing with a hunting knife.

And returning cast members Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth (as Peeta, the baker's boy who's in love with Katniss and Gale, best friend and coal miner who is also in love with Katniss because just dealing with the tyrannical dystopian government isn't enough for one girl) are sporting new jawlines and beefed up frames. Apparently the bull hormones I spiked the Craft Services beverage table with have been doing their job.

Only Liam could make being dragged away by the Thought Police look like a modeling shoot.

Catching Fire begins, as it should, with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) alone. The events of the previous Hunger Games have left her shaken, and she is haunted by her memories. She and Peeta, who used a star-crossed lover angle to win last year's games haven't spoken to each other in months. Although they act happy and in love for the cameras, Katniss' developing feelings for her friend Gale stand between them.

When Katniss and Peeta embark on a Victor's Tour of Panem (the dessicated husk of America, divided into 12 districts ruled by the iron fist of The Capitol), President Snow (Donald Sutherland) warns Katniss that she has become a beacon of Hope for the districts. If she does anything to agitate the revolters, she will be summarily punished.

She predictably doesn't do a great job at this, but who cares, Effie Trinkett (Elizabeth Banks) and Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) have been brought onscreen within twelve seconds of each other and the resulting explosion of color and joy blocked out any other memories of the first half of the film.

I could make a Lady Gaga joke here, but that wouldn't deserve any Applause.

The second half of the film (much like the one before) takes place in the arena of the Hunger Games. For the 75th Annual Games (known as the third Quarter Quell), the contestants will all be chosen from the pool of surviving Victors of past games. That sounds awfully convenient, President Snow... I see what you did there.

So Katniss and Peeta prepare to fight for their lives yet again in an even more dangerous arena with trained and lethal opponents. It is in this segment that Catching Fire begins to cycle through plot points like a Rolodex, but they amazingly retain most of their power even while flying by like leaves in a tornado. The only scene that feels rushed to the point of oblivion is a moment with the elderly Tribute Mags (Lynn Cohen) that leans on the book a little too hard to find its emotional impact.

But all in all, Catching Fire is a definite improvement on the original film. The action sequences in the arena are exhilarating and, thankfully, visible. The ubiquitous shaky cam that haunts The Hunger Games is all but eradicated (save for a few scenes that needed to hide some even shakier CGI), and it doesn't hurt that the contestants are all teenagers and older, so the filmmakers didn't feel the need to obscure the more unsavory elements like killing children behind a wall of blur.

So the cinematography is a marked improvement although it isn't particularly adventurous and the colors in the Capitol training center are afflicted with a bad case of Teal and Orange Disease. The costuming is, as always, top notch, especially regarding the garish frivolity of Capitol attire.

I could spend my entire life posting and reposting pictures of Effie Trinkett.

Then there's the one thing that makes everything worth it. Despite the weird CGI patches, the rushed scenes that try to hit plot point from the book like a pinball, and some truly laughable acid makeup, the sterling foundation that keeps Catching Fire afloat is the impeccable cast.

Jennifer Lawrence is ever reliable as Katniss Everdeen and Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson embody their puppy love characters believably, but the standouts here are veterans of the craft. Stanley Tucci shines yet again as trashy TV host Caesar Flickerman, a one man embodiment of the entire TMZ staff and the shining light of the film is Elizabeth Banks' Effie Trinkett.

Whereas in the first film she was merely a delightful embodiment of the vapid Capitol lack of self awareness, here she is the emotional lynchpin of the film as the cracks begin to show. Watching her break down at the Reaping as she calls Katniss' name while dressed like a swarm of butterflies is absolutely captivating. Who knew Elizabeth Banks could do drama? The casting director of Hunger Games did, apparently, and she steals the show every time she's onscreen.

Public speaking is the worst.

All these ingredients add up to a rather enjoyable popcorn movie for the 99 Percent. It explores the ideas of class disparity and the artificialities of reality TV in an interesting way, as viewed through the lens of a teenager who really didn't mean to get herself into this mess. And although it feels very much like an in-between movie setting up a Grand Finale, it leaves a sweet taste on the tongue and flies by despite its expansive book adaptation run time.

I would also like to mention that there is a shoutout to the That Is Mahogany meme, and the fact that any script writers could be so in touch with their online fan base is refreshing after years of tortuous disappointments. 

Enjoy the film, everyone and may the odds be ever in your favor.

TL;DR: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is on the whole better than its predecessor and an entertaining successor to the Harry Potter dynasty.
Rating: 8/10
Word Count: 1211
Reviews In This Series
Catching Fire (Lawrence, 2013)
Mockingjay - Part 1 (Lawrence, 2014)
Mockingjay - Part 2 (Lawrence, 2015)