July 31, 2006

CD Review: Powerman 5000: Destroy What You Enjoy

Powerman 5000 is returning with their first album since 2003's Transform, and it continues the straight up rock sound that they started with that album. They may not be the most prolific of bands, but they can always be counted on to put out a solid album. They mix a party-rock sound with some darker lyrical content to create an identifiable sound.

They have had an interesting career. Over the course of their four major releases, including Destroy What You Enjoy, they have had three distinctly different sounds while never losing their identity as a single band, guided all the while by lead singer Spider. Their major label debut was Mega! Kung Fu Radio which was released in 1997 and was entrenched in the nu-metal sound of the time. It was a good disk, though hardly groundbreaking. That was followed buy their break through 1999 release, Tonight the Stars Revolt. That album eschewed the nu-metal stylings in favor of a electro-rock sound. It has been their biggest album to date. Jump ahead two years to 2001, they were within a week of releasing Anyone for Doomsday? when Spider decided he didn't want it to be released. Retailers had already started promoting it, but Spider deemed it sounded to much like their prior release and wanted to go in a different direction. That was shelved, although I believe copies can be found in the secondary market. 2 years later Powerman 5000 returned with Transform, a straight rock album which is a very good listen. That brings us to the present, the eve of the release of Destroy What You Enjoy.

On a bit of a side note, the time between Transform and Destroy haven't been completely devoid of new PM5K music. The Fall of 2004 saw the release of The Good , the Bad and the Ugly Vol. 1. This is a very good release compiling many of their pre-Mega! days, displaying a jazzier, funkier sound that I wish they would revisit someday.

Destroy What You Enjoy picks up right where Transform left off. It marks the first time they have had consecutive releases with the same style. I'm not sure if that is any real comment on the band or not, but perhaps they found their niche. I did get to hear a few of these new tracks live a few months back when their tour made a stop in my town. I remember "Destroy What You Enjoy," "Heroes and Villains," and "Now That's Rock 'N Roll" being played, and sounding pretty good.

As much as I enjoyed the electro-sounds and the jazzier inflections of their earlier material, it is great to hear this straight up rock and roll. The sound isn't flashy, and isn't even terribly original, but they do a great job at playing it, and the music translates perfectly to the live setting.

The one thing that is undeniable after listening to this, is the pure catchiness and old-school feel that it possesses. It is hard to listen to it and not find yourself tapping your foot or rocking your head. Just try listening to "Wild World" or "Return to the City of the Dead" and not be immediately hooked. Ar want to rock out to "Walking Disaster" or "Murder."

The album closes out with a pair of unlikely tracks. First up is the country tinged "Miss America," a fun groove cut. The final song is a live rendition of "Heroes and Villains" which displays the high energy, and heavier vibe that exists in their live show.

In the end, Powerman 5000 rocks. Seemingly escaping the trappings that the masses would like them to subscribe to, they have "transformed" and "destroyed what you enjoy" to deliver something closer to what Spider wants to do. The sound has developed and changed since those early days, leaving behind high production values and electronic influences in favor of a more punk inspired rock sound.

Spider, Rob Zombie's younger brother, leads the band with distinctive voice and the energy required in a front man. You know, if they made a movie about Billy Idol, I think this is the man to play him, he really reminds me of the blonde one, especially live, what with his sneering and fist pumping. Behind him is the guitar duo of Johnny Heatley and Terry Corso, newcomers for this album, the fit in nice with rock style. On the rhythm section is Siggy on bass and Adrian Ost on drums.

Bottomline. This is a good disk, not quite as good as Transform, but is a good disk to put on and turn up. If you liked the prior album, you are sure to like this. If you are looking for a good album of rock music in a see of screamo and pop-rock, check this one out.

Recommended.
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July 30, 2006

Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

The first Pirates of the Caribbean film, in 2003, was a complete surprise, at least to me. Who ever would have thought that a movie based on a roller coaster attraction would have been such a big hit? Besides being a hit, it introduced the world to another character creation from the versatile Johnny Depp. Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow stands as one of the best new characters of recent memory. The quirky swashbuckler, based in part on Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones, is a big screen original, and enjoyable enough for Depp that it has become the first time he has played the same character in more than one film.

Following that initial success, Disney decided to go the same route that Back to the Future and The Matrix sequels went, filming the second and third entries simultaneously. The first of them hit theaters the first week of July and has proceeded to set the box office afire. I have seen the film twice, proving to be even more enjoyable the second time around.

This time the story revolves around Captain Jack's debt to Davy Jones, the captain of the Flying Dutchman. At some point in the past, Sparrow made a deal with Jones to captain the Black Pearl, but that deal has run out and it is time to settle the debt. Of course, Jack doesn't want that to happen, and the hunt for the chest of the title is on.

Captain Jack is not alone on his quest, nor is Jones the only villain of the picture. Lord Beckett gets the proceedings underway by arresting Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann for helping Sparrow in the first film. Of course, this turns out to be a way to get Will to agree to search for Jack and return with his magic compass. You see, Beckett is also looking for the chest, for who controls the chest can control Jones, and therefore, the seas.

The first half of the movie contains a lot of exposition. Most of the story is being set up here as the players are all moved into position. Will and Elizabeth are split up for much of this time as they each take they own way in reuniting with Jack. The former Commodore Norrington is also brought back into the picture as he attempts to regain his position. Not to be left out is the comical duo of Pintel and Ragetti, injecting themselves into the story and proving to be pretty handy with the sword.

One thing that I found interesting about the story progression was the way certain characters were dealt with and the way that some happenings later in the film were explained, or suggested, by small details earlier on. This came to my attention by the way certain points were being discussed on message boards. Details like why the creature is pursuing him, and why people want the chest, but not to destroy the contents.

The story puts moral ambiguities in the forefront. Captain Jack is portrayed is being a bit more selfish this time around, he seems to give up his friends if it would serve to save his skin. However, in the unspoken actions, and the way things are setup, one can never be sure. On the other side, Elizabeth's fascination with pirates may have boiled over into becoming a reality. There is Davy Jones, who may not be a nice guy, but is he really a villain? All he is seeking to do is collect the payment on a deal that had been made. Then, what is Beckett's motivations? He may not have a lot of screen time, but there is no denying that he has something up his sleeve.

The biggest problem with the store is that nothing, and I mean nothing, is resolved. Granted, this was a prequel of sorts for the third film, but this leaves a lot open if you hope to introduce anything new in the next entry it is going to potentially be awfully crowded.

Aside from the story, there is some great action. There is a bar room fight which is energetic, and fun, watch as Jack goes through the fight looking for a new hat. There is also an extended sequence where the good captain is about to be cooked for a cannibalistic feast. This is split between two locations, first is Jack trying to get off the spit and avoid all of the hungry natives, the other has Will and the crew of the Black Pearl hanging in ball shaped cages and their route of escape. Sure, it doesn't have much to do with the plot at large, but it is a highly entertaining sequence, especially Jack's race with the pole still strapped to his back.

The action centerpiece takes place towards the end of the film, and escalates from a three way sword fight into a fracas involving the crews of the Pearl and the Dutchman. Captain Jack, Will, and Norrington engage in a fight over the just found chest, while Elizabeth pleads for it to end. Ragetti and Pintel then attempt to remove temptation, drawing Elizabeth's attention. Meanwhile the Dutchman crew are coming ashore looking for that chest. The centerpiece of this fight is the three-way swordfight making its way to a runaway wheel. The entire sequence is spectacular and well edited. Oftentimes fights are chopped to bits in the editing room so that you cannot tell what is going on. This fight was perfectly understandable and easy to follow.

The effects are the best of the year, with Davy Jones taking his place among the greatest CG characters ever to grace the silver screen. I could not believe it when I discovered that he was completely CG. When I saw the film a second time, I kept looking at Jones' eyes, and they were completely convincing. Beyond Jones, his crew are beautifully realized in all their decaying glory. ILM truly outdid themselves.

Bottomline. Gore Verbinski is fast becoming a player, even if no one saw his underrated The Weather Man. This may not stand up to the original, but it is a highly entertaining middle chapter which leaves me thirsting for more. Plus, anything with Johnny Depp is worth my time.

Highly Recommended.
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Movie Review: The Ant Bully

The latest CG film to grace the screens is The Ant Bully, a tale of a picked upon boy who takes his frustrations out on the ants, the ants then rise up to teach the boy a lesson. Now, is it me, or does it feel like every week or two there is a new computer animated movie hitting the multiplex, with more on the horizon? What I wouldn't give for a traditional, hand drawn animated film on the big screen, but that is neither here nor there.

Lucas Nickle (Zach Tyler) is a small boy who gets picked on by the neighborhood bully. These increasingly frequent attacks are frustrating Lucas, or Peanut to his mother. He is becoming more and more bitter, lashing out at his mother or whoever else happens to get in his way, including the ants. His front yard is the home of a large ant colony, which is frequently attacked by Lucas. The ants are also becoming frustrated by who they call The Destroyer.

A wizard ant, by the name of Zoc (Nicolas Cage), is working on a potion to help get even with the human. The plan is to shrink Lucas down to their size, and eat him, if Zoc has his way. His girlfriend, Hova (Julia Roberts), has other plans. She is assigned to teach him to be an ant. And so, the lesson begins. As the story progresses, we watch as the boy learns a new way of dealing with problems, and being tolerant of others, and the lesson goes both ways. Be an ant conformist, or you will not survive.

While the story is verbose and obvious, and the primary character that is generally unlikeable, the visuals keep up a fast pace and features a couple of striking action sequences and some nice animation. The flooding of the colony via garden hose was quite dynamic, watching the ants flee as there homes were destroyed. Beyond that, there is a great battle when the colony is attacked by a hoarde of wasps, and later when the insects all work together to take on exterminator (Paul Giamatti). Overall, the animation may not be Pixar level, but they did a nice job at geting detail into the film, and the final film looks quite good.

The voice cast is A list, with a little bit of the B thrown in for good measure. I am guessing that the A listers were used as a marketing tool since the story was a bit lacking, but they all do a very good job. Meryl Streep is the colony's Queen, and she brings real sense of regality to the role. The aforementioned stars are also effective, particularly Nicolas Cage. I would be remiss if I failed to mention the presence of the B-movie god, Bruce Campbell, as the pompous scout ant, Fugax. Campbell is enough of a reason to see anything at least once, and he doesn't disappoint here, bringing a hammy ant to life.

Bottomline. The Ant Bully left me, more or less, flat. It wasn't awful by any stretch, but it didn't take any chances. In the end it is little more than another bug movie, and a lesser one than Antz and A Bug's Life. Still, the kids will probably like it, while the parents wait for the end. The animation is good, if it only had the story to back it up.

Mildly Recommended.
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July 29, 2006

Movie Review: Miami Vice

If you want pastel colored clothes, bright sunny days, and a fun action movie, you are sure to be disappointed. If you are looking for a dark, gritty, violent excursion into the drug trade, then this may be something for you. As for whether or not it is successful, the answer is a little cloudier.

Miami Vice is a highly stylized film. The look and feel of it ranks first, followed by the plot, while dialogue and characters are way down the list. This split makes this an entertaining, yet highly frustrating, time at the theater. It is a demanding film that requires you to pay careful attention to the plot, or otherwise you will be lost and even more frustrated.

The plot follows Crockett and Tubbs as they get involved in the drug trade following a call that should not have been made. We are thrust right into the thick of things without so much as opening credits, and before you know it, the current job is pushed to the side when they get a frantic call from a former informer. This leads to the pair going undercover as drug smugglers to flush out the bad guys in the Keys. You have to pay attention as loyalties are changed and personal lives become entwined with the professional lives, which could prove to be all of their undoing. I know, it isn't the most original of plots, but writer/director Michael Mann knows just how to make it all seem fresh enough. The proof of all that is good is the execution of the premise.

The problems with the movie all lie with the dialog and characters. I don't blame the actors, as they all did good jobs with what they had to work with. The script fails all of us when it comes to motivations and character development. Aside from laying the framework for the plot, there isn't much point for the dialog. This leaves many characters going through through the motions, and the ones you want to know more about, sadly shallow. I had trouble really understanding why they felt so strongly early on about the mission. Why, why, why? I wanted to know more about these guys and why they were so passionate. Perhaps with stronger writing I could have become more involved with the plot, rather than just working on keeping it straight.

Despite the lack of characterization, or perhaps in spite of it, Mann puts a premium on the value of romance. Both of our leads have romantic entanglements which filter their outlook on the job. The relationships offer the most insight into Crockett and Tubbs than anything else in the film, however, in the end, they just prove to be a couple more plot devices used to fuel the action sequences. Actually, the two lead to a pair of the best scenes in the movie, involving a hostage situation and a climactic showdown.

Our leads are no longer Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas, no, the new Crockett and Tubbs are Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx. Both of whom are more than capable actors, particularly Foxx, who absolutely floored me in Mann's last film, Collateral. They both look, and for the most part, act the part, but they are saddled with poor lines such as: "No one has tread before where we are now. We're seeing their operations from the inside." and "Takin' it to the limit, one more time." Ugh, just awful. Farrell also has the problem of lowering his voice to the point of sounding fake, and his accent is a little uneven. Still, I like the looks they brought to the roles, and wouldn't mind seeing more of them in these roles, if the writing is better. On the other side is the best written character, Gong Li's Isabella. Li was last seen in 2005's Memoir's of a Geisha as a threat to Zhang Ziyi's rising star. She may not have the best command of the English language, but she holds her own, delivering more depth and emotion than the rest of the cast combined. Her character is one of the leaders of the Colombian cartel, and she gets involved with Farrell's Crockett.

Despite the lack of substance, the film looks fantastic with a gorgeous grittiness that permeates every frame. Michael Mann is an artist with the camera. The way he shoots the night, letting you see the film grain, shooting each frame as if it were the only one, this is where the substance lies. Mann along with his DP, Dion Beebe (Collateral, Memoirs of a Geisha), created a look that is involving and memorable and makes up for its shortcomings.

The other big plus are the action sequences, they are meticulously staged and get the adrenaline flowing. Beyond that, Mann is not scared of showing a little blood. The shootouts are violent, head shot, limb severing affairs, and convey a deadly seriousness to the proceedings. The climactic showdown, in particular, is one of the better shootouts to grace the big screen in sometime.

Bottomline. Despite my problems with the characters and dialogue, this is still a film that I would recommend seeing. Michael Mann has delivered a stylized, adult oriented action film that is worth seeing on the big screen. The movie is beautifully shot, adrenaline filled, and features a fine performance from Gong Li. May not be as much as it could have been, but be thankful for the lack of pink shirts, white sport coats, and loafers with no socks.

Recommended.
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July 28, 2006

DVD Review: The Adventures of Briscoe County Jr. - The Complete Series

It lasted a single season and 27 episodes 13 years ago, yet here it is gaining renewed life on DVD. I cannot believe that I missed this during its original run, when it was paired with the start of The X-Files. Well, actually I can believe it. Back in those days I wasn't the entertainment sucker I am now, and I didn't start watching The X-Files until the third season. I remember this show being on, I just never paid it much mind. Looking back, I wish I did.

What's not to like? It is campy fun, filled with comedy, high adventure, action, and successfully blends the western and science fiction genres in an aura of the search for the next big thing. On top of all that it stars the B-movie god, Bruce Campbell. If knew then, what I know now, I would have been there every week, and possibly single handedly saved the show. Or not.

Now, don't get me wrong, this is no classic by any stretch. What this show thrived on, and why I found these disks so entertaining, is the relentless fun factor. The show is just so agreeable and just a little bit weird. The combination of characters and writing come together to create this exceedingly entertaining little oddity. It is fun for the whole family but doesn't pander to the lowest common denominator. The writing is fun and witty and develops the characters over the 27 episodes.

The centers on Briscoe County Jr., a Harvard educated lawyer who is also well versed in the ways of the west. He is drawn into action following the murder of his father, a well regarded lawman, by the dastardly villain John Bly, played by the enigmatic Billy Drago. Of course, that is only a part of the story as there is also a mysterious orb that appears from time to time.

Joining Briscoe is his employer liaison, Socrates Puehl (Christian Clemenson), a nerdy bookworm of a fellow and sometimes rival and sometimes partner, Lord Bowler (Julius Carry). Not to be left behind is Comet, Briscoe's horse who doesn't realize he's a horse. On the other side of the coin is the previously mentioned Billy Drago's John Bly, but even better, and one of my favorite characters on the show, Pete Hutter as portrayed by John Pyper-Ferguson. Hutter is a zany character who routinely steals scenes from Campbell, which is a pretty tough thing to do. Other characters of note are Briscoe's love interest Dixie Cousins (Kelly Rutherford), and Prof. Albert Wickwire (John Astin), a role reminiscent of Doc from Back to the Future.

Video. The series is presented in its original ratio of 1.33:1 and, for the most looks pretty good. It is not a first rate transfer, details are soft and sharpness is not all that great. Still, it is not awful, and I am happy to just have the opportunity to see the series.

Audio. Audio is presented in Dolby Digital Stereo and sounds good. There isn't anything here that will tax your sound system. It is a good representation of the series.

Extras. There are a few to speak of.
-Commentary. The pilot episode has a commentary with Bruce Campbell and co-creator Carlton Cuse. It is an entertaining track, as Campbell tracks always are, I swear he could make the fun book fun. They recount many details of the shoot, plus the history of the locations and how he came to get the part. I only wish there were a few more on the set.
-"Briscoe's Book of Coming Things." Briscoe was always looking for the next thing, and there are a number of things that would be "invented" in the future. This is like an audio diary of some of the things encountered. It is neat, but not something that will be revisited.
-"The History of Briscoe County." This runs thirty minutes and contains new interviews with many of the key players, including Campbell, Kelly Rutherford, Julius Carry, and Christian Clemenson. It is an interesting look back at the good times making the show.
-"Tools of the Trade." This is a brief look at some things that were integral to the show, including the horse (and the multiple horses used), gun play, the orb, and the potential second season.
-"A Reading from the Book of Bruce." Bruce reads the chapter on Briscoe from his book, If Chins Could Kill. I want to hear the rest of the book!
-"A Briscoe County Writer's Room." This is a retrospective round table with many of the shows key creative members. This was fun, it is basically an unmoderated talk between these guys and their time on the show.
-Finally, all of the liner notes and episode descriptions were written by Bruce himself, and are well worth the read.

Bottomline. I am glad to have the chance to see this show, it is a lot of fun. It may have operated on a lower budget, but they knew how to put it all on the screen. Plus, anything with Bruce Campbell is worth watching, period.

Recommended.
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New Movie Releases and Box Office Predictions: Miami Vice, The Ant Bully, John Tucker Must Die

Following up last week's flooding of four new movies into the mix, come this week's three new wide releases. With three different target audiences, the studios are all set to carve up the movie goers. The big question is, will any of them pose a threat to the Captain?

The Ant Bully. (2006, 88 minutes, PG, animated adventure, trailer) What if you were a young kid who liked to torture insects in your backyard? Now, what if those insects had a way to get back at you, and teach you a lesson? That is what this movie is about, and it looks like it could be fun. The movie looks to be anchored by a fine voice cast, including Julia Roberts, Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Paul Giamatti, and Bruce Campbell.

John Tucker Must Die. (2006, 87 minutes, PG-13, comedy, trailer) I'm not so sure about this one, it looks a little silly, but then again, I am not exactly in the target audience. The movie is about a trio of girls, all who have been burned by the same high school jock, so they get together and plot their revenge. The movie was directed by Betty Thomas, who also directed I, Spy and Dr. Dolittle.

Miami Vice. (2006, 132 minutes, R, action, trailer) Michael Mann's latest feature is a reinvention of his own television creations. I never watched the old TV series, perhaps the lack of that baggage will help me with this movie. Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx star as the undercover cops, along for the ride is Gong Li, last seen in Memoirs of a Geisha. Michael Mann is a wonderful director, I loved his last film, Collateral, so I hope this one pays off.

Scoop. (2006, 95 minutes, PG-13, comedy, trailer) Following the excellent Match Point, Woody Allen has returned to the comedy side of the thriller with this film. Scarlett Johansson stars as an aspiring journalist who pairs up with a hapless magician, played by Woody. Her goal is to get closer to Hugh Jackman (who seems to be in a lot of movies this year), who may be a serial killer. This movie looks quite good, and I hope to get a chance to see it.

Also opening this week, but not near me:
  • 13 (Tzameti)
  • Another Gay Movie
  • Brothers of the Head
  • Darshan
  • I Like Killing Flies
  • Little Miss Sunshine

Box Office Predictions

Three new movies are all set to assault the top ten chart, but where will they fall? I have a feeling that Pirates will fall out of the top spot this week, making way for Miami Vice. However, I think that it will remain a force for a few more weeks. The other two films, I don't think they will make that big a splash. Here is how I think it will play out:

RankTitleBox Office
1Miami Vice$28 million
2Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest$23 million
3Monster House$17 million
4The Ant Bully$16 million
5John Tucker Must Die$13.5 million
6Lady in the Water$9 million
7My Super Ex-Girlfriend$8 million
8Clerks II$4.5 million
9The Devil Wears Prada$3 million
10Superman Returns$2.5 million

What are you seeing this weekend?

July 27, 2006

Movie Review: Monster House

"If Stephen King made an animated horror movie this would be it."

That is the best description of this movie I have seen, and I wish I had thought it myself, but I cannot lay claim. I saw this in a thread over at the Home Theater Forum, and, more specifically, a post by John Graz. It was during a discussion of the ads for Monster House being misleading, and the movie being inappropriate for young children and should have been rated PG-13. I agree that this may be a bit much for the youngest of children, but I don't believe that it should have been any more than the PG that it got. But that is a discussion for another time.

Monster House succeeds in tapping into your childhood fears. It really is like a nightmare that is being experienced in your waking life, you can't wake up, you can't escape, and it is coming for you. Everyone has that childhood memory of that one house that no one would go near. The reasons are varied, but they all come back to one thing, fear of the unknown. The house is rundown, or seemingly deserted, or is inhabited by grumpy old people. Whatever the reason, you would always peddle a little harder when you passed it, or your step would quicken, and you would always make sure that your ball would never land in the yard, for fear that you would never see it again. This movie takes those fears and puts them up on the big screen.

This is not your typical animated comedy, for that matter, it isn't a comedy at all. Despite the much needed comedic touches, this is a horror film. It is aimed at the younger audience, perhaps 10 and up, but there is a lot here that will regress the adults in attendance back to those days gone by in what may be a cathartic experience.

The central characters is DJ (voice of Mitchel Musso) and his friend Chowder (voice of Sam Lerner). It is the eve of Halloween and DJ is on the verge of puberty and starting to feel a little too grown up to go trick or treating, Chowder, on the other hand, is one of those kids who won't grow up and loves his candy. Later, they are joined by Jenny (voice of Spencer Locke), a prep school girl who thinks she is above the boys antics, until the house reveals its true intentions.

DJ is convinced that there is something evil going on in the rundown house across the street. The neighborhood kids all have a story about losing a toy to the crotchety old Mr. Nebbercracker (voice of Steve Buscemi) who lives in the house. He seems to be lying in wait, poised to pounce as soon as a child's plaything makes contact with his lawn.

A fateful encounter between DJ, Chowder, and the old man awakens the evil inside the house. DJ finds himself being haunted by the house, so he recruits Chowder, and, inadvertantly, Jenny to investigate the house and stop it before anything worse happens. As is want to happen in this type of nightmarish story, the adults don't believe the kids, and the kids have to pull together the courage to overcome their fears in their battle against the living nightmare.

I don't really want to give too much away, as this is a movie that works best as all is revealed slowly. The pieces all come together to reveal an undercoat of heart. I know it sounds cliche to refer to a film's heart, but it exists here, a current of sweetness making its way through the scares.

The animation is very good, in particular, the designwork that brings the house to life. The background animation is gorgeous, and the way the camera weaves through it is like a rollercoaster taking you for a ride. I believe there are plans for a 3D release, and much of the work here seems to be geared to that potentiality.

The voice cast works very well, for the most part. I really enjoyed Steve Buscemi as Nebbercracker, and the duo of Kevin James and Nick Cannon as the local police. The trio of kids are very effective. The only voice problem I had was Jon Heder as "Skull," it took me right out of the movie as I kept thinking "Hey, that's Napoleon Dynamite!" Fortunately, he only has a small role.

Bottomline. It may be too intense for younger children, but this is a very good time for most at the movies. It successfully brings to life a unifying childhood fear that everyone can identify with. Monster House is a nice alternative to the comedy that usually dominates the animated feature.

Highly Recommended.
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July 25, 2006

Movie Review: Clerks II

Now here is a film that is sure to bring in a split reaction. The split will probably be between the Smith faithful and everybody else, although there is sure to be some crossover. I am not sure that I can be counted among the the Smith fan club, but I do tend to enjoy his films, more often than not. For example, I loved Clerks and Chasing Amy, but was somewhere in the middle on Mallrats and Jersey Girl. After getting past the Smith fanboy scenem there is the issue of making a sequel to a cult indie flick from 12 years ago. I am happy to say that this film is a success.

It's crass, it's vulgar, and it has a heart of gold. We pick up with our favorite clerks, Dante and Randal, 12 years after the events of the original Clerks. Following the demise of the Quick Stop and the video store, after an unfortunate coffee pot fire, the duo have found themselves working at Mooby's, one of the local fast food chain establishments. As always, they have big dreams and very little motivation.

This day in the life film finds Dante on the cusp of a new way of life. He is engaged and about to move to Florida where his fiancee's family will give them a house and a job. It also happens to be a life he is not sure that he wants, and Randal knows he doesn't want. This day happens to be Dante's last day and Randal is set to make it a day to remember.

At the center of the film is the supreme hetero friendship between the two clerks, everything else is just icing on the cake. For as many f-bombs and perverted sexual comments as there are, they never become jokes for jokes sake, they all serve to reveal these characters, their insecurities, and their genuine friendship. This duo are meant to be together forever, regardless the cost. The journey they take over the course of the day is what this movie is about, the ending you may see coming, but it doesn't matter, this is about the characters.

I cannot remember the last time I laughed so hard. The jokes come from all angles, so funnier than others, but all working for me. There is the obligatory Star Wars conversation, this time involving a new trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, which combine to make up one of the best segments in the movie. This is also a good point to mention the introduction of a next generation clerk, Elias, a delightfully repressed and geeky compatriot who is set to be Randal's next best friend, pending Dante's impending move. Another aspect of wackiness is the much ballyhooed donkey show, which doesn't really go the way you may think. Also present are Jay and Silent Bob, back on the outside wall selling their wares and adding their own brand of stoned humor.

There was another cast addition here, Rosario Dawson as the Mooby's manager. She adds just the right amount of class to the crass surroundings. Her scenes with Dante bring a little dramatic heft, but not too much, just enough to help bring the heart home.

Everything in this movie feels comfortable. For fans of the original film, this will feel like a homecoming of sorts. As soon as these characters appear, no introduction is necessary, you are ready for Dante's neuroses and Randal's sharp tongued sarcasm. Moving further along, as soon as Jay and Silent Bob appear, you're laughing before they even utter a word.

Kevin Smith has shown his development of a director, he knows these characters and he knows not to repeat himself. He has brought these characters believably and logically into their future, they have the whole world in front of them, and Smith is opening it up for them. He has also learned to move the camera, a common criticism of his earlier work, here he uses the moving camera to fine effect. In the end, though, it is not the camera work we go to a Smith film, it's the dialog and characters, and he definitely delivers.

I have to reiterate, the humor may be outlandishly hilarious and insanely vulgar, but there is so much heart here. The characters open themselves up to each other completely, they define what it means to be a true friend. At first the hints are subtle, but the further into the film you go, the reality that these two friends share becomes abundantly apparent. They have grown up together, shared everything, and it is nearing an end, and it scares both of them, and they don't know how to express their fears. Smith weaves the words that brings these two together, and it is beautiful.

Bottomline. Heartfelt hilarity is the order of the day, but it isn't sappy, perhaps a bit sentimental. This is the comedy to see this year. I could watch 10 movies with these characters, not that I think there should be, but these characters are pitch perfect. See this movie!

Highly Recommended.
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Box Office Update 7/21-7/23: Can Anyone Stop Jack Sparrow?

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest continues its utter dominance of the box office. It has now cruised by the $300 million mark, making it the fastest to reach that point. This weekend also sees it cruising up to number 16 on the all time domestic box office chart, and it is almost a lock to climb much further up the charts. There has been much debate of the merits of the film as an artistic expression, but there is no denying that it has tapped into something that is getting people into the theaters, for the record I have seen it twice and enjoyed it very much, moreso the second time. Now, this may not mean much to many of you, but looking at many of the box office records, there are many owned by Sparrow and company, let's take a look:

Opening Weekend: #1
Second Weekend: #3
Third Weekend: #3
July Opening: #1
Single Day: #1
Opening Day: #1
Fridays: #1
Saturdays: #2
Sundays: #1
Mondays: #4
10 Day Gross: #1
9 Day Gross: #1
8 Day Gross: #1
Opening Week: #1
6 Day Gross: #1
5 Day Gross: #2
3 Day Gross: #2
3 Day Gross: #1
Tuesdays: #1
Fastest to $100M: #1 (2 days)
Fastest to $200M: #1 (8 days)
Fastest to $300M: #1 (16 days)

Pretty impressive, if you ask me (and I know you didn't). I am sure there will be a more to add to the list before all is said and done. It has been some time since I have seen a film bring out the people in the numbers this has. When I was at the cinema this past weekend, after getting out of Lady in the Water, I was talking to my friend in the booth, I marvelled at all the people looking to go to see Pirates late on a Saturday night. It will be interesting to see how far it can go.

As for the new releases this week, none of them seemed to be all that dominating, and in some cases they were downright disappointing. First there was Monster House, it came in number 2, but no one seems to be talking about it, so the legs may not hold up for this one. Following that at number 3 is the new M. Night Shyamalan film, Lady in the Water, which I found to be very disappointing, and terribly frustrating for the talent that he possesses. Way down at number 7 is Ivan Reitman's misguided mass of romantic comedy and superhero genres. Interesting concept, but hurt by poor execution. Rounding out the new releases, and the only success is Clerks II which landed in sixth place. That may not sound good, but if you consider the cult-like following Smith has gained over the years, combined with it doubling its production budget in one weekend, that has to be seen as a good thing. Oh yeah, it is hilarious as well.

Among the returning films, they all seemed to fare rather well, with no film dropping greater than 50%. The top faring film was The Devil Wears Prada, which I am happy to see, as it is a very good movie. Also doing better than expected was Superman Returns which seems to be leveling off a bit with a drop of 40%.

Four films dropped from the list this week: Click (11), A Scanner Darkly (13), The Lake House (14), and Nacho Libre (15).

This Week

Last WeekTitleWknd GrossOverallWeek in release
11Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest$35,215,201$321,899,2333
2N

Monster House

$22,217,226$22,217,2261
3NLady in the Water$18,044,396$18,044,3961
43You, Me, and Dupree$12,767,590$45,299,0802
52Little Man$11,025,108$40,636,2302
6N

Clerks II

$10,061,132$10,061,1321
7NMy Super Ex-Girlfriend$8,603,460$8,603,4601
84Superman Returns$7,375,213$178,342,7114
95The Devil Wears Prada$7,361,991$97,508,4604
106Cars$4,947,198$229,485,6367


Box Office Predictions Recap
Not too bad this week, I was able to successfully predict the top 3, plus another pair down the list, so I ended up 50/50 for the week. As for my gross prediction, they are still rather gross.

Actual

PredictionTitleWknd GrossPrediction
11Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest$35,215,201$30 million
22Monster House$22,217,226$27 million
33Lady in the Water$18,044,396$24 million
74My Super Ex-Girlfriend$8,603,460$16 million
45

You, Me, and Dupree

$12,767,590

$13.5 million

66Clerks II$10,061,132$13 million
97The Devil Wears Prada$7,361,991$8 million
88Superman Returns$7,375,213$7 million
59Little Man$11,025,108$6.5 million
1110Click$4,035,847$3.5 million


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DVD Pick of the Week: TIE Animaniacs and Pink and the Brain

Just like last week, this week brings with it a tie for the top spot. Last week it was a pair of short lived television series starring Bruce Campbell, this week is a pair of Warner Brothers cartoon series from the 1990s. These are a pair of shows that many fans have been waiting for quite some time to see on their preferred digital format. Finally, we can relive the humor of our earlier years.

This week's picks are Animaniacs: Volume 1 and Pinky and the Brain: Volume 1. The latter being a spin-off of the former. I loved both of these series, they were smart, witty, and flat out fun. They were reminscent of the old Looney Toons in their attitude and zaniness. The former show focused on the comedic exploits of the Warner brothers, Yakko and Wakko, and the Warner sister, Dot. They were always getting in trouble whenever they left their water tower on the Warner Brothers lot. I don't recall many specifics of their adventures, which this set will thankfully rectify. They are not the only participants in the insanity, there was Slappy and Skippy Squirrel, the Goodfeathers, Chicken Boo, and, of course, Pinky and the Brain.

Pinky and the Brain was a spinoff featuring the most popular of secondary characters. They are a pair of gentically altered lab mice, one is a genius, the other's insane. The Brain had the same goal every night, after the humans left, he would attempt to take over the world. Of course, his plans would always turn into spectacular failures. Always at his side is the goofy Pinky, who is always ready with some nonsensical remark. I didn't watch this show as much, but it was still funny stuff.

Both of these sets are sure to be hits with kids and adults alike. They represent a high point in the after school cartoon, in a time that wasn't dominated by the likes of Pokemon and Yu Gi Oh.

Also out this week:
  • The 2005 Academy Award Nominated Shorts. This is a wonderful idea. This collects almost all of the nominated shorts, both live action and animated. One of the ones missing is Pixar's One Man Band, presumably rights issues.
  • Awesome, I…. Shot That. Here is another interesting idea, the Beastie Boys gave a number of fans cameras to shoot the show, this is the result.
  • The Benchwarmers. Not a good movie, but I still got a kick out of it. It was weird seeing Rob Schneider, someone I do not care for, being the straight man.
  • The Boondocks: The Complete First Season. I have heard good things about this socially satirical animated show.
  • Final Destination 3. I liked the first two, but this one fell flat. On the plus side, the extras look to be pretty good.
  • Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. Getting the Anchor Bay Divimax treatment is this horror sequel.
  • Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers. Same deal as above.
  • Halloween: 25 Years of Terror. This is a feature length documentary on the history of the killer in the Kirk mask.

What are you getting this week?

July 24, 2006

Movie Review: My Super Ex-Girlfriend

Not to be outdone by Owen, Luke Wilson comes with a romantic comedy of his own to wompete with You, Me, and Dupree. The said fact exists, that for as mediocre as Owen's film is, Luke's doesn't even reach that level.

Do you even sit in the theater waiting for the movie to kick into gear? Then you glance at your watch and realize that time is fast running out, and the hopes that the movie can pull out of its tailspin is reaching critical mass. Well, that is what it was like watching My Super Ex-Girlfriend. I kept waiting for something other than the star to take off, for the story to really become something worthy of paying attention too. Of course, I did not go in with terribly high expectations, but a guy can hope, can't he?

I like the concept, it would have to be tough for a superhero's alter ego to enter into any serious relationship. The idea of a potentially emotionally repressed superhero, used to dealing with potentially world threatening circumstances trying to relate on a more personal level. Of course, problems escalate as the normal half of the relationship is unable to deal with the super powers, breaks it off, and then the super powered half loses it turns her powers towards getting back at the ex. There is so much potential for comedy there, not to mention interesting characters with which to populate said world, the requisite co-workers and super-villains.

Sadly, any potential that the concept had for a good movie was thrown out the window in favor of a movie that barely scratches the surface. The characters were sacrificed in favor of a few mildly comedic setups. It was as if any time they got close to something good, they had to cut and move on to something else.

The movie follows Matt Saunders (Luke Wilson), who enters a relationship with the repressed librarian type, Jenny Johnson (Uma Thurman), who also happens to be the superheroine G-Girl. At first all goes well, but Jenny turns out to be a little possessive and unable to properly relate to her boyrfriend. He learns her secret and he can't handle it. Soon enough, he breaks up with her, and she uses her powers to make his life a living hell.

There is also the requisite villain, Professor Bedlam (Eddie Izzard), who is integral to the movie, but doesn't integrate all that well with the movie. Also along for the ride is Matt's friend, a rather self-centered man with no reason to be so, Vaughn (Rainn Wilson). Lastly, there is the other woman, who poses a threat to our super powered girl, Hannah (Anna Farris). Sadly, none of the characters feel fully formed, nor are they used to their potential.

The movie, rather than actually be good, decides to coast on the effects of the super feats performed, and the things G-Girl does to Saunders for the comedy. I would be lying if I said I wasn't entertained at all, but the story just lurches along from one scene to the next without much connective tissue to stitch them together. I did enjoy the interaction between Wilson and Anna Farris, with the occasional appearance from Wanda Sykes as their boss.

Bottomline. I wanted to enjoy this, I wanted to have fun, but it just wasn't, not really. The story just was not terribly strong, and it just felt very formulaic. I'd recommend looking elsewhere for your romcom fix.

Not Recommended.
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July 23, 2006

Movie Review: Lady in the Water

M. Night Shyamalan has been on a bit of slide of late. After his fantastic The Sixth Sense and even better Unbreakable, he has hit a bit of a rut. Signs was good, not great, and The Village was a big disappointment. Even with the downward slope his movies have been on of late, I still wanted to believe that the slide would stop here. The trailers looked good, I like Paul Giamatti, and Bryce Dallas Howard gave an incredible performace in that bomb that was The Village, with those going for it, I hade some cautiously guarded hopes. Unfortunately the stink seeped through the door and I was faced with yet another disappointing film.

As I walked out of the theater, one word kept repeating itself over and over in my head. That word was "pretentious." Perhaps a better way of putting it is "trying too hard." It is almost as if Shyamalan picks the twist or the high concept and then tries to build everything else around it, it doesn't get boiled down to its essence. The past couple of movies lack any type of organic development, rather it is much more mechanical, pieces of a puzzle fitting together rather than the melding of words.

Lady in the Water tells the story of the attempted reconnect between the people living above the water with the people living below. It seems that the story of the inhabitants of this so-called Blue World and their attempts to rejoin the relationship with humans has become the stuff of legend, including what seems to be a very well detailed bedtime story.

The central character of this tale is Cleveland Heep, played by Paul Giamatti. He is the superintendant of an apartment building called The Cove. He is a quiet, agreeable, man who is just making a living. The tenants of the building are a wide array of people, with vastly different personalities. By the end of the movie, this disparate group of people will be called together to work towards something that is greater than their own lives.

The structure of the movie is maddening, it is kind of like an old role playing game. You know the kind of game, where you get so far and then have to return somewhere to get some more exposition on the next step, and you have to repeat this over and over. Heep learns something and then goes back to the one person familiar with the story to find out the next part so that he can get to the next level, and so on and so forth. He goes around to the building filling them in on their roles, so that everyone can be involved.

I was completely frustrated by the way many of the characters would sleepwalk through their parts. No one was asking the obvious questions that would need to be answered. The main question that seems to be purposefully ignored, lest the plot fall apart, is "Why?" It's not that I think anyone would really be able to answer the question, but no one seems interested in knowing, they just blindly do. I know that this ties in with the whole faith theme that runs through the undercurrents of the film, but even with faith comes questions. Blind faith, as advocated here, is not something that should be taken lightly, and could be more damaging than one may suspect.

By the time we get to the end, my interest was waning. The story never really clicked and never developed anything beyond the surface. The reasons behind what they were doing, or, again, why they were doing it never came into the equation. What was the intended result? Sure, it tells how everyone is special and unique and will eventually learn their purpose. That's about as deep as it gets. In retrospect, it seems rather shallow, but it is presented in such a way as to appear transcendant.

Sadly, this lack of any worthwhile story, and underwhelming resolution greatly overshadows the good that is here. That is the most frustrating aspect of this film, as well as The Village. They both have a lot to like, but the failures in the storytelling present a nearly insurmountable obstacle to enjoying the movie.

The acting is quite good, primarily from Paul Giamatti. Giamatti's Heep is a delightful everyman, a performance that is easy to relate to and feels genuine, plus he seems to be the only truly inquisitive member of the bunch. Likewise, Bryce Dallas Howard gives an intriguing performance as Story, the Lady of the title, she captures an intiguing sense of the ethereal, but seems to lack true substance. Bob Balaban also turns in a fun performance, or maybe I just liked his critic character. Cindy Cheung, as Young-Soon Choi, provides some funny comic relief, as well as being the needed conduit to expostion. On the flip side, Shyamalan has injected himself more into this film than the past, he plays a significant role in this one, and it didn't work for me. That word pretentious is creeping back into my mind, I think he should leave the acting to the actors, his scenes were very flat.

The film was beautifully shot. There is some great cinematography delivering some beautiful images. I also enjoyed how the dialogue would run together at times, remniniscent of Robert Altman, and how the angles did not always focus on the speaker, but on the reactions, despite the fact that they seem out of place, interesting work.

In the end, I think that M. Night Shyamalan is an extraordinary talent. However, he has not shown any real growth in his work. I believe he should try working from someone else's written word, or perhaps try working in another genre. His last two films may have been disappointments, but there is no denying the ability he possesses, he just in a bit of a slump.

Bottomline. Some fine acting, wonderfully shot, yet the end result feels so incomplete. The story falls flat, and it drags the rest of the work down as a result. I cannot recommend this film, although it may be worthy of a rental. All I hope for is that Shyamalan does not let this tailspin last any longer.

Not Recommended.
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July 21, 2006

New Movie Releases and Box Office Predictions: Clerks II, Lady in the Water, Monster House, My Super Ex-Girlfriend

Bucking the trends, this weekend brings four new films going into wide release this week. After a smattering of one and two movie release weeks, we get dumped upon. Four movies all vying for your attention. All of which could be potential hits, but I think that Captain Jack will be able to hold them at bay. Could be interesting, I hope the movies are actually good.

Clerks II. (2006, 97 minutes, R, comedy, trailer) Kevin Smith returns to the characters that brought him fame and fortune, and a world of haters. Dante and Randall are no longer at the Quick Stop and video store, now they have moved up to flipping burgers for Mooby's. Now, whether or not there is a story has yet to be seen. I loved the original film, and have guarded hopes that this will also be very funny, even if it isn't for everybody.

Lady in the Water. (2006, 110 minutes, PG-13, suspense, trailer) M. Night Shyamalan attempts to rebound from the disappointing The Village with this fairy tale. Paul Giammatti and Bryce Dallas Howard co-star in this film where the characters discover they are a part of a fairy tale. The trailer looks good, but I am keeping my expectations in check. Shyamalan is a talented director, but he is in a rut, I hope he can make other types of movies without the need for a twist, or else his career will sink fast.

Monster House. (2006, 91 minutes, PG, animated, trailer) Every street has that one house, the one that no one goes near and the kids say is haunted. This animated adventure is that story. A trio of kids have to find a way to destroy the haunted house before hapless trick or treaters meet a ghoulish surprise. I have heard nothing but good things about this one, a real crowd pleasure.

My Super Ex-Girlfriend. (2006, 95 minutes, PG-13, comedy, trailer) I guess it was only a matter of time before the romcom met the superhero flick. Uma Thurman plays the heroine looking for love, and the latest interest is Luke Wilson. Wilson starts dating her alter-ego, never suspecting that his subdued love is something more than see appears. Of course, the truth comes out when he decides to break up with her. This looks like it could be fun, but I'm not holding my breath.

Heading South. (2005, 105 minutes, NR, documentary, trailer, in French with English subtitles) I'd never heard of this before, and it honestly does not appeal to me on the surface. It concerns three middle aged women who travel to Haiti for sun, fun, and the attentions of the young men. Unfortunately, the one who catches the women's eye happens to be entangled in something more.

Yang Ban Xi: The Eight Model Works. (2005, 90 minutes, NR, documentary-musical, trailer, in Mandarin with English subtitles) A musical documentary from the Netherlands, in Mandarin, from a Chinese director? Sounds like a weird nation of origin, but so be it. The film takes a look at the Cultural Revolution in China where government sanctioned plays were the order of the day. Director Yan Ting Yuen interviews former artists who were involved in the plays and those who were inspired by them.

Also opening this week, but not near me:

  • The Amatuers
  • Been Rich All My Life
  • Boy's Briefs 4
  • Shadowboxer
  • Time to Leave

Box Office Predictions

With four new wide release all looking for a piece of the pie, the finish could be interesting as they all carve themselves a piece. I think Pirates may be able to hang on to the top spot, but it may not be easy. Here is my shot in the dark for the finish:

RankTitleBox Office
1Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest$30 million
2Monster House$27 million
3Lady in the Water$24 million
4My Super Ex-Girlfriend$16 million
5You, Me, and Dupree$13.5 million
6Clerks II$13 million
7The Devil Wears Prada$8 million
8Superman Returns$7 million
9Little Man$6.5 million
10Click$3.5 million

What are you seeing this weekend?

July 20, 2006

Joel Siegel vs Kevin Smith: aka Take it Like a Man

I first read about this over at IMDB.com, and I have to say that I was very much amused by the situation. It isn't quite at the same level as the gauntlet laid down by Uwe Boll against any critic that has said bad things against him.

To remind those of you about that Uwe Boll, director of such cinematic, ahem, masterpieces as House of the Dead and Bloodrayne, challenged anyone who has criticised his work to take him on in a boxing match. Not only that, he said he would film the bout and incorporate the footage into a future film. Now that is absolutely hilarious, and would probably result in the most entertaining work he has ever produced. Now, back to the story at hand.

Apparently, Joel Siegel, the mustachioed film critic, made something of a scene while at a screening of Kevin Smith's new film, opening this friday, Clerks II. Approximately 40 minutes into the screening, Siegel got up and loudly exclaimed: "Time to go! ... First movie I've walked out of in 30 BLEEP years." All I can say is "Wow!"

This has caused my thoughts concerning Siegel to drop down a few more notches. Meaning, he is nowhere near the top of the list of critics whose work I enjoy. His slide down my personal list started a year or so ago when Siegel hosted a primetime summer movie preview where it was advertised that he would be giving reviews, or at least thoughts on what to see and what not. It turned out to just be a hype show with a bunch of trailers. May not be a big thing to some, but to be allow himself to be used as a pitch machine like this just served to put a few holes in his credibilty. This just pushes it over the edge.

I cannot stand it when people talk in the theater. Cell phones, friends, inappropriate comments at the screen and the like are among my pet peeves when I watch a movie. Now along comes a well known critic, and he acts like this at a screening? Totally unacceptable. If you don't like the movie, get up and leave, and do it quietly. Nobody wants to hear how you have never walked out on a movie in 30 years, nobody cares if you "have" to go. If you don't like the movie, watch the whole thing, like you should be, and let your viewers know in the appropriate forum.

Taking the shot across the bow with class and little profanity, Kevin Smith has responded to the attention grabbing walk out on his Myspace blog page. Smith's comments are a very good read, and make a lot of sense. He talks about how his brand of comedy isn't for everyone, which is true, and also about how he can take a bad review. He goes on to speak of how unprofessional it is to do what he did, while turning around and praising a film that he had not yet seen. It is well worth reading, as amidst the expletives and colorful slang, Smith takes the high road, he doesn't go after Siegel personally, but professionally is another matter.

Here is a quote that pretty much sums it: "You never... NEVER disrupt a movie, simply because you don't like it." How hard is that to understand? Doesn't seem that hard to me. Perhaps Siegel thought he was doing the rest of the media present a favor by sharing his opinion early, in case they were of like mind and wanted to incorporate his thoughts into their own works. On the other hand, maybe he wanted to get the spotlight on him, knowing the movie would outshine whatever witticisms he would bestow upon it in his own review.

I can see Siegel walking into the theater, sitting down, all the while chatting on a cell phone. The movie starts just as he puts the phone away, completely missing the "No Talking" notices on the screen before the show. I can see him becoming completely disgusted with Smith's humor, and giving his above outburst as he leaves the theater. Why can I see this? Well, based on that outburst, he obviously does not have respect for his fellow movie-goers, and if he will do the above, he could certainly do other movie theater no-no's.

Whatever the case may be, Joel Siegel's actions have hit his credibility like that wave hit the Poseidon. His job is to watch movies and share his thoughts about them, a gig I wouldn't mind having some day (read: not likely, but fun to try). Now how is he to share his thoughts if he hasn't seen the whole movie? Probably not too well, but then again his early exit is much more telling than the 8 minute ovation at Cannes.

Kevin, hold strong, your fans will be there for the movie, regardless of what the Siegel's of the world think. I am not so blind as to think that it will be great just because of its lineage, but I am open to the possibility of hilarity. I am sure my entertainment will assured as you haven't let me down yet, well, for the most part. I will also be sure to stay until the end so that I may give my well formed thoughts based on the entirety of the work.

Oh yeah, go see Clerks II, opening Friday 7/21/06 at theaters everywhere!

July 19, 2006

Run for Your Lives! Gojira is Coming to DVD

For years, Godzilla fans in the US have had to deal with the chop shop version of the original film, never able to put on a DVD and enjoy the original masterpiece the way it was intended. Instead, we have had to deal with the "Americanized" version with Raymond Burr as reporter Steve Martin.

Classic Media, in conjunction with Toho, will be releasing the complete and uncut original Gojira on September 5, 2006. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, I will be at the store to get my copy! No more chop 'n dub for me.

Gojira is a classic film that is about true horror. This is well before the man in the suit was turned into a family friendly icon in the 1970s. This film takes a look at the catastrophic results of the nuclear age. The monster is the metaphor for the nuclear bomb, and it creates an atmosphere of fear. This is a creation of the Japanese culture in the years following World War II, and it conveyed the fear that the nuclear age was bringing with it.

Last year, Rialto Pictures first brought the film to US shores for the first time ever. I was fortunate enough to be able to see this 1954 film. It was the first time that I had ever scene this version of the film. It was a wonderful experience. For the first time, the true horror was able to come through, no distracting dubbing, and no American actors, and no missing footage.

Now, we will be able to relive the experience with this DVD release, a mere two months away. Anyone who likes the Godzilla films, or has an affinity for people in big rubber suits will want to add this one to their collection.

The only thing that worries me is that Classic Media is doing this release. I truly hope that they treat the film with the respect that it deserves. Meaning, I will be looking for a first rate transfer of the audio and video, and featurettes on the film, not to mention the original trailer. The one thing I know that it will have is the US theatrical version. I am not sure how often I will visit that, but it will be nice to have it.

Don't forget, September 5, 2006.

To Have and Have Not: Two Movies About Money and Marriage

This past weekend I went to the movies a few times, you know, a typical weekend. Two of the movies I saw dealt with relationships. Not the romantic kind of relationships, although there is a little bit of that as well. Marriage and money are the topics of the day. The two movies take different tracks when dealing with them, although, in the end the results are similar.

The first movie is Friends with Money. It stars Jennifer Aniston as a former teacher who has taken to working as a maid to meet ends meet. As we follow her through the movie, she scraps for each dollar she can get, as well as raiding cosmetics counters for samples. She is one member in a circle of friends, all of the rest of which are much further along the money chain.

Examined in the film is the way that money can affect your relationships with others, be they friend or spouse. The movie doesn’t completely succeed, as the characters never really seem to take off, and many of the scenes are more like skits. However, they come together to paint a portrait of a woman struggling to keep her life together as she finds her way, while he well to do friends “struggle” with having so much many, and the marital problems that crop up.

The other movie is decidedly more light hearted, but has similar themes of a married couple with some money, and a friend who has nothing. Like in Friends with Money, the person lacking money becomes a point of conflict for those with money. This one is You, Me, and Dupree.

In this one a lovable schlub, played ably by Owen Wilson, moves in with his best friend and his wife shortly after their marriage. At first, his arrival is nothing more than a slight annoyance, but the longer it goes on, it creates a rift between the young couple. Initially, Dupree, yes the Dupree of the title, is oblivious of his affect, but it later awakens him to find a focus for his life.

I enjoyed both of them to an extent, despite neither being great. The former attempts to be a character study, but never fully takes off, the latter a Hollywood comedy that never gains its focus. Despite their shortcomings, they both place a focus on dysfunctional relationships and the pitfalls of wealth.

The lynchpins of the two films are the singles without money, Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson. Without these two characters there wouldn’t be much of a reason to see the movie. Nobody wants to see well off people dealing with marital problems, it would just be so much fluff, who cares? Now, if you add in the likable people without money, you have the contrasting lifestyles with which to build some conflict.

Is money the root of all evil? Will it create rifts between friends who have and those who have not? It is a distinct possibility. Those who have not are a main point for the rest of the cast, should they be helping them? Should they let them forge their own paths?

The parallels between the two movies are tenuous at best, but they are there. The problem in drawing the two together comes in when you realize that neither film is entirely successful. The themes are there, but they are half baked.

Friends with Money fails to resolve any of the character arcs, and You, Me, and Dupree fails to decide who the story is supposed to be about. The thing they were successful at were putting a few half baked ideas about marital conflicts and the affects of money among friends where there is a disparity in who has how much and their equivalent happiness.

Well, it is time to bring this to a close. I cannot completely recommend either film, but Jennifer Aniston proves she can act, as opposed to her role in The Break-Up, where she was more of a movie star, and Owen Wilson proves that he can be likeably goofy even in a film that doesn’t stretch is potential.

July 18, 2006

Box Office Update for 7/14-7/16: Pirates Continues its Reign

In a scant 10 days, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest became the biggest hit of the year, and will likely lay claim to the box office championship of the year. En route to it's $62.3 million take for the weekend it claimed a few more records for its chest. It is now the fastest to $200 million (8 days), and also has the highest 8, 9, and 10 day totals. It also is the third highest second weekend, behind Shrek 2 and Spider-Man.

It has been an amazing thing to see, this seemingly unstoppable behemoth. I never would have thought that, three years ago, a movie based on a roller coaster attraction would spawn such a wonderful movie. A movie so good that its lead actor was nominated for an Oscar. Even less did I think that it would generate a sequel of such gigantic proportions. I have seen the film twice, and it was even better the second time, although I don't think that it tops the original. It will be interesting to see how the third film fares come next year.

Coming in right behind Pirates, well not right behind but in 2nd and 3rd, are a pair of comedies that came in very close together, and both above expectations. Those films are Little Man and You, Me, and Dupree. Little Man is the latest from the Wayans brothers, a film that I have little interest in seeing. Dupree features one half of last year's Wedding Crashers duo, Owen Wilson, in a movie that is rather meandering and unfocused.

Slipping down the charts are the studio-disappointing returns of Superman Returns. This is a film that has fans strongly divided to both ends of the spectrum. I fall on the side of liking it. The next few weeks will see how far this can lurch along.

Pulling up the rear of the list is newcomer A Scanner Darkly, which expanded its theater count in its second week. I didn't think this one would crack the top ten, now I only hope to get a chance to see it.

Two films dropped from the list this week: The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (11) and The Break-Up (14).

This Week

Last WeekTitleWknd GrossOverallWeek in release
11Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest$62,345,264$258,364,7662
2N

Little Man

$21,613,176$21,613,1761
3NYou, Me, and Dupree$21,525,560$21,525,5601
42Superman Returns$12,288,317$105,842,8113
53The Devil Wears Prada$10,386,386$83,490,8603
65

Cars

$7,840,985$220,001,4466
74Click$7,261,361$119,963,2114
87The Lake House$1,665,485$48,996,2205
96Nacho Libre$1,615,331$77,233,1375
1019A Scanner Darkly$1,266,427$1,868,9052


Box Office Predictions Recap
Well, it wasn't a good week for my predictions, on any front. I did get the number one movie, but it didn't have any real competition. I underestimated Little Man, and overestimated Superman Returns. Next week should be interesting with 4 releases that coulkd crack into the top ten.

Actual

PredictionTitleWknd GrossPrediction
11Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest$62,345,264$50 million
32You, Me, and Dupree$21,525,560$24 million
43Superman Returns$12,288,317$20 million
24Little Man$21,613,176$16 million
55

The Devil Wears Prada

$10,386,386

$12 million

76Click$7,261,361$7 million
67Cars$7,840,985$6 million
98Nacho Libre$1,615,331$5 million
89The Lake House$1,665,485$3.5 million
1110The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift$1,168,360$2.5 million


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DVD Pick of the Week: TIE Briscoe County Jr. and Jack of All Trades

This week features a lot of television related releases, and a few movies. Among those movie releases are a couple that were in theaters earlier this year, a re-issue of a classic, and one that I would be surprised to actually see on the shelves this week.

Now, as you could probably tell from the title of this week's column, there are two picks for this week. Both of them are complete series releases of short lived shows that also both featured Bruce Campbell in the lead roll. The shows are The Adventures of Briscoe County Jr. and Jack of All Trades. Both shows were syndicated, and, to be honest, I don't remember exactly when they were on. If you couldn't guess, I have not seen much of either, and it has been a long time since I saw what little I saw.

You may be wondering just why would I choose these shows, in a tie no less, for my Pick of the Week. The answer is simple explanation for this, and comes down to two words, one is Bruce and the other is Campbell. No, he is not the greatest actor, nor is he widely known outside of the geek community, but there is a reason he has developed such a cult-like fandom. Part of his popularity can be attributed to his chin, some more to his fantastic on-screen charisma, but there is something else. That something else is fun, he just seems like a fun guy, and it comes through in his roles. His future was sealed the first time he picked up a chain saw in a little horror film called Evil Dead. Now, I may not know much about these two shows, but knowing that Campbell is the lead makes both of these shows worth my time, and possibly yours.

The Adventures of Briscoe County Jr. is a combination western/comedy/action/sci-fi show that has been described as cowboys and aliens. Jack of All Trades has Campbell starring as an American spy sent by Thomas Jefferson to the Caribbean to undermine Napoleon's colonization efforts in a post-Revolutionary time frame. Both sound like a lot of fun to me.

Also coming out this week:
  • Amazing Stories: The Complete First Season. Spielberg's classic series of quirky stories, including one of my favorites, "Mummy Daddy."
  • ATL. Surprisingly good tale of friends reaching a crossroads.
  • The Incredible Hulk: The Complete First Season. Bill Bixby is the scientist, Lou Ferrigno is the green beastie, and then there is the sad piano music. Ahhh, memories of my youth.
  • Meet the Feebles. Now, this I will be surprised to see. It has been announced a few times over the years, but never actually made it to shelves. This is Peter Jackson's take on the Muppets on crack, it is truly demented.
  • The New Adventures of Flash Gordon: The Complete Series. Don't recall ever seeing this show, but it looks like fun, and has had much in the way of good word.
  • Ren & Stimpy: The Lost Episodes. This is the revival that was on SpikeTV a few years back. It is awful stuff. It is nowhere near as good as the old Nickelodeon shows.
  • She's the Man. An interpreatation of Shakespeare that isn't that good on that level, but is an entertaining tween comedy.
  • Some Like it Hot. This is at least the third reissue of this comedy. It is very funny and well worth adding to your collection. It stars Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon, and Tony Curtis.
  • Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie. I think I recall seeing some version of this years ago, but don't know what versin. I do, however, remember liking it.

What are you getting this week?

July 17, 2006

DVD Review: ER - The Complete Fifth Season

It's hard to believe that it has been nearly 12 years since ER first graced our television screens. I remember tuning in week after week to see what would happen, it was, after all, an important part of NBC's "Must See TV" in their era of Thursday domination. This fifth season was during that time, and contains some very good episodes.

Season five still had the bulk of the original cast, although the season did see the exit of George Clooney's Doug Ross. This was before the death of Mark Green, and the exits of Julianna Margulies and Eriq La Salle. In other words, it was the glory years, not that I don't like the show now, but my interest isn't as high as it once was.

Even more than revisiting the season's episodes, but I was fascinated by how different some of the characters were compared to how they are now. This pays testament to the actual character development over the years. This is especially a treat for long time fans. I have been a fan for most of the seasons, although my interest has wavered here and there, so my memories of these older episodes is a bit vague with bits and pieces being dredged up as I watch.

Back to those characters, the character that has gone through the most, also happens to be the one primary cast member that has been there since the beginning, Dr. John Carter, played by Noah Wylie. This guy has been through so much over the years, and is probably the best reason to really watch. Who would have guessed that this character, who started as that nervous intern who didn't know what he wanted, while he played with the grownups would develop into this excellent character and really be the center of the show for so many years? This season starts off with Carter having a new look, a beard, which would disappear rather quickly, but it also has him dealing with transitioning into teacher mode, paired with newcomer Lucy Knight, played by Kellie Martin. Carter doesn't deal with teacher bit too well, either being too combative, or too lenient at alternating clips. A vast difference from the "will he make it" intern, through to the continent hopping doctor to the world he has become.

Other story lines to emerge this season include Dr. Benton dealing with his son's profound loss of hearing, as well as his breakup with Elizabeth Corday. That brings us to the story of Corday who moves on from Benton to Mark Greene, a relationship that will last until his death a few years later. Continuing their saga are Carol Hathaway and Doug Ross, a turbulent 5 year, er season, romance that comes to an end when Ross leaves town, after getting run out of County General. He leaves behind Hathaway who has just found out she is pregnant.

On top of the weaving of character threads, there is always a good blend of bizarre cases and emergencies. Car wrecks, shootings, in ER drama, emergency surgery, inter-departmental conflicts, they are all here to keep those personal stories from being resolved too quickly.

Overall, this is a strong season. It is capped with strong performances, and well written screenplays. Definitely worthwhile for fans.

Video. This season is presented in anamorphic widescreen, a ratio of 1.78:1. One thing to note is that the opening credit sequence is still in a ratio of 1.33:1. I cannot figure out why this is, surely they could have given us a widescreen sequence, but it's a minor quibble. The transfer looks very good, colors are sharp, blacks deep. It doesn't look as good as some of the latest movies, but I find nothing to complain about here.

Audio. The soundtrack is in Dolby Digital Stereo. It sounds very good, not much to say, as I did not have any problems with it.

Extras. A little thin in this department, with just a few sets of deleted scenes, and a gag reel. A couple commentaries, featurettes, or interviews, would have been nice.

Bottomline. For the fan, this should be a no-brainer. This is a very good season, and the episodes are well presented here. The new fan would probably want to go back to the first season and work towards this one.

Recommended.
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July 16, 2006

CD Review: Bludgeon - World Controlled

How can you go wrong with a band called Bludgeon? Well, I'm sure you could, but I am also sure that you will know exactly what you're in for. The name means, from Dictionary.com, 1. To hit with or as if with a heavy club. 2. To overcome by or as if by using a heavy club. Sounds like a fitting description of the music that has been pressed onto this shiny disk.

They are billed as a death/thrash metal band, but they strike me as having a more hardcore oriented sound. But what do I know? I'm horrible when it comes to all of the different genres, I don't think my definitions jibe with the majority of fans, but in the end it is the music that matters. Sorry for that, back to Bludgeon.

As soon as the jackhammer of drums and guitars hit to start "Carnage Begins," I knew I was going to be hooked. It didn't matter how the rest of World Controlled played out, I knew I was going to like this. I didn't care what the lyrics were, I didn't care what the vocals sounded like, the music was enough to grab me by the throat and keep me at attention.

I don't even know if I can call this original, but I was completely enthralled by the sheer heaviness that they have. To be honest, I don't like the vocals. It's not that they are bad, per se, but he is just another in a long line of screamers. The voice doesn't stand out, and when focused upon strikes me as a little bland. However, it does add to the overall sound, and it has grown on me the more I listen. That may sound contradictory, but let me continue.

I have found that a lot of this style of music can be adrenaline pumping, aggressively charged, fist in the air heavy, but without vocals it will lose something, as the instruments and the music they are churning out are intended to work in combination with the vocalist. If the vocalist is removed from the equation, there is less of a reason to get into the music.

World Controlled is 37 minutes of fine tuned, tightly wound aggression. This is not my favorite album, Bludgeon is not my favorite band, and this probably will never creep to the top of my favorites, but there is something absolutely addictive about it. I'll tell you what it is, it's the combination of drums and guitars whose sole purpose is to bludgeon (hehe) the listener into submission.

From the first notes of "Carnage Begins" through to the close of "Save Your Servant" is mind blowingly heavy riffing. Clipped rhythms, precise drums combine to create this wall of heavy that I find incredibly attractive, it makes me want to jump in the pit and create a little mayhem of my own design.

The responsible parties that we have to thank for this crushing wall are drummer Ryan Blazek, guitarist Carlos Alvarez, guitarist/vocalist Mark Duca, and bassist Chris Studtmann. They act like finely tuned demolition equipment, pulverizing any ear drum that gets in their way.

Bottomline. Bludgeon is definitely a band to listen to when you want to work out some anger, or just work out. It will get the blood pumping. Put it on, press play, put your fist in the air, and enjoy.

Recommended.
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July 15, 2006

CD Review: Deadstar Assembly - Unsaved

I decided to check out Deadstar Assembly's sophomore release based on this description: "poisonous blend of death-pop/industrial rock." Honestly, how was I expected to ignore something that has death-pop in its description? I had not heard of them before, but it definitely sounds like something that would be write up my alley.

I wasn't sure what to expect, except that I thought it would be loud, chaotic, and angry. What emanated from my speakers was right in line with what I expected, but in a different and unexpected way. It was not nearly as chaotic as I had expected, I expected them to be along lines similar to early Slipknot, when in actuality they would probably be better described as Slipknot by way of Nine Inch Nails with a touch of Orgy. They do have a thickly layered sound, filled with guitars and heavy percussion and plenty of synth, but it is more finely controlled than early Slipknot. I am not talking bad about Slipknot, but I think they got better the further they got along. Musically, Deadstar Assembly seems to be further down the maturing path.

The other band I can think of to compare them to would be God Lives Underwater. Both of these bands use a lot of electronics in creative ways, both within the familiar song structure of the rock song. The format has a fresh, yet familiar feel to it, instantly accessible but not at the cost of originality or edginess.

I was immediately hooked on Unsaved. This is an album that has a great flow straight through from start to finish. It has an ebb and flow that just takes you along for the ride. I was caught in the swirl of keyboards and electronics that flowed through and around the driving guitars, while the raw vocals make their aggressive mark known.

Unsaved opens with the intro track "Unsaved Pt. 1," introducing us to the heavy guitars, ethereal synths, incessant drums, of what is to come. What I like most about this opening was the use of acoustic guitars, they are faint, but add an ambiance that is as inviting as it is eerie. That opening flows right into the in you face aggression of "Unsaved Pt. 2."

"Killing Myself Again" and "Dejected" gather a head of steam with their outsider lyrics that seek to unite the downtrodden. They have this fantastic order through chaos aura that is testament to their strong songwriting abilities.

Deadstar Assembly slow the pace down with "Bled." There is a cry for attention in the line "I am more than nothing." This is a strong cut that leads into the final aggressive push as we head down the albums home stretch. The last song is "Death Wish." It starts off with a sample before moving into some hardcore synth/guitar action. It moves into the final closing track, "Perfectly Destroyed," an eerie guitar riff with a light synth played over the top of it, bringing Unsaved to an end.

The band is made up of vocalist Dearborn, who has a great voice, that is equally raw and inviting, guitarist Dreggs, drummer Cygnus, and bassist The Dro. I believe they all have a hand in the electronic side of the album, and they all shared producing duties. The final product is an album that I am glad made it's way to my collection.

Bottomline. An excellent combination of industrial and pop, with a distinctly harsh edge to it. This album was a surprise to me, displaying a well developed sense of songwriting. Unsaved hides within it songs that must be insane to see live. If you like death-pop and industrial rock, this is for you.

Recommended.
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