Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Bad Words (2014)

Posted: June 28, 2014 in Movies

bad-words-blu-ray-cover-73Jason Bateman has been on a roll over the last five years. From Juno to Extract to the more recent The Change-Up and Horrible Bosses, Bateman has morphed from one of Hollywood’s smiling pretty boys to one of the darker, stranger comedic actors of the day. That trend continues in Bad Words, which also marks Bateman’s motion picture directorial debut.

The story is set around Bateman’s character Guy Trilby, a 40-year-old ball of anger who manipulates a loophole to enter a the national Golden Quill spelling bee. Trilby has an axe to grind, so he enters – and dominates – a regional spelling bee in Columbus, Ohio. Regulators – played by Allison Janney and Philip Baker Hall – try to prevent Trilby from competing at the national level. But seeing as how he never graduated from eighth grade, he technically qualifies for the competition… and he’s hellbent on winning.

Bateman soft plays the role as a vile, crass competitor – and that’s a huge plus in the movie. Even though the dialogue is filled with four-letter words and insanely rude commentary, Bateman goes less for the shock value and more for the laughs with perfect timing and delivery – making his character believable and honest. The film carries much of the same “feel” as Billy Bob Thorton’s Bad Santa (which is easily one of this author’s favorite flicks), and has the same asshole/kid connection. Rohan Chand plays bee competitor Chaitanya Chopra, and provides the brightest ray of sunshine opposite Bateman’s dark cloud of gloom. The duo’s journey to redemption by way of conventional life lessons may be a little predictable, but their love/hate big-brother interchanges end up being the highlights of Bateman’s simple, silly story.  In fact, you almost end up rooting for the poor schmuck, despite his imperfections and failures as a human being.

bad-words-movie-poster-4

So why, exactly, does a 40-year-old compete in a child’s competition? That’s the one underlying mystery to it all, which reveals itself in almost heart-warming fashion in the end – but I’ll save the details as to not ruin it for you. You won’t get too caught up in that aspect of the film, anyway – as you’ll be too busy laughing yourself silly to even think about it.

As with Bad Santa, the film looks – on the surface – like a film for both adults and children, but such is not the case. Unless you want your sons and daughters to learn words they shouldn’t “say” let alone “spell”, save Bad Words for an after-hour viewing – long after the wee ones are tucked away for the night.  But do check it out, as it is easily Bateman’s best performance of his career, and shows that he is ready for the big time from a directorial standpoint as well.

8.5/10 – Rated R for Language and Brief Nudity

On DVD and BluRay July 8th.

The LEGO Movie (2014)

Posted: May 31, 2014 in Movies

LEGO-coverAfter massive success in the video game market with titles like LEGO Batman, LEGO Harry Potter and others, it was little surprise that the folks at LEGO opted to make a full-lenth feature film. Even though they “borrowed” the formula from almost EVERY animated movie these days, “The LEGO Movie” uses a unique blend of animated plastic blocks and characters to build worlds of endless imagination with A-list voice talent that makes for a heck of a movie. Writer/director duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) continue their momentum, smartly using the creative possibilities of LEGOs as innovation for their characters and story.

We’re introduced to a world where a society of LEGO figures work by-the-book and follow the manuals, building and re-building their world over and over again, and always according to the instructions as ordered by Lord Business (voiced by Will Ferrell). Within this world we meet Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) a construction worker that lives by the rules and has never thought of doing otherwise until he finds a strange object referred to as the “Piece of Resistance” that will save the entire world from an evil tyrant, hellbent on drenching the LEGO world in Krazy Glue, locking everything in positions of perfection forever.

Emmet’s world is turned upside down when he meets Wyldstyle (voiced by Elizabeth Banks), a headstrong character representing everything Emmet is not, as she rescues him from the hands of Bad Cop (Liam Neeson) after Emmet stumbled upon the “Piece of Resistance”, a discovery that results in him being dubbed “The Special” – the one that will save them all.

On the surface, the story is rather straightforward, but it’s the way in which Lord and Miller have used the idea of making a LEGO movie to tell their story that makes it work so well. They embraced the physics of a world made of clunky plastic, interlocking pieces to create explosions and even bubbles in the shower. More importantly, they’ve taken the idea that with the right pieces and a little imagination, anything can be created – and the movie uses this idea to give us additional insight into the characters. Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) likes everything black and in dark shades of grey, Unikitty (voiced by Alison Brie) likes things with sparkles and old-school LEGO astronaut Benny (voiced by Charlie Day) likes old-school LEGO spaceships.

Additional members of the voice cast include Morgan Freeman as the ever-so-wise Vitruvius, Billy Dee Williams revamps his old Star Wars character Lando Calrissian and Lord and Miller coaxed their 21 Jump Street stars Jonah Hill andChanning Tatum into voicing Green Lantern and Superman, the former having a hilarious, massive fanboy crush on the latter.

The_Lego_Movie_review-1024x710

The animation is outstanding, all the way down to tiny scratches on Emmett’s plastic skin and while the movie holds its own, you won’t be able to get the song “Everything is AWESOME!!!” out of your head. Composer Mark Mothersbaugh (DEVO) teamed with Tegan and Sara and The Lonely Island to create such positive lyrics such as “I feel more awesome than an awesome possum” and “stepped in mud got new brown shoes” and almost accidentally writing the catchiest pop/dance song in years.

As a whole, The LEGO Movie embraces fun, adventure and stop-animation in its truest form. As one who spent hours on end as a kid making worlds of my imagination, I would think it must have been a blast to come up with every silly little idea and eventually bring it to life in the form of tiny children’s building blocks. Adults will most certainly enjoy the film, but it’s going to be children that will eat this up, inevitably leading to many, many sequels down the road.

The DVD and BluRay release is set for June 17th, so if you have little ones, or simply just remember being one, I would definitely suggest “blocking” out some time and taking this in.

 

Rated PG. Warner Brothers Studios

9/10

metallica-posterYou know the history of California-based thrash rockers Metallica, and with good cause. In a storied career of thirty five fast, furious years and nine studio albums, the band has pretty much built the Taj Mahal of heavy metal, and has been living comfortably in it for decades. Conquering adversity has also been one of the band’s strength’s over the years – from the death of bassist Cliff Burton in 1986, through the fight against file-sharing pirates Napster at the turn of the century, to the inexplicable musical direction taken with the head-scratching releases of St. Anger and Lulu (which the band collaborated with the late Lou Reed). Metallica still takes the stage proudly, middle-fingers in the air, and struts their stuff with an attitude and perseverance unmatched by almost any other band.

So it was no surprise when the band took on a few new challenges in 2013. The first was starting their own independent label – Blackened Records – and acquiring all of their intellectual rights to their back catalog and properties. The second? Creating a “ground-breaking” movie/concert film mash-up titled “Through The Never” that hit IMax and theaters late last year. That film is now available on DVD and BluRay, but before rushing out to buy/rent what sounds like the most amazing thing a metal fan could ask for, take warning.

It’s not.

Unless, of course, your idea of a good time is watching a band slam through nothing but their pre-2000 hits while throwing in a ridiculously fictional story that never should have been their in the first place. There are really two things at play here: the “story” and the “concert” – so let’s address these separately before we get to far down the rabbit’s hole.

metallicaThe story: Dane DeHaan plays a roadie named “Trip” who is sent out on a mysterious, important mission at the beginning of the film just as the band is taking the stage in front of  sold out crowd in Canada. While driving his far-too-ironic, beat-to-shit van, Trip wrecks his vehicle and comes across director Nimrod Antal’s vision of post-apocalyptic something-or-another in pursuit of a duffel bag, whos contents are as much of a mystery as the rest of this head-scratcher. The “story” breaks contain some good visuals despite the narrative, but are too few and far between, as most of the film is devoted to the band and their performance – so much so, that tying any of it together was an exercise in futility. I even tried to correlate the story line with the lyrics to the Metallica songs they coincided with, but to no avail. The “story” just didn’t make sense, and all I really wanted to see was more of the “concert”. Or so I thought.

The concert: Huge stage, amazing lighting, massive pyrotechnics, and million-dollar effects. All of this was pretty cool for the first 45 minutes or so, until I realized the unfortunate truth that Metallica hasn’t had a song worth its weight in pastrami since around 1995. They performed with machine-gun precision, but considering they have played these tracks about a hundred million times, it wasn’t nearly as impressive as I had hoped. Add to that some obviously rehearsed and somewhat corny “accidents” on stage (Were they supposed to tie in with the story? Did they really set that guy on fire?), and what started with a lot of promise quickly fizzled out in to something lost, disjointed, and completely average.

You can’t blame Metallica for trying, though. The concept was there, and the premise looks good on paper – but the end result is something that mirrors the last ten years of the legendary bands career…

Completely forgettable.

3.5/10

Escape From Tomorrow (2013)

Posted: November 6, 2013 in Movies

hr_Escape_From_Tomorrow_1

In today’s world of movie-making, it is hard to come up with that “magical” concept: something no one has done before and so ingenious that the world is surely to take notice. We’ve seen some new ideas over the last year or so from the unique and mind-bending Cabin in the Woods to the absolutely breathtaking Gravity , but none of that compares to the ground-breaking approach taken by rookie filmmaker Randy Moore.

Moore’s directorial debut – Escape From Tomorrow – follows a family on their vacation to Disney World. Just the mention of “Disney” brings back so many amazing memories and fantasies from our youth, and you can’t help but smile when you think of the magical whimsy of the Disney theme parks. But sometimes, even the best planned vacation can be a disaster.

The movie focuses on Jim White, an average everyman living the dream  with his wife, Emily, and their two children, Elliot and Sara. On the last day of their  vacation, Jim receives a phone call alerting him that he has been laid off from his job. This clearly distresses him, but he keeps it to himself in order to ensure as much happiness as his family can get out of their final day at the resort.

As the day progresses, though, Jim’s sanity slowly begins unraveling – from near-blackout hallucinations to alcohol-induced fantasies – and the line between reality and fantasy becomes blurred faster than a descent down Space Mountain. The irony of losing one’s mind in a place regarded as one of the world’s great escapes is genius, and the black and white presentation only adds to the darkness taking place in the “happiest place on earth”.

While loosely labeled a “horror” movie, the film feels more like a stomach churning ecstasy trip, with obvious influences from such visionaries as David Lynch and Roman Polanski. The acting is superb (considering you have never seen anyone in the cast before), and the story is well-written, uniquely presented, and just weird enough to keep you focused throughout.

ESCAPE-FROM-TOMORROW22

For me, though, the most interesting aspect of the movie is that it was filmed at the theme park without the permission of the Disney Corporation. Using a well-contrived system of hidden cameras and spy-like communication, Moore managed to get his footage “guerilla-style”. That of course means a couple of shaky camera sequences and muffled audio parts – but only adds to the ominous atmosphere Moore is able to stitch together almost effortlessly.

The film (which premiered at Sundance a few weeks back) is available for rent and purchase at amazon.com – and I would suggest watching it sooner than later. The legal representatives of Disney are usually pretty interested in getting their king’s ransom of anything involving their intellectual properties, and the fact that Moore did this film without their consent will most certainly bury Escape From Tomorrow in legal hell long before it ever reaches DVD or BluRay.

That won’t bother Moore, who, with his middle-finger  raised high in the air, will surely move on to new projects (several of which are already in development)- which will hopefully all be just as magical.

The Hangover Part III (2013)

Posted: October 21, 2013 in Movies

hangoverWhen “The Hangover” hit movie theaters in 2009, audiences turned the underrated comedy into one of the great successes of the year, and subsequently made stars out of the main characters. Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zack Galifianakis all went from virtual nobodies to superstars overnight, and with good reason: the film was an absolute comedic classic. You knew the minute you watched the credits roll that there would be a sequel, and that’s where the rabbit-hole immediately got a little tight.

“The Hangover: Part II” was odd. I’m not sure if they took the joke to far, or forgot the punchline, but the sequel was ghostly in comparison to its predecessor. Maybe I didn’t know enough about Bangkok or transvestite strippers to “connect” with the humor, but the film came across as dark and blurry photocopy of the first- which was the complete opposite of what I (and other movie-goers) expected. When rumors began circulating for a third installment of the trilogy, I wasn’t sure I cared anymore. Was I willing to suffer through two more hours of bad cock jokes and dated drug-use references? I knew I certainly wasn’t going to go to the theater and drop fifty bucks on a night I would probably regret, but now that The Hangover: Part III is available on DVD and BluRay, I decided to see if “The Wolfpack” had any gas left in the tank and any laughs left to offer.

wolfpack

Where the first two installments begin with the crew waking up after a forgotten night of partying, Part III takes a different angle. The gang has reunited after the death of Allen’s (Galifianakis) father, and have decided to escort him to a mental institution in Arizona. En route, the pack is hijacked by a crime boss named Marshall (John Goodman), who demands they find and retrieve Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong) because he stole $21 million in gold from him. Marshall figures the group’s previous run-ins with Chow make them the best men for the job and so he takes Doug (Justin Bartha) as insurance until they bring him in. Luckily Chow continued to keep in touch with Allen after he escaped from a Bangkok prison and let him know he was going to be in Mexico, which conveniently narrows down their search.

The movie unfolds with some funny exchanges and a couple of predictable double-crosses, all funneling into a anti-climactic conclusion that wrapped up the trilogy in a nice tight bow, but what made the movie more entertaining than expected is the effort to expand on some real human emotions (Chow and Allen’s friendship being the most prominent). It felt as if director Todd Phillips and his co-writer, Craig Mazin had actually grown up from the original premise and had something to say this time around, and it freshened up the overused premise.

If you want to laugh until it hurts, though, I would definitely go back to the first film, as “The Hangover: Part III” failed – again – to live up to its reputation as an epic comedy and proved, if nothing else, that the whole concept has pretty much run its course.

Rated R, 100 minutes

Available October 8th on DVD and BluRay

zh-coverMy editor and publisher hate me. Every month I miss my deadline with my music review, but it is – of course – with good reason.

You see, the “last-minute” aspect of my writings is due to the fact that I want to give you, the reader, the absolute freshest, most-anticipated releases of the coming month before anyone else has even heard them – beating our competitor’s to the punch time and time again.  For the most part, this philosophy works. Sometimes, however, it leaves me in a hole that is hard to dig out of. This month is the perfect example.

I checked my mail every day in anticipation of the new release from Nine Inch Nails, knowing that it was easily going to be the most talked-about album of the fall. After a five year hiatus, Trent Reznor returns to the scene with “Hesitation Marks”, an album that fans and critics have been waiting far too long for. Nine Inch Nails, with there alternative, angry style of electro-rock, is perfect fodder for this column, so when my promotional copy arrived (already a few days after my deadline, mind you), I felt like the rock-solid review would make the powers-to-be forget all about my lack of timeliness. Then reality hit me. The album actually had to be good to make this whole “dog-and-pony” excuse work, and – well – it wasn’t.

I wrote over a thousand words about how insanely average this album was, and after editing, re-writing, and throwing every four-syllable synonym I could at it, nothing seemed to stick. The lesson learned was that a boring, uneventful record was going to yield a boring, uneventful review no matter how hard I tried, so here we are – back at square one and a week late.

But have no fear – we do have a couple of great albums this month to talk about, so without further ado, let’s get after it…

If “Hesitation Marks” showed me anything, it is that music – no matter how well-produced, clean and instrumentally perfect – is far better enjoyed when there is some attitude and fun thrown in. Unless you are at a funeral or a graduation ceremony, music should make you smile, tap your feet, and get lost in the moment. There are plenty of bands that have perfected this approach – and in the world of poppy punk rock nobody does it better than veterans Zebrahead and Bowling For Soup.

zebrahead“Call Your Friends” (releases August 13th) is the latest – and tenth – release from Californian rap-pop-punk heroes Zebrahead. Long heralded as one of punk’s best kept secrets, the band has spent the last fifteen years in the fountain of youth creating album after album of party-friendly, rap-injected anthems that take you right back to your teenage years of drinking, sexual encouters and daily confusion. The thing that’s always made Zebrahead stand out is their talent for genre mash-ups, with each member bringing a different influence to the table. These influences really stand out on this record, from the typical pop-punk, to the heavy, metal infused tracks and the odd unusual songs that whilst sounding like nothing you’ve heard before, is still every bit Zebrahead.

With track titles like “I’m Just Here For the Free Beer” and With Friends Like These, These Who Needs Herpes”, it’s clear the band, thankfully, haven’t matured a whole lot – but they have, in fact improved. The new addition of ex-Death By Stereo guitarist Dan Palmer is immediately noticeable, and his frantic solos and fills throughout the album is icing on an already-delicious cake of pop-punk perfection, and back and forth vocals from Matty Lewis and Ali Tabatabaee have never sounded better.

At times, though, Zebrahead does show their ability to get a little serious, and the tracks “Murder On The Airwaves”, “Automatic”, and “Nerd Armor” showcase a band that has maybe matured a bit. But for the most part, the songs craft around the running concept of staying up too late and drinking too much, which has always been a ZH trademark. Some detractors will claim “Call Your Friends” isn’t anything much different than their 2003 breakthrough album “MFZB”, but as far as I’m concerned – at least in this instance – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it…

c03b9d1dd2bc31b6b982a63a19c69189The same type of hijinx are afoot in “Lunch. Drunk. Love.”, the 12th studio release from Texas party-rockers Bowling For Soup. Following the successful recipe of albums like “Drunk Enough To Dance” and “Sorry For Partying”, the band has again uncorked the bottle of humor, heavy metal, and candy-coated pop/punk that has been responsible for such hits as “1985” and “Girls All The Bad Guys Want.” The band has always been one of the more catchy acts out there, and their penchant for writing witty songs about relationships has made them friends of the radio for the last decade.

The first single “Real” is the perfect example, as lead singer Jaret Reddick rolls his way through the break-up song of the year with such punchlines as “You want the guy from The Notebook, you got me instead…” When the tracks want to be funny, they make you laugh out loud (“Since We Broke Up”, “Normal Chicks”). When they want to lay a little more message on you, they work as well (“From The Rooftops”, “Circle”). It’s the ability to stack these tracks a top each other seamlessly that makes “Lunch. Drunk. Love.” There really isn’t anyone out there with the ability to combine open, emotional lyrics and fun, party vibes at the same time as well as Bowling For Soup, so – again – why mess with perfection?

BFSPlus, there was zero chance of the album being anything too far off the main road this time around, as the record was funded in part by the fans in what is fast becoming the “new way” of doing things these days. Instead of record labels fronting bands recording money (thus involving the labels in the creative process), a lot of bands have been recording albums on their own, through donation programs from their fans. The “fan-funding” approach still has a long way to go as a viable alternative to record labels, but the fact that veteran bands like Bowling For Soup are willing to embrace the concept adds immeasurable credibility to the idea.

Both of these records are highly recommended, not just for the quality of the music, but for the way they are going to make you feel while listening to them. You’ll be humming the memorable tracks in your head long after listening to these albums – which is what makes music such a powerful, enjoyable form of art.

Let’s just hope Mr. Reznor is listening as well….

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lords of Salem (2013)

Posted: September 1, 2013 in Movies

salemWhen Rob Zombie decided to take the plunge into directing horror movies, fans of his psychedelic headbanging music definitely took notice. 2005’s strange, absolutely evil “House of 1000 Corpses” (and subsequent follow-up “The Devil’s Rejects”) earned Zombie the credibility as one of Hollywood’s brightest horror directors. The success of those films opened the door for him – as writer/producer/director – to relaunch the “Halloween” movie series. Critics were torn on his new view towards the Michael Meyers story, and the studio pulled the plug after just two films.

The problem seemed to be the darker, more cerebral direction the movies were taking. After all, who really wants to exercise their mind when the whole premise is based on a crazed lunatic hunting down teenagers to a bloody end again and again and again. Personally, I truly enjoyed Zombie’s versions of the films – possibly even more than the originals – but the studios felt enough was enough, and Rob returned to doing music, touring the world, and writing films on his terms.

2009 saw the animated “The Haunted World of El Superbeasto” DVD release – a mind-bending, obscene masterpiece that became a cult classic almost instantly. If you haven’t seen this, I can’t even begin to tell you how amazingly bizarre it is (my only recommendation being to hunt it down and watch it as soon as you can). Post-Halloween II, it seemed that Zombie had possibly hung up his hat as far as film making was concerned.

Thankfully, such was not the case. Mid-2011, Rob announced his intentions for a new film – titled “The Lords of Salem” -which was released by Haunted Pictures (Paranormal Activity/Insidious) in limited theatrical release this last April. And thus began the problems. Unless you lived in a city with more than 30 Starbucks shops, the film didn’t come to your theater. Even in many larger cities, the movie was limited to only a few screens or late-night-only showings. With such limited exposure, it was tough to attract an audience – and the film was considered a major flop by studio standards. Adding to the film’s demise is the fact that critics really didn’t care much for it, in general – earning some pretty low marks across the board after it’s release. I’m not sure exactly why this film was pretty much set up for failure from the get go, but I can tell you this – it’s far better than mainstream media would have you to believe.

lords2

The plot focuses on a troubled female DJ named Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie) in Salem, Massachussets, whose life becomes entangled with a coven of ancient witches, a mysterious record sent to her radio station, and a descent into madness she just can’t control.  Heidi’s life-long addictions have her on the road to recovery, but the flashbacks and relapses make it almost impossible for her to see – let alone understand – the evil surrounding her. Where Rob Zombie really succeeds here is in the nerve-wrecking technique. Some will call the film “slow” or “boring”, but I felt as if the intent was to grind away at the viewers sanity so that, by the end of the film, you feel just as damaged and broken as the main character.

The visuals were also outstanding. While most of the film has the creepy, gray-scale backdrop one would expect, there are explosions of vibrancy and color that would make both Andy Warhol and Roman Polanski proud throughout. When scenes of faceless, monstrous priests and naked, dancing senior citizens come across as “beautiful”, the film-maker has tapped in to something special.

The film’s story and production isn’t going to be for everyone, but if you let the film crawl just a little bit under your skin, I think you’ll find “The Lords of Salem” – with its visual wonders and mindbending narrative – to be unlike anything you have ever seen before, and one of the better macabre/horror films of our time.

9/10

Rated R / 101 Minutes / Available on DVD September 3.