August 31, 2006

CD Review: Elizabeth Reian Bennett - Songs of the True Hand

This is a little different for me. If you know me, I am very much entrenched in the metal genre, and its related sub-genres. Recently, my tastes and desires have expanded to include other styles of music, primarily into the world of film scores. You may be wondering what this has to do with the music at hand, but please, bear with me. Among the scores that I have very much enjoyed are for Memoirs of a Geisha (not a Japanese composer, but the inspiration is there) and House of Flying Daggers. Beyond those two scores, I very much enjoy Asian cinema, and this brings me to the music.

I know very little about Asian music and the various instruments used to play it, but I know what I like. I like the different sounds and rhythms and feelings that are found in it. The music is beautiful and soaring and just a joy to listen to. This brings me to Elizabeth Reian Bennett.

Reian Bennett plays the shakuhachi, an end blown bamboo flute. The instrument has a lot of history behind it, dating back to the days of the wandering monks of Japan. The music played is very spiritual in nature, and the music can take a lifetime to master. Reian Bennett is the first female to be certified as a Grand Master of the shakuhachi, studying for years with Living National Treasure Reibo Aoki, the foremost instrumentalist.

Like I mentioned earlier, I have no real knowledge of this music or its history. I'm not even sure I have enough frame of reference to review this music. Still, it is hard not to be affected by it. The music lends itself to meditation and reflection.

On the surface, the music seems to be very simplistic, but the more you listen to it there is a lot of subtlety and variation within. Her mastery of the instrument is stunning. The music seems to be much more interested in evoking an atmosphere and feeling through inflection and the emphasis chosen by the musician.

What can I say? The music contained on this album is beautiful. It is very strong contrast to other albums I have reviewed recently, such as Katakonia by Darzamat and Sculpture of Stone by Dies Irae, both of which fall in under the black metal banner. They could not be farther apart, those two albums are dense and layered walls of sound, while Songs of the True Hand are solo instrumental pieces in a style at the other end of the spectrum.

Oddly, I think my appreciation of metal, of all styles, helps in the appreciation of other styles of music. Listening to the dense layers of black metal, and pulling those layers apart, is not easy, and bringing that experience to a style with a single instrument allows me to focus more on the inflection and tonal changes of that solo piece.

Bottomline. This is an album that I fully recommend. It is an amazing work of art. The music is beautiful, and lends itself to focused listening, or for use when meditating, or even just relaxing after a long day. Elizabeth Reian Bennett is true artist.

Highly Recommended.
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DVD Review: District B13

I first heard about District B13 when I read a brief review of it at the Home Theater Forum. I don't recall the specifics of the review, but I remember the short version basically said that it was short on story and long on action, and on that level of action, it delivered. Then I saw a commercial, at that point I was sold. Sadly, the movie never played theatrically in my area. Thankfully, the DVD is here to rectify that situation.

After watching the movie, I am forced to agree with the assessment that the story was thin and the action was high. District B13 is firing on all cylinders for the near 90 minutes of its runtime, stopping on brief occasions to spell out the plot for you. Dialogue is not a strong point, but having Luc Besson as the producer should probably tip you off to that. Besson is a name that has become synonymous with over the top action, having produced films such as Transporter (1 and 2), Kiss of the Dragon, Unleashed, and Wasabi. This one continues that tradition in explosive fashion.

Set in the near future, the bubbling undercurrent of class based struggles reach a boiling point. The government has constructed a wall around the low class ghettos to keep the "bad" influence away from the upper class. This ghetto is run by a drug dealer who goes by the name of Taha. All government influences are gone or leaving, no schools, no post office, an ineffectual police force. The plot kicks in when a prototype neutron bomb is stolen by Taha, who plans to sell it to the highest bidder, if he can do so before the timer runs out.

Before we get anywhere near the bomb plot, we need the requisite sequences to introduce us to the heroes. The opening scene introduces us to Leito, a man who has made an enemy of Taha by making off with a large quantity of heroin, and is proceeding to put it down a tub drain. In short order, Taha has his men, led by his right hand thug K2, to retrieve the lost merchandise. This leads to a breathtakingly exciting chase through, on, around, up, and down an apartment building. This is, quite possibly, the best sequence in the film. It shows off the athletic ability of David Belle, the actor playing Leito, and does a good job at setting the stage of what is yet to come. The sequence also sets up our hero as anti-drugs, someone willing to stand up for his beliefs, and with a strong sense of family. That may not all be apparent by this description, but once you see it, you will understand.

The other important introduction is that of Damien. Like many action hero entrances, the scene does nothing to further the plot, but establishes out man as a good guy, and shows off his impressive abilities along the way. Damien is an undercover cop, who is working at stopping a criminal payout, what this is for, I am not sure. Damien ends up fighting all of the henchman located in the underground gambling facility serving as the backdrop. Damien is played by stunt choreographer Cyril Raffaelli, who has also worked on films such as Transporter 2 and Brotherhood of the Wolf. He puts on an impressive display of martial arts and gun play, an inventive scene, to say the least.

Now that both of our heroes are in place, it is time to move the plot forward. Each of these men have a reason to want to get to Taha. Leito's is personal, involving his sister, while for Damien, it is his job as a top undercover operative. The two team up to enter Taha's stronghold and get to the stolen neutron bomb and deactivate it before District B13, the name of this particular walled in ghetto, gets decimated.

The plot moves along in fits and bursts, serving to primarily link together the numerous action sequences. The screenplay, by the duo of Luc Besson and Bibi Naceri, is not very good. The it falls into the trap of having these scenes whose only purpose is to explain what is going, rather than integrating them into the action. Still, I was not too distracted, as I knew that I wasn't too far away from the next explosion of action. The direction by Pierre Morel, making his directorial debut, is dynamic and strongly oriented to the visual. Morel succeeds in getting interesting angles on the action, and allowing the viewer to follow the action, it never becomes confusing or disorienting, which is also a credit to the editors, Stephanie Gaurier and Frederic Thoroval. Another high point is the hip hop styled music, filled with fun beats that fit the tone and style of the film.

The acting is nothing spectacular, but it works for the movie. Aside from our two leads, I found
Dany Verissimo, as Leito's sister Lola, to be very effective in her small role. She is adorable and filled with attitude and just forces you to like her. I also liked Tony D'Amario as K2, a rather humorous role. Again, the acting is nothing that will ever win any awards, but within the confines of this universe, they are perfect.

In the end, this is an absolute blast. The past few years have delivered some great action over story films, and this is definitely towards the top of the list. I am a sucker for flashy action films like this, and I am happy to say that I was satisfied on all counts. Interestingly enough, there is an interesting connection between this film and current attitudes in France, I have read that the elitism that led to the walling in of the ghetto could be seen as a natural extension of the current culture. I saw this in a documentary on the film, and adds another layer to the film, making it a bit more relevant in its native country of France (where it is known as Banlieue 13).

Video. The movie is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is anamorphically enhanced. It looks decent, but the colors seem a bit washed out. It may have looked like this originally, but I cannot comment on that. It just seems as if it could have been a little crisper looking. It is not bad, just not reference material.

Audio. The soundtrack is presented in both French and English, and each has the option of Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0. I listened to the original French, with subtitles (the way it should be), in 5.1. It sounds good, giving a good mix of the hip hop inspired soundtrack, and fine focus on the dialogue. I did listen to a few minutes of the English dub, and I do not recommend it.

Extras. There are a few bonus features on the disk.
  • Extended Fight Scene. This is a longer cut of the casino fight with Damien. It has unfinished effects, so the sound is a bit off, but otherwise looks good. I can pick out some things that are different, and it is well worth a view. Makes me wonder if the opening Leito chase has a longer version somewhere.....
  • Bloopers. This runs about two minutes and is pretty funny as they flub lines and "accidentally" break their handcuffs.
  • The Making of District B13. This is the meat of the extras selection. It is a lengthy documentary that follows the selection of the writer and directer, by Besson, through the stunts and choreography, to the relevant social commentary, and on through the production. It is actually quite interesting seeing all that went into making the movie. It is in French with subtitles.

Bottomline. Very nice disk. It is a fun blast of action, complimented by some nice extras. The action is explosive, and highly entertaining. If you like your action over the top, this is a must see.

Recommended.
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August 30, 2006

The Trailer Park: Crank

When I first heard about Crank, I didn't really give it much thought. But after seeing the trailer and the commercials, and a few clips, I have a growing itch to see it.

It is an over the top action film starring Jason Statham. Now, if I new that at the start, I would have been onboard much earlier. I am really like Statham as an action star. First off the guy actually can act, plus he has a great tough guy screen presence, and thirdly, he exudes cool. Both of the Transporter films are a lot of fun, keeping the action high, and the tongue firmly planted in the cheek. Crank looks like a Transporter film pushed into the realm of the R rated movie. That can only mean good things are ahead.

The plot plays out like a biological version of Speed. Statham plays Chev Chelios, a man injected with some sort of drug. The drug acts as an adrenaline inhibitor, and if it drops below a certain point, he will die. So, Chev needs to keep going at a breakneck pace, deadset on getting revenge on those behind his current condition. Why he is injected in with this drug, I don't know, but I am sure the ride is going to be great.

Co-starring with Statham is Amy Smart, who last appeared alongside Ryan Reynolds in Just Friends. I don't really see her as an action actress, but I am willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. Of course, I am not seeing it for her. Also appearing is country star Dwight Yoakam.

The film was written and directed by first timers Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor. It will be interesting to see how their debut works out. To be honest, I was surprised not to see Luc Besson's name attached to this, as the film reminds me of other films that he has been involved in, but no mind.

Crank opens September 1, 2006, and is being released by Lionsgate Films. It is rated R for language and violence. The trailer is online for your viewing pleasure, so be sure to take a look.

To get a little taste of the language, take a listen, just be prepared for an assault of F-bombs.

Click an image for a larger version:



Even more images:


Music DVD Review: Dream Theater - Score

I still remember the first time I heard Dream Theater, it was around the time that Images and Words was released, way back in 1992. At the time we still had a good hard rock/metal station, and they had "Pull Me Under" in regular rotation. The song blew me away, and after I got myself a copy of that disk there was no turning back. I had never heard anything like them before, it was sort of like combining elements of Metallica and Yes and mutating into something altogether fresh. Now here we are, 14 years into my love of their music and an amazing 20 years into the lifetime of the band.

To celebrate their longevity, Dream Theater embarked on a worldwide tour. This concert was filmed in Radio City Music Hall on April 1, 2006, the final day of the tour. To say that this was an amazing concert would be an understatement. This is a group of world class musicians at the top of their game, putting it all on the stage for the love of the music and the enjoyment of the fans.

The show is split into two sets. The first set is the band tearing through 8 songs, selected from their entire catalog. The first set runs an hour in length, and is just a joy to listen to. The second ups the ante by adding a full orchestra behind them, and proceeding to play for another hour and 40 minutes. This set is comprised of 6 songs, including "Six Degees of Inner Turbulence" in its entirety.

There is very little that I can say about Dream Theater that has not already been said. Everyone knows that they are the leaders of the prog rock scene. Everyone knows that each member is a world class musician at their instrument of choice. Everyone knows that when they go onstage, they are going to lay it all out. Score does not disappoint in any respect.

Show is shot and edited beautifully. One thing that has always annoyed me in a number of concert DVD's is they use of quick cuts. Iron Maiden is the biggest offender, the cuts are so frequent that you never really get to see what they are doing. This disk is not like that. All of the band members get good screen time. Many segments allow you to get in tight and see what they are doing, Petrucci's fret hand, Portnoy's stick work, Rudess' fingerwork. It is simply amazing to watch them work.

Score shows a band that meshes so well. Five men, all instrumental virtuosos coming together and putting out a wonderful concert. Then, the addition of the Octavarium Orchestra just adds a wonderful new dimension. The sound just gets completely filled out with beautiful textures.

The highlights of the show would have to be the songs from the mid-90s era. Specifically, "Under a Glass Moon" and "Innocence Faded" from set one, and the show closer, "Metropolis" from the second set. They are the songs I know the best, but that is not to take away from anything else here, as it is mesmerizing from start to finish.

This set is more than just a concert, there is a second disk filled with more footage. The centerpiece of disk two is a documentary that runs for nearly an hour, The Score So Far.... This is a must watch for any fan of Dream Theater. It traces the bands origins from the first meetings between John Petrucci and John Myung, and then the addition of Mike Portnoy. They even have a new interview with Charlie Dominici, the band's second singer, and the one who appeared on their debut album, When Dream and Day Unite. This is a wonderful look into the history of the band spanning two decades.

Also on the second disk are three live recordings, "Another Day" from Tokyo in 1993, "The Great Debate" from Bucharest in 2002, and "Honor Thy Father" from Chicago 2005. Rounding out the disk is the band animation used during "Octavarium," it runs a little over two minutes.

The concert was also released as a three CD set, which sounds just as good as this DVD.

Bottomline. Great band, great concert, must haave music lovers everywhere. What are you waiting for? Go get it!

Highly Recommended.
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August 29, 2006

Box Office Update 8/25-8/27: Disney is Invincible

Well, it had to happen sooner or later. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest has finally been ousted from the top ten. It fell from 8 to 12 this week, taking in nearly $4 million. It is easily going to be the biggest film of the year, not to mention one of the biggest domestic and worldwide hits of all time. It's worldwide take is nearing $1 billion dollars, which will make it the fourth film to do so. Disney must be very, very happy with that. It will be interesting to see how the third performs next year.

This week's top performer was another Disney film, the inspirational sports drama Invincible. It had a strong opening, more than doubling the take of the number 2 film. I donated my ticket price to that take when I saw it on Friday. It may follow a formula, but Disney has it on lockdown, each time they put one of these out, they nail it. It is a good, upbeat film that works well with the back school season, not to mention the impending return of the NFL.

The next new release this week came in at number 4, the sophomoric Beerfest. It is a film that is fitfully funny, but could have used a bit more time in the editing room. It is dumb, and crass, but it has plenty of laugh out loud moments. Due to the R rating and the limited audience, this will probably sink relatively quickly. The final new film in the top ten is Idlewild, the period musical drama featuring the member sof Outkast in lead roles. I have heard mixed reviews about the film, but I have to say it looks good and I hope to see it later this week.

There was one other film entering wide release this week, but it failed to crack the top ten. That film is Walden Media's How to Eat Fried Worms, based on the children's novel. I actually thought that this would do well, but I guess I was wrong. Now I suspect this will disappear very quickly.

Last week's number one film slipped down to number 7. Snakes on a Plane dipped just over 55%, which is actually better than I had expected. It is a fun B flick that has a very narrow range of appeal. I figured it would have slipped in the 62% or more range. Still, it was the biggest drop of all the returning films on the list. At the opposite end of the scale is Barnyard which slipped a mere 25%, I am surprised how long this one has held on. Also doing pretty well is Accepted, the perfect last film before heading off to college, which fell 36.7%.

The one film that makes me happy is Little Miss Sunshine. It is a very funny film, and each of the past two weeks it has climbed up the charts. This week it jumped from number 7 to number 3, with a 31% increase in box office. I like seeing this film slowly going wider and more and more people discovering it. It is completely enjoyable, now stop reading this and go see it!

Three films dropped from the list this week: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (12), Material Girls (13), and Pulse (15).

This Week

Last WeekTitleWknd GrossOverallWeek in release
1NInvincible$17,031,122$17,031,1221
22

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

$8,122,642$127,806,5214
37Little Miss Sunshine$7,371,263$22,895,2575
4NBeerfest$7,031,228$7,031,2281
53World Trade Center$6,473,299$55,642,5173
65

Accepted

$6,344,475$20,986,3552
71Snakes on a Plane$6,167,366$26,319,3902
84Step Up$6,163,436$50,395,8743
9NIdlewild$5,745,780$5,745,7801
106Barnyard$5,652,932$54,930,1004



Box Office Predictions Recap
I actually placed 5 films right! But, I have to throw that all awa for my simply awful prediction for Fried Worms, somehow I thought the family demographic would come out for it. I was also wrong about Pirates hangingon for one more week. Oh well, I tried, and I'm ahppy for getting half the placements right.

Actual

PredictionTitleWknd GrossPrediction
11Invincible$17,031,122$18 million
22Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby$8,122,642$9 million
113How to Eat Fried Worms$4,003,537$7.5 million
44Beerfest$7,031,228$7 million
55

World Trade Center

$6,473,299

$6 million

66Accepted$6,344,475$5.5 million
97Idlewild$5,745,780$5 million
78Snakes on a Plane$6,167,366$3.25 million
89Step Up$6,163,436$3 million
1210Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest$3,979,260$2 million



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DVD Pick of the Week: Arrested Development - Season Three

There are a lot of releases to talk about this week, but, as usual, there is one that stands apart from the rest. This standout title is critical acclaimed and popularly ignored. Sadly, the lack of popular attention doomed it for the scrap heap, almost from the start. I guess I should be happy we got as much as we did, but I still wish there was more.

This week's pick is Arrested Development: Season Three. This show is fantastic, I would tune in every night of the week if it had the promise of new Arrested. This is its final, abbreviated, season. It ran 18 episodes of excellent entertainment. This season was nominated for four emmy's this year, including Best Comedy Series and Best Supporting Actor (Will Arnett).

The series chronicled the dysfunctional Bluth family ad eldest son, Michael (Jason Bateman), tried to keep the family together and their business afloat. This was a tougher task than anyone could imagine, considering just how messed up the family dynamic was. The season does bring everything full circle, while leaving room for more stories and fan conjecture.

I am so glad that this series has made it to DVD. It is definitely a show that would make a worthy addition to your shelf.

Also out this week:
  • Desperate Housewives: Season Two. It may have been shut out at the Emmy Awards, it will still be a hit on DVD. I gave up on the series about half way through, I just lost interest.
  • Nip/Tuck: The Complete Third Season. This is another show that I have not been able to get into. I have tried each of the first 3 go arounds, but no go.
  • South Park: The Complete Eigth Season. Who would have thought that this series would still be funny after the fad went away?
  • Sentinel. Mediocre thriller with Michael Douglas, Eva Longoria, and Kiefer Sutherland (playing a variation on Jack Bauer).
  • Take the Lead. It may be formulaic, it may be cliche, but I was still entertained by this dancing-centric Antonio Banderas film.
  • Dream Theater: Score. Anyone who likes these guys, or music in general, needs to own this. It is an incredible 2:40 of music, plus a second disk with a documentary on the entire career of the band.
  • Akeelah and the Bee. Didn't get to see this theatrically, but I have heard good things about this inspirational film.
  • The Tick vs Season One. It's been a long time coming. This series was hilarious, if short lived.
  • Friends with Money. Decent film about the relationship issues between friends at opposite ends of the income scale.
  • The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Do we really need another edition of these films? The 2 disk sets have both theatrical and extended versions, plus new documentaries.
  • Darkwing Duck: Volume 1. Don't remember much of this, but it did come during the golden age of Disney afternoon cartoons.
  • Talespin: Volume 1. This one I have fond memories of, it also came from the aforementioned golden age.
  • Trilogy of Terror. Karen Black starred in this trio of Richard Matheson penned tales from late producer Dan Curtis.
  • Shock. An old film noir starring Vincent Price. Looks promising to me, I like Price, and I need to see more noir.
  • Stephen King's Desperation. TV movie with Ron Perlman, for a King based telefilm, this didn't turn out too bad.
  • Water. An Indian based tale which follows am 8 year old girl, a widow, who is shipped off to a village for woman of similar situation, away from the rest of the population.
  • Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World. Albert Brooks is sent to the Middle East to find out what makes the people there laugh.
  • The Castle of Cagliostro. Hayao Miyazaki's first feature directorial effort is being re-released on DVD. Hopefully this will look better than than the last edition.
  • Mountain Patrol (Kekelixi). This looked interesting to me, it is about a patrol of people in Tibet who protect rare antelopes from poachers. There is more to it than that of course, but it seems terribly intriguing.
  • Bone Sickness. A supposedly gory film that looks like it could be good, and we all know how hard it is to find a good horror film.
  • Tokyo Rampage. An import from overseas, this features a psychopath who enjoys killing yakuza, and the low level thugs who think they can control him.
  • Tomie: Revenge. Another in the long running series of regenerating girl horror films.

What are you getting this week?

August 28, 2006

TV Review: Vanished - "The Tunnel"

Vanished, a show that layered on the plot threads in its premiere, but didn't really give me any characters to really grab on to. Tonight's episode is called "The Tunnel." The episode starts with the guy in the bar from the premiere who recognized Sara Collins as an ex-girlfriend, but she had a different name then, Nicky Johnson. He calls it in to the hotline, and we see a growing web of information being gathered on our missing wife.

We then cut back to the senator making a statement to the press, going on live TV and offering a reward for the return of his wife. This leads to the questioning of Max, who has been in contact with his mother, the senator's ex-wife over the past six months. This is suspicious as she was thought to have been overseas. Could she be involved in the disappearance? Why would she have changed her name? Why is our lead investigator seemingly constantly constipated?

The senator's other child, Mary, had left her boyfriend's house at the end of the premiere with a bloody sweater and a bag of money, a pair of items that Mary believes may be related to Sara's disappearance. After getting mugged in her car by somebody who apparently knew about the money, asks her if she really knows her boyfriend, and quickly leaves with the money.

Mary turns up at the station where she asks Agent Kelton to run the blood. Of course, it turns out to be a red herring, for now. It would not surprise me to see this come back later, they made too big a deal out of it to actually be nothing.

Kelton and is group find a discrepancy in cars entering and exiting a tunnel that the inital, now dead, suspect from the first episode had entered. In no time at all, Kelton has a hit squad in the tunnel and is elading a team into a crossway after finding some of Sara's blood, and what appears to be her dress. But before we get to far, an explosion rocks the passageway cutting off our hero.

I have to say that the series has not won me over yet. Sure, the layers of intrigue give you a lot to mull over, but it strikes me as being overly complex, and I have yet to find a connection with any of the characters that makes me want to care where this is going. It is fast turning into a dud for this viewer, and will mostly be excised from the viewing list in short order. That is, unless something turns around and grabs me by the eyeballs and forces my attention.

Back from the break, Kelton finds a warehouse like room on the other side. He is rescured in short order, and now it seems that a failed case from his past may have ties to this case. Perhaps someone seeking to have some revenge. We cut to a flashback showing the bar guy, named John Manning meeting who he knew as Nicky while working on his boat.

A dead woman, discovered in the premiere, was found to have been killed, frozen and then brought back as pawn in the ever growing power plays. The woman is the wife of a former city offical, who now runs an apple orchard. This man obviously knows more than he is letting on, and implies that the senator may be hiding something. This all before he takes a gun to his chin and blasts his gray matter all over his back seat.

Before we are allowed to forget, Rebecca Gayheart's spunky reporter is back in the picture. You see, she liked the now dead politician, and wants to know the connection between him, his suicide, and the Sara Collins case. This is closely followed by some more flashbacks of Manning and Nicky. Fluffy scenes to get the actress playing Sara a little bit of screentime. But what is the bigger picture here?

Everyone walks around acting so serious that it is, at times, painful to watch. Kelton is so good at antagonizing everyone around him, one has to wonder how he was able to hold the job. You would think he would have pissed off the wrong person by now. This is evidenced by a confrontaion between him and Collins over what the connection could be between this kidnapping, and the other politician's wide's kidnap, and subsequent suicide. Just add another layer.

I really believe they are trying to layer to many levels of conspiracy on top of this one. The whole thing with Manning finding his old love, married to a senator and victim of a kidnap hasn't gelled with me to well. This is where the reporter is searching, as it is connected to her last disappearance from 12 years ago, and with Sara's family who want her daughter's voice to be heard.

Kelton is dealt something of a blow as the investigation thus far is exposed on the evening news. This also serves as something of a recap, leading into the cliffhanger. Manning shows up offering to deliver an exclusive on the woman known as Sara Collins. This while Mary confronts her boyfriend, Ben, about the blood and the money. Just how does this fit?

I may give this another week, but I am not sure I care to spend much more time with these characters in this terribly overplotted show. It just strikes me as something that the writers are going to paint themselves into a corner with no way to resolve all of the threads that have been laid out.

TV Review: Prison Break - "Otis"

Prison Break returns for its second episode of its sophomore season with an episode entitled "Otis." We pick up where we left off last week. The story follows a few different paths. First there is the large group of Michael, Linc, Sucre, Abruzzi, and C Note. Michael and Linc quickly split off from the group, as Michael's plan only calls for the two to move on from here, presumably headed off to Utah and a hidden trove of 5 million dollars. They get sidetracked when they get the opportunity to rescue LJ (Linc's son) on his way to a court hearing. Michael comes up with the plan, and the duo head off to put it into action. Unfortunately, Agent Mahone is a good match for the wits of Scofield, and figures out that something is up as he accompanies LJ. The rescue attempt fails and the brothers narrowly escape.

Back at the prison Bellick and Pope are called before a panel at the DOC, where they are questioned about an improprieties that may have gone on between them and the convicts. The questioning results in Bellick losing his job and Pope quitting. It pained me to watch Pope as the betrayal he feels plays out across his face. This is a man who, while dealing with so much scum, believes in the basic goodness in humanity and wants to believe that people are inherently good. Watching him have this taken away was quite painful. I even felt sorry for Bellick, who returns home and lies to his mother, whom he cares for, as he has to lie as to why he is home. He then prepares to go out after the Fox River Eight on his own.

Yet another story follows Tweener, a guy who wasn't supposed to be a part of the group anyway. Sporting a new, close cropped hair cut and a stolen ID, he is looking for a way toget to Utah and find the hidden fortune for himself. The kid doesn't seem to have a lot of personality, but he isn't quite as dumb as he pretends to be. He disguises himself as a college student and hitches a ride with a student driving to Utah to visit her family.

Not to be left out, we get some more of T-Bag's mean streak. When we last saw him, he was entering a veterinarian hospital with his severed hand in a cooler. Using his abundant charm, he gets the vet to reattach his hand. Afterwards, the viciousness comes out, as he cannot allow the vet to leave. As we leave him, he has the vet stripped and strapped to a table and about to do something unspeakable. This is a great character, I only wish we could get some more screentome from him.

Back to Michael and Linc, their narrow escape may be shortlived, as Linc gets hit in the leg and is bleeding profusely, and may not be able to go on. We leave these two as they try to figure out an escape, and the law closing in behind them. This is a trying time for Scofield, as he knows that this break out was not in their best interests, but it is hard to say know to your brother, especially when it concerns his son.

The show may be called Prison Break, but they are most definitely not in a prison, but the drama is just as compelling, This season has started out strong, and I can only hope they keep it up. The previews for next week promise more with Sucre, and the return of Dr. Sara Tancredi as she is arrested for her involvement in the escape.

This series is deceptive in its depth. It carries a lot of story that takes on a personal nature, despite the more epic backdrop of political intrigue. It is a good example of a show that builds its characters and still has a plot that involves more than meets the eye without feeling like it is trying to do too much. Basically, if you aren't watching, why not? Give it a try, you may be surprised by what you find.

The Trailer Park: Jet Li's Fearless

Jet Li has long been one of my favorite martial arts stars. His films have provided some of the best demonstrations of filmed martial arts (with and without wires) that I have seen. From his early films like Shaolin Temple to The Legend to the Twin Warriors on through the first three Once Upon a Time in China films, to Fist of Legend which contains some of the most brutal fights I have seen, on through the masterpiece of Hero, Li's films have always delivered. This makes his latest film all the more sad.

I do not say sad as in it is not a good movie, I have not yet seen it, sad in the fact that this will be the last of these types of films that Jet Li will make. Fortunately, I believe we will still get action films in the vein of Kiss of the Dragon and Unleashed, films that still display Li's martial arts ability and his improving acting ability.

Jet Li's Fearless is a film that holds a special place in Li's heart, as he has said: "I believe Jet Li’s Fearless is my most personal and important martial arts movie. This film captures the martial arts beliefs and philosophies I have learned and experienced over the past 30 years.”

The movie is inspired by true events that happened nearly a century ago. It is the story of Huo Yuanjia, a martial artist who trained himself and became the best in his region. Unfortunately, his ego and pride lead to a fight that results in the death of another master. In retaliation, members of his family are murdered. Huo leaves, only to return later to deal with his past, restore honor to his family, and fight for his country.

The trailer looks fantastic. I have always been amazed by Jet Li and his effortless ability. Watching the clips in the trailer just make me look more and more forward to seeing this. Teaming with Li on this film are action choreographer legend Yuen Wo Ping, who has been the mastermind of some of the greatest martial arts on screen, and director Ronny Yu, who helmed the excellent Bride with White Hair and more recently Freddy vs Jason and Formula 51. Both of them have strong visual styles, combine them with Li's talent, and this could be fantastic.

One last note, I think the poster looks awful. I much prefer what I believe to be the Hong Kong poster, there are four others on that page that also look better than the US version. There is a lot elegance and class contained in this poster. The US poster has that garish solid background, and a not terribly flattering image of Jet Li. I also am not a fan of the addition of the "Jet Li's" possessive to the title.

Jet Li's Fearless is set for release on September 22, 2006 from Rogue Pictures. The movie is rated PG-13 and is 103 minutes long. Be sure to take a look at the trailer.

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Movie Review: The Night Listener

Here is a movie that I thought was interesting based on what little I had seen from the commercials. The trailers seemed to promise creepy atmosphere and an intriguing mystery of a kid who may or may not exist. Fast forward, I am have now left the theater and I have found my hopes and dreams have been dashed. Well, that may be overreacting a little bit, but to say I was disappointed would be an understatement.

The film ends with a caption stating that this was based on a true story of someone who had a telephone relationship with a 14 year old boy, who may or may not have actually existed. My answer to that is "So what?" Honestly, who really cares if the anonymous person existed or not? They make no mention of anything that resulted from this relationship or not, making anything presented in the movie pure conjecture. They would have been better off if they had just left that out and just presented it as a fictional tale of mystery. The whole "based on a true story" schtick is getting a bit old anyway, more marketing ploy than anything that will sell more tickets. Then there is the whole did he/didn't he exist, does it really matter? I am sure there are many people who have online friendships with people that may or may not be real. No real revelation there.

The entire film hinges on a line of dialog that doesn't really carry the weight that it should for the role that it plays. This line sends our hero on a quest that just strikes me as terribly inconsequential. He leaves his home in New York, travels to Wisconsin, and goes on a search for a boy with whom he has befriended through phone communication. The relationship got a kickstart by his receiving a book, written by the boy, detailing years of physical and mental abuse at the hands of his parents.

Before we get there, we are introduced to Gabriel Noone (Robin Williams), a writer who shares his story by way of a late night radio show. We learn that he is going through a bit or a writing dry spell, we learn that he is gay, and his lover, Jesse (Bobby Cannavale), we also learn that he has a friend in the publishing world. Unfortunately, not much has any real bearing on the plot. The radio show is mere framework, the gay thing is there for a couple of vulgar remarks, and the publishing friend is a mere facilitator. Each of these points Everything taken together, the story is much more hooked together by convenient plot points than any type of natural flow.

The story picks up steam as Noone tries to ascertain the actual existence of the boy. He meets up with Donna (Toni Collette), who is supposedly the boys adoptive mother. It becomes quite clear, even without the explanation, where they are heading with the story. It builds to an inevitable if unsatisfying conclusion.

The Night Listener is hampered by slow and uneven pacing. I do not normally have any issues with a slow pace, but the editing is so poor in this case, there is very little consistency from one scene to the next. There is a very jumpy feel to it that I cannot adequately explain, but if you see it I am sure you will notice how the film does not have a comfortable flow. This flow serves to hurt the slow pace, making it seem even slower.

It is always frustrating watching a movie like this. There is clearly a better movie here than what has been delivered. In addition to that, the cast is quite good, and their performances are good as well. It makes me sad watching good actors give good performances when dealing with a poor script in a poor movie. Robin Williams and Toni Collette both turn in fine work as Gabriel and Noone, respectively. Williams best work of recent years has been his dramatic turns in films such as The Final Cut, Insomnia, and One Hour Photo. This continues his good dramatic work, even if the film doesn't really deserve it. Collette is convincing as the troubled adoptive mother, and probably the best work in this film. The supporting cast is also fine, for the most part, including Bobby Cannavale, Joe Morton, and Sandra Oh, even if I am not sure of the actual point of her character.

The film was directed by Patrick Stettner, who has an interesting visual style, but could use work on the pacing. I would be interested in seeing future work from him, as there is talent apparent there. He worked from a script by Stettner, Terry Anderson, and Armistad Maupin, based on Maupin's novel.

Bottomline. Disappointing film that will leave you scratching your head. There is no real closure to the hero's arc, so sadly we get half of an ending, which is better than none at all. I still wonder what the big deal is over the supposedly true portion of the tale, as what we are told is true at the end is not dramatically compelling. Anyway, I would say skip this, at the most renting it for the decent performances.

Not Recommended.
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August 27, 2006

Emmy 2006: The Last Minute Predictions and Notes

Wow! Emmy night already. When it comes to the awards shows I watch, and there are very few of those, I have become a first rate procrastinator when it comes to posting my picks. So, here we are, mere hours away from the first presentation and here I am taking a look at the list of nominees. Read on and you will see my predictions, and other random notes for the major categories.

Outstanding Comedy Series

  • Arrested Development
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm
  • The Office
  • Scrubs
  • Two and a Half Men
  • My Thoughts: This is a tough one for me, as I have three of my favorites in this category, and it is tough to pick one of them. In the end, if I had to choose, I think that Scrubs will and should win, althought I think my heart is with the cancelled brilliance of Arrested Development. I haven't seen enough of Curb to choose it, and I have to ask, why Two and a Half Men? I would have taken something like My Name is Earl over it in a heartbeat.

Outstanding Drama Series

  • Grey's Anatomy
  • House
  • The Sopranos
  • 24
  • The West Wing
  • My Notes: I have a few favorites that I feel were overlooked in this category. First and foremost is Battlestar Galactica, although I doubt a science fiction series will ever be nominated, no matter how great it is. Also overlooked are Rescue Me and Lost. Granted, Lost wasn't as good this season, it was still compelling television with a great ensemble cast. As for those nominated. I think it is a toss up between 24 and House, after consideration, I would have to go with 24. Although, I wouldn't write off Grey's Anatomy or The West Wing for its final season.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

  • Steve Carell for The Office
  • Larry David for Curb Your Enthusiasm
  • Kevin James for The King of Queens
  • Tony Shalhoub for Monk
  • Charlie Sheen for Two and a Half Men
  • My Notes: This is a pretty easy decision, based on these nominees, the winner will and should be Steve Carell, though I would not mind seeing Tony Shalhoub win. There were oversights in this category as well. I would like to have seen Zach Braff and Jason Bateman in place of Kevin James and Charlie Sheen, and what about Jason Lee?

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series

  • Peter Krause for Six Feet Under
  • Denis Leary for Rescue Me
  • Christopher Meloni for Law & Order: SVU
  • Martin Sheen for The West Wing
  • Kiefer Sutherland for 24
  • My Notes: Another toss up for me, betweem Kiefer Sutherland and Denis Leary. I think Kiefer will win, but my heart goes with Denis Leary. I don't really care for Meloni's nomination, not that he is bad, but I don't like how they pimp out these overly dramatic series focusing on the two leads on the series, the show doesn't strike me as a format that lends itself to this award, despite it being my favorite L&O series. Those overlooked in this category would include Edward James Olmos and Hugh Laurie.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

  • Stockard Channing for Out of Practice
  • Jane Kaczmarek for Malcolm in the Middle
  • Lisa Kudrow for The Comeback
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus for The New Adventures of Old Christine
  • Debra Messing for Will & Grace
  • My Notes: Sadly, nothing stands out here, as I don't watch four of the nominated series, and the fifth I don't feel deserved a nomination this year, while having been snubbed for the win in years past. I guess I will go with her to win, that being Jane Kaczmarek.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series

  • Frances Conroy for Six Feet Under
  • Geena Davis for Commander in Chief
  • Mariska Hargitay for Law & Order: SVU
  • Allison Janney for The West Wing
  • Kyra Sedgewick for The Closer
  • My Notes: This is an easy choice for who I want to win, Kyra Sedgewick. Who will win is a bit tougher, as I don't think it will be Kyra. I am going to say Mariska Hargitay will win, although the same caveats apply here as mentioned for Christopher Meloni. I wouldn'tbe surprised to hear Geena Davis' name either.

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

  • Will Arnett for Arrested Development
  • Bryan Cranston for Malcolm in the Middle
  • Jon Cryer for Two and a Half Men
  • Sean Hayes for Will & Grace
  • Jeremy Piven for Entourage
  • My Notes: I want Will Arnett to win, without a doubt, but I also doubt that he will win. I would also like to see Bryan Cranston win, as he was the funniest and most consistent member of the Malcolm cast. Something tells me this will be won by Sean Hayes. Again I ask, what is it with these Two and a Half Men nominations? Maybe I just don't get it, but the show doesn't strike me as being all that special. Overlooked in this category are John C. McGinley, Eddie Steeples, Tony Hale, and John Krasinki.

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

  • Alan Alda for The West Wing
  • Michael Imperioli for The Sopranos
  • Gregory Itzin for 24
  • Oliver Platt for Huff
  • William Shatner for Boston Legal
  • My Notes: I would love to see Gregory Itzin take this category, his performance as the sleazy president on 24 was great. However, I have a feeling that it is going to go to William Shatner, again. Overlooked actors include Jorge Garcia, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, and Omar Epps.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

  • Cheryl Hines for Curb Your Enthusiasm
  • Megan Mullally for Will & Grace
  • Elizabeth Perkins for Weeds
  • Jaime Pressly for My Name is Earl
  • Alfre Woodard for Desperate Housewives
  • My Notes: Desperate Housewives is not a comedy, and that is all I need to say on that. I would like to see Jaime Pressly win, her trashy role is hilarious. However, I think it is much more likely at Megan Mullally will win, even if I don't want her to. Nominees I would have liked to see here include Sarah Chalke, Jenna Fischer, and Jessica Walter.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

  • Candice Bergen for Boston Legal
  • Blythe Danner for Huff
  • Sandra Oh for Grey's Anatomy
  • Jean Smart for 24
  • Chandra Wilson for Grey's Anatomy
  • My Notes: Could the Grey's nominations cancel each other out? Probably not, as I think that Sandra Oh will win this one, despite my wanting Jean Smart to take it for her role on 24. Never cared for Boston Legal, and I don't watch Huff, so I could be way off base here. Among the overlooked are Evangeline Lilly, Callie Thorne, and Katee Sackhoff.

Outstanding Variety, Music, or Comedy Series

  • The Colbert Report
  • The Daily Show
  • Late Night with Conan O'Brien
  • Late Show with David Letterman
  • Real Time with Bill Maher
  • My Notes: As I don't watch any of these with any great regularity, I am not sure who will win, although I know who I want to win. I want The Colbert Report to win, without a doubt. Stephen Colbert is very funny, and the show is just flat out consistently entertaining.

Outstanding Reality Competition Program

  • The Amazing Race
  • American Idol
  • Dancing with the Stars
  • Project Runway
  • Survivor
  • My Notes: Frankly, I do not care who wins this, as I do not like reality television, so you'll excuse me if I don't pick one here.

That concludes my overview of the major (in my mind) categories for tonights broadcast. It is interesting to note how some of last years big winners were not included this time around. There were few to no nominations for Desperate Housewives and Lost. Neither one of them had terribly great sophomore seasons, although I still found Lost to me more compelling than not. It will be interesting to see how things turn out, and if any of the shows with wins, or no nominations alike, change their approaches at all this season. Will the lack fo attention to last years big two spur them on to strive harder for greatness this year? We will see when the new seasons kick off this fall.

Be sure to tune in tonight to NBC at 8 PM EST for the telecast of the awards show, but before that, be sure to take a click over to the Emmy site to see a complete list of categories and nominees for tonight.

Movie Review: Beerfest

I love being in a theater where everyone is excited to see the movie. I love the infectious enthusiasm that can come from a room full of like minded people. That type of environment can greatly enhance the theatrical experience. Case in point, Snakes on a Plane is a great example of a fun time at the multiplex, everyone new what they were getting into and new the movie would be a blast. But, and there is always a but, infectious enthusiasm and idiots in the theater are co0mpletely different things. The crowd for the screening of Beerfest that I attended was full of the worst kind of folks. They were just flat out obnoxious, which did not help the film, it just made me sad.

The crowd aside, the movie was mediocre at best. The laughs were either very funny or very lame, there was not much in between. On top of that, the movie was much too long, for a goofball comedy about drinking beer to be nearing the 2 hour mark, there has to be some filler, or in this case, perhaps a bit of foam.

The story, what there is of it, follows the Wolfhouse brothers, Jan and Todd. Their grandfather (Donald Sutherland) has just passed away, leaving them the Germany themed bar and restaurant. Their Great Gam Gam (Cloris Leachman) charges the boys with taking his ashes to Germany to scatter over the traditional lands.

This seemingly simple task leads to a journey into the underworld of beer drinking and a conspiracy that could shake the very foundations of their family. They are led into a top secret drinking competition, where the first rule is: "Never talk about Beerfest." Not really, but you aren't likely to be believed if you did. The competition is presided over by Jurgen Prochnow, playing another member of the Wolfhouse clan. This reopens old wounds between the German family and Sutherland who fled to America with a stolen beer recipe. This leads to the brothers seeking to enter and win the competition.

After they are embarrassed in their initial outing, they are determined to put together a drinking team and practice hard to return the following year and beat the pants off the Germans. They gather up Landfill (Kevin Heffernan), so named because he can put away just about anything, Fink (Steve Lemme), a Jewish scientist who has studied the science of drinking, and Barry (Jay Chandrasekhar), an old friend turned prostitute who is a master of drinking games. They gather in a back room of the restaurant where they drink and drink, and drink some more.

This training sequence makes up the bulk of the movie, and it just seems to drag on and on. They go through the motions of failing on their own, finding help to train them, revelations about the guys come out that threaten to tear them apart before they even get back to Germany. In true sports movie fashion, our heroes overcome and battle through all of the opening rounds to face off with the Germans.

Beerfest is moderately funny. There are some very big laughs, followed by some where you are left scratching your head. I'm not quite sure what to make of it, but it seems like Broken Lizard tried to go too big. This is a sports movie disguised in frat boy trappings, but never really seems to reconcile one with the other. Supertroopers worked much better due to the smaller scope and more straightforward story, even Club Dread was better as a movie, not exactly funnier, but the story meshed better than it did here.

I don't want to get into to many specifics, for fear of ruining the best bits for you. There were some unexpected moments of hilarity, and Cloris Leachman was perfect as Gam Gam. I also liked the sports movie structure, and even a bit of Hostel thrown in. There is no denying that these guys have a good bit of cleverness between them, but they could use someone who could hone it more into a more focused film, like the Zucker films from the 1980s.

Bottomline. Funny movie, but not as funny as I had hoped. It is hurt by an overlong running time. Some more time in the editing room may have done wonders. I do look forward to what these guys do next, and that may be the best praise I can give them. Also, maybe if they used some of those excised bits from the trailers.

Mildly Recommended.
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August 26, 2006

Movie Review: Invincible (2006)

What is it about Disney and the inspirational sports drama? Somehow they can take the tired formula and make it compelling, time after time after time. Past productions include Glory Road, Miracle, The Rookie, The Greatest Game Ever Played, and Remember the Titans. None of them really break any new ground, but I always seem to be sucked in by the story. It never seems to matter who is directing or who is writing, but they always churn out worthy films.

I am not the biggest sports fan in the world, so I usually enter these with very little knowledge of the actual events and people that inspired them. I don't know if that helps or hurts, but I guess it doesn't matter since I have enjoyed the movies anyway. Invincible is no different.

Invincible is the story of Vincent Papale, a 30 year old bartender from Philadelphia who goes to an open tryout for the Philadelphia Eagles. Dirk Vermiel is the new coach of the team that has been suffering a number of losing seasons in front of a rabid crowd. We all know how the story is going to go, a down and out guy tries out, works hard against adversity, and eventually overcomes to win the hearts of a city and the love interest.

Mark Wahlberg plays Papale well. He is the everyman with whom the passive viewer can put their hopes and dreams, living vicariously through the underdog champion. Where Papale came from, and what he went through gives everyone something to identify with. The cast is filled with the usual suspects. There is the love interest, the supportive friends, the rival, the teammates who look down on him, and the coach who stands up for him. All of which play the usual roles, but they are portrayed very well.

The movie was directed by first timer Ericson Core, who has spent most of his career as a director of photography on films such as Daredevil, The Fast and the Furious, and Payback. I am sure that experience came in handy whil shooting Invincible. The movie has an epic feel too it, and despite the perpetual use of green/brown (I have a touch of color-blindness, and the color could go wither way to me) filters giving it all a but of ugliness, still looks good. The relationship is much like the compelling tale against the cliched nature of the story. The script was written by Brad Gann, who did a good job of keeping the primary storyline in focus, and the heart on its sleeve. Although some of the background relationships were a little underwritten, it doesn't detract from the film as a whole.

The acting is good, as well, even if there is no stretch required. Wahlberg does a fine job of embodying the embattled everyman, seeking to fight the odds. Elizabeth Banks (Slither) is lovely as the interloper Giants fan and love interest. Greg Kinnear is fine as Dick Vermiel, the coach seeking to win over a city and get a few wins. None of the performances are Oscar type, but they do the job of keeping you involved for the entire running of the movie.

Bottomline. A surprisingly effective film that continues Disney's stranglehold on the formula. Fine performances lead the film to its inspirational goal. It may look a bit ugly through the filters, and you may not want to revisit the fashion sense and hairstyles, but you will want to visit with Vince and his journey.

Recommended.
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CD Review: Gat Rot - Us Versus Them

Hardcore and its relations have slowly been winning me over in the past year. I finally gave Hatebreed a good listen to, and that did a lot to win me over, plus albums from Bury Your Dead, Bludgeon, and Mower have all added to a growing liking for the hardcore genre and its surrounding blends. However, it is albums such as this that remind me why I was never big into the hardcore scene. To be fair, Gat Rot is not a pure hardcore act, there are elements of metal mixed in, edging them towards the metalcore genre, but it still fits.

Us Versus Them is just a dull album. There is nothing that challenges me, nothing that grabs me by the throat and forces me to listen. There is no reason to get excited. This is an album that when you turn it on for the first time, you almost have to force yourself to go all the way to the
end.

Gat Rot features two vocalists whose voices, at least to my ear, are very similar. I usually think the idea of having two singers is for two different sounds to blend, not here. Occasionally, they seem to get into screaming wars to see who can outdo the other, only to end in a stalemate each time. Everything else is just so terribly bland, straight up crunchy guitars, with the bass line doubling it, making it a little bit thicker, and backed by generic drumming.

I don't demand a lot from my music, and maybe I am being unnecessarily mean, but I got nothing from this release. Some of the songs paces slow to a crawl that would put an insomniac to sleep. While I don't have high demands, I do have some expectations of original sound, some idea that there was thought process behind what I am hearing. Again, this falls way short.

The one good thing to come out of this is that Us Versus Them works very well as some background music while you work on other projects. You don't need to pay attention to it, nor does it demand your attention. Turn it on, change your focus and let the non-functioning portions of your gray matter mull it over while the more important things get done.

Bottomline. Skip this and go check out Hatebreed's The Rise of Brutality. This one can remain on the shelf. Hardcore, as a genre, may have a standard definition, but it is possible to create worthy music within the confines, just as easily as you can create a dull bland release within the same area.

Not Recommended.
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The Trailer Park: Catch a Fire

Catch a Fire is the latest film from director Phillip Noyce, who also helmed Patriot Games and The Quiet American. It is a political thriller in the vein of The Constant Gardener, that tells the story of Patrick Chamusso. I have to say that the trailer looks fantastic (it was shot on location in Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Mozambique).

Derek Luke plays Patrick, he is a hard worker on an oil field, plays soccer, and has a beautiful family. More important than all of that, he is apolitical. He lives in South Africa, and keeps himself removed from the political scene. He is successful at this, until he becomes the target of government sanctioned terror squads.

The brutality brought down upon him and his family forces him to choose a side. He takes action taking part in strikes against the government, even going so far as to undertake solo attacks. He is pushed to the point where he needs to take action, to stand up and fight for what he believes in.

The trailer looks excellent. Action and intrigue, all wrapped up in a story worthy of seeing on the big screen. I can only hope that the trailer is the promise and not the payoff of quality. The only thing that I found awkward was co-star Tim Robbins and his weird South African accent. It sounded weird coming out of his mouth.

The trailer is up at the Quicktime site, and is well worth your time. It is being released by Focus Films and is set for release on October 27,2006.

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August 25, 2006

New Movie Releases and Box Office Predictions: Beerfest, Invincible, How to Eat Fried Worms, Idlewild

August marches on, will it spawn any strong sleepers as we head into the stretch? Not sure, probably not this week. Surprisingly, there are no PG-13 rated films opening this week, which is almost unheard of as it is the rating du jour. We do get a couple of Rs and a couple PGs to satiate our need for the big screen scene.

Beerfest. (2006, 110 minutes, R, comedy, trailer) Broken Lizard returns for the first time since Club Dread in this film about competitive beer drinking. The trailer makes this look absolutely ridiculous, but I would not expect anything less. I expect to sit down and have fun watching this sure to be brain dead comedy.

Invincible. (2006, 128 minutes, PG, drama, trailer) Disney's lock on the inspirational sports film continues. Mark Wahlberg stars as Vince Papale, a bartender who tries out for the Philadelphia Eagles during an open tryout in the 1970s. This is the story of his journey to the football field.

How to Eat Fried Worms. (2006, 96 minutes, PG, comedy, trailer) Based off of the Thomas Rockwell book, comes this tale of an unusual challenge. The new kid in school accepts a challenge from the school bully, eat ten worms over the course of a day.

Idlewild. (2006, 90 minutes, R, drama, trailer) The stars of Outkast take to the big screen in this movie set in the 1930s. This is the story of a couple of very different friends struggling to make it as musicians in a Louisiana speakeasy. It features the feature directorial debut of Bryan Barber.

The Night Listener. (2006, 90 minutes, R, suspense, trailer) This bypassed first run theaters here and is landing right in the cheap theater, the not so kind reviews probably helped see to that. Robin Williams stars as a late night radio host who is contacted by a boy who tells a story of abuse at the hands of his parents. Williams travels to the boy's town to learn the truth. It may not be good, but I am interested in checking it out.

Half Nelson. (2006, 106 minutes, NR, drama, trailer) This film looks like it could be very good. Ryan Gosling stars as a junior high teacher who sticks to his ideals and strays from the book method, his out of school life is ruled by a growing drug habit. One drugged up night he encounters one of his students, who is dealing with drugs in her own family. The two begin a friendship as they both struggle with their issues. This is beginning a run at the local arthouse theater.

Also opening this week, but not near me:
  • Old Joy
  • Princesas
  • Queens
  • The Quiet
  • Rolling Family
  • Surviving Eden

Box Office Predictions

Like Samuel L. Jackson says, "Snakes on a Plane just may be the greatest movie ever made!" That said, it will likely do well this weekend before fading away into the depths rather quickly.

RankTitleBox Office
1Invincible$18 million
2Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby$9 million
3How to Eat Fried Worms$7.5 million
4Beerfest$7 million
5World Trade Center$6 million
6Accepted$5.5 million
7Idlewild$5 million
8Snakes on a Plane$3.25 million
9Step Up$3 million
10Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest$2 million

What are you seeing this weekend?

The Trailer Park: School for Scoundrels

Jon Heder continues to carve out a niche as the premier weird guy in School for Scoundrels. He follows his star making turn in the audience dividing Napoleon Dynamite and as the nose picking baseball neophyte in Benchwarmers with the role of a meter maid with low self esteem.

The concept seems rather silly. The story sees Heder enrolling in a top secret confidence training class in order to learn how to be a man. What kicks the potential up a notch are the presence of David Cross, and, in the role of teacher, Billy Bob Thornton. Not to be forgotten is the rest of the supporting cast which features Michael Clarke Duncan, Horatio Sanz, and Jacinda Barrett.

The problem I see with Heder is, for as much as I enjoyed his Napoleon, his characters just seem to be variations of the same thing. Take off the wig and put on a different set of clothes and you have Napoleon on a baseball field, or Napoleon in the city. Still, he is rather humorous fellow, so I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

His role here looks pretty funny as he goes from the loser who passes out when talking to a girl, to a guy who wages war with his confidence coach for the affections of his dreamgirl. Not necessarily an original concept, but one that could be made fresh with the right script and cast. Does School for Scoundrels fit the bill? We'll see.

The trailer is up on the Quicktime site, be sure to give it a glance. School for Scoundrels is set to be released on September 29, 2006 by the Weinstein Company. It is rated PG-13.

August 24, 2006

Music DVD Review: Black Label Society: The European Invasion - Doom Troopin'

Watching this concert disk makes me wish that I kept up with Black Label Society. I really have no excuse for why I haven't. I picked up their debut, Sonic Brew, way back in the day, and I have their previous DVD, Boozed, Broozed & Broken Boned, but for some reason or other I never got any of their other albums. That is now an absolute must.

Anyone who is a fan of face melting solos, bone crushing riffs, and pure attitude, must add this disk to their collection. Zakk Wylde is, hands down, one of the best guitar players in the world. I have never heard anyone else play like he can. He is a true original, and this concert has him at the top of his game.

The centerpiece of this two disk set is a concert filmed in Paris. It begins with a Wylde solo and never lets up. The show runs nearly two hours and had me completely in awe the entire time. This is Wylde and the rest of his band are up there to blow your head off, and they damn near succeed. Driving drums, solid rhythm section and Zakk playing ringleader to the musical mayhem.

This is an experience, something I hope to experience in person. Playing in your face rock and metal, drinking beer and just having an absolute blast. The crowd was into it from start to finish. I am not even sure how to accurately describe how good this show is.

Early on there is a bit of a drinking break where Zakk begins playing "Iron Man" with his fret hand while drinking with the other. A fun interlude. Later, there is an acoustic guitar solo jam. Zakk sits down, cross-legged, and just shreds on the acoustic, even playing some of "Mama, I'm Coming Home," much to the enjoyment of the crowd. There is also a touching performance of "In This River," a song dedicated to the late great, Dimebag Darrell, a song that Zakk says will never leave the Black Label setlist.

The set concludes with "Genocide Junkies" followed by Zakk proceeding to throw the amps and monitors into the crowd, something I have learned to be a regular happening at Black Label shows.

One thing that really impressed me was the use of video effects. Many times I have seen concerts try to use special effects and they just come off as cheesey. This is a different case altogether. The effects and split screens all work perfectly, enhancing the live experience for home viewing.

Also on disk one are four tracks from their show in London. This runs another half an hour, and besides having more screaming guitar driven metal, features the band blowing out the power multiple times, and Zakk waging a battle with all of the equipment in front of him.

Disk two contains three music videos, and a behind the scenes documentary that runs for nearly an hour. The documentary starts off with a interview with Zakk, stitched together from a few different sessions. Learn about Zakk's habit of throwing equipment into the crowd, and about the tour preparations, and his temper. The film literally follows the band during the tour, catching up with them backstage at a number of venues. Watch the band fool around, jam, talk smack. It is well worth watching, especially to see more of Zakk's playing, which is simply amazing.

Bottomline. This set is a must have. The music is incredible, the atmosphere is pure metal. What else need be said? Get it, watch it, and prepare to have your face melted.

Highly Recommended.
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The European Invasion – Doom Troopin' track listing:

Paris Chapter:

01. Stoned and Drunk
02. Destruction Overdrive
03. Been A Long Time
04. Funeral Bell
05. Suffering Overdue
06. In This River
07. Suicide Messiah
08. Demise Of Sanity
09. Spread Your Wings
10. Solo Acoustic Jam
11. Spoke In The Wheel
12. Fire It Up
13. Stillborn
14. Genocide Junkies

London Chapter:

01. Been a Long Time
02. Suicide Messiah
03. Stillborn
04. Genocide Junkies

The Trailer Park: The Protector

Having first witnessed Tony Jaa in Ong Bak, there is no doubt that he is the future of the martial arts film stars. We've had Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li, Jaa is the next generation. This guy is simply amazing, and now we are getting another dose of his brand of excitement on the big screen.

The Protector is known as Tom yum goong in it's native Thailand. My first comment is why couldn't they have come up with a better title? The Protector is, frankly, lame. It sounds like a generic Steven Seagal vehicle. Once I've seen the film, I am sure I will be able to come up with something better. Secondly, it is being released by the Weinstein Company, which is probably not a good thing. The Weinstein's do not have a good track record when it comes to their treatment of Asian films. Dubbing, editing, and new soundtracks all spring to mind. I wonder how they would feel if some other company somehow got the rights to their movies and hacked them to bits? Hopefully, The Protector won't suffer the same fate.

The trailer looks excellent. Story will probably be on the generic side, but I don't go to a movie like this for a deep story, I go for the action. Tony Jaa is incredibly athletic and agile, the things he can do, without wires, will surely astound you.

The story follows a young Thai man who has been brought up among the ancient traditions of their people. His way of life is destroyed when they are invaded by those from the city seeking to take over. The young man takes the fight to the city, and that is where the action heats up. I eagerly look forward to seeing it.

The trailer is up at the Quicktime site. It is set to be unleashed on the big screen on September 8, 2006.

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August 23, 2006

DVD Review: Gigantour 2005

Last year Dave Mustaine sought to put together a package tour that was affordable for the fans and had a strong focus on heavy metal musicianship. He wasn't just putting together a tour of the most popular bands, he looked for bands that displayed first rate musicianship, and bands that he was a fan of. I think he succeeded.

I attended one of the shows in August of last year, it was one of the best shows I have yet attended. Besides featuring some of my favorite bands, it was just a great environment, 5 or 6 hours of pure metal bliss. This DVD brought me right back to that day. The first disk is nearly 90 minutes of music recorded at their stop in Montreal, Canada. In between each song are clips of interviews with the bands. You hear from Dave Mustaine about wanting to put this together, and other bands about how much fun they have had on the tour and how they came to be included.

The DVD puts together highlights from the show, featuring loud, in your face metal, swirling pits, and bands that are clearly putting their soul on the stage. 90 minutes of metal thrashing madness.

First up is Bobaflex with "Better Than Me." The song shows why they are a name to keep an eye on. Raging energy on display, they put on a show, and makes me a bit upset that I missed them. They are followed by Dry Kill Logic, a band that continues to impress. I have seen them live a couple of times, and they keep getting better. They have two songs here, with "Lost" and "Paper Tiger," marrying old school thrash and new school hardcore.

The third band on the disk is one of those bands I was very much looking forward to see live, Nevermore. This band is a bright spot of the current metal scene, screaming leads, shredding riffs and a singer that has a singularly powerful and unique voice. They are represented by a pair of songs, "Born" and "Enemies of Reality."

Then there is Symphony X, a band I had heard of, and was anticipating their live show. They did not disappoint in their combination of technical precision and heaviness. They are in the Dream Theater school, although I think Symphony X is a bit more to the heavy end of the spectrum. Their performances of "Inferno" and "Of Sins and Shadows" were spectacular. I really need to seek out more music from them.

Next was a band that I remember liking some of their stuff years ago, but now, they don't really do much for me. Their representation here, like when I saw their set, is high energy, I just don't care for the music. They have two songs here, "The Day He Died" and "Love to Let You Down."

At this point we move towards the headline acts. First up is one of my favorite heavy acts, Fear Factory. I have been a fan of them for many years, and their live performances never disappoint. This was the first time I had seen this lineup live. You see, their guitar player left, the bass player became the guitar player, and a new bass player joined the group. Here they played the title tracks from their then upcoming album, and the last album, "Transgression" and "Archetype." They proceeded to tear up the stage with their brutally heavy, inductrial flavored sound.

Now for the co-headliner, and prog masters, Dream Theater. This is another band that I have seen before, but it was entertaining to see them in a different setting. This heavier setting had the band focusing on their heavier material, as evidenced here by "Glass Prison" and "Panic Attack." Both of these performances were phenomenal, displaying their prowess with their instruments.

Finally, the final act of the day, and the master of ceremonies, Megadeth closes out the concert. They are represented by three songs, "She Wolf," "A Tout Le Monde," and "Kick the Chair." This is not my favorite lineup for the band, but they still know how to put on a great show. They tore the stage up on these three sets, complete with flames.

This disk is a great companion to my memories of the show, but it is not without its flaws and omissions. First off, two bands are not represented. First is The Dillinger Escape Plan, admittedly not one that I care for, but they do not have any representation here. The other is Anthrax, who replaced Dream Theater for a week of shows. Both of these acts should have had at least one song included, but I guess you can't have everything. The other questionable thing is song selection and length. I am sure they could have, and probably should have, included some more music, a disk can hold more than 90 minutes of material. Also, the song selection could have been better. For example, I would have liked to see Fear Factory's "Cyberwaste" and Nevermore's "Poison Godmachine" or "This Godless Endeavor." For Dream Theater, They should have included "Pull Me Under" in addition to what is there, and Megadeth's "Holy Wars" or "Peace Sells." It is nice having these lesser represented tracks live, but I would have liked for some more "classic" cuts.

Audio/Video. The audio is presented in three flavors, 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital, and 2.0 Dolby Digital. It sounds good, all of the bands are represented well with good mixes, although I would have liked a bit more crowd noise. The video is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. It looks very good, nothing to complain about.

But wait, there's more!

There is a second disk containing a near 50 minute behind the scenes of the tour. This takes a look at all the aspects of the tour. Included are bits on the band's instrument techs, living on a bus, the use of pyro, moshing, and cover songs. The cover songs section includes a complete performance of Pantera's "Cemetery Gates" by Dream Theater with additional vocals from Burton C. Bell of Fear Factory and Russell Allen of Symphony X, plus Dave Mustaine shreds the final solo. This peek into the tour is excellent, showing the ups and downs and taking you into the bands lives. Very nice addition to the concert disk.

Botomline. Very good, if imperfect companion to the masterful metal tour. If you like metal, and/or you like any of these bands, you need to add this to your collection.

Recommended.
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*Photos were taken by me at one of the tour stops.

The Trailer Park: The Black Dahlia

Brian De Palma returns with his first film since 2002's Femme Fatale, a film that I think is underrated. Joining him is a good cast, strong material, and a great looking trailer. It is also another film that is inspired by true events.

The story takes the real events and weaves a fictional story around it, and like another based on a true story film opening soon, Hollywoodland, is a mystery which remains unsolved to this day. The case at hand is the brutal 1947 murder of B film star Betty Ann Short, aka The Black Dahlia. It was a crime so brutal that the photos were never released.

Aaron Eckhart and Josh Hartnett star as Lee Blanchard and Bucky Bleichert as the detectives brought in to investigate the case. Each man is affected in different ways as the investigation progresses, leading to unhealthy relationships with their loved ones.

Co-starring are Mia Kershner as Betty, Scarlett Johansson as Eckhart's significant other, and Hilary Swank who is the daughter of a wealthy family and has a relationship with the deceased, which attracts Hartnett.

The trailer has a great look that captures the hard-boiled look and feel of the 1940s, complete with voiceover from Josh Hartnett. Frankly, I cannot wait for this, it looks fantastic, and probably De Palma's best in years.

The trailer is online and ready for your entertainment. The Black Dahlia is being released by Universal Pictures on September 15, 2006.

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The Trailer Park: Idlewild

Of this coming weekend's new releases, I think this one holds the most promise. It is not an action movie, or a comedy, or a new science fiction or horror film, nor does it immediately seem like an Oscar contendor. What it does look like is a dramatic, music filled tale set around a 1930s speakeasy.

Idlewild stars Andre Benjamin and Antwan A. Patton, better known as Outkast, as longtime friends from opposite sides of the track who find a common ground in music. Despite their obvious differences in how they lead their lives, they come together to make some great music at a club they run.

The trailer looks very good. The movie promises new music from Outkast, plenty of choreographed dance sequences, and potentially a story worth watching. It has a lively look, and plenty of recognizeable performers, including Ving Rhames, Macy Gray, Patti Labelle, Terrence Howard, and Ben Vereen.

Andre Benjamin has impressed me the few times I have seen him. He was funny as Dabu in the otherwise drab Be Cool, and was excellent in Four Brothers, hopefully the streak will continue here. I don't care for Macy Gray, so hopefully she won't have a terribly big role.

The movie was written and directed by Bryan Barber. Barber is making his big screen debut with this outing. Previously he has been a collaborator with Outkast on some of their music videos. It looks like he has the right vehicle for translating from the small screen to the big.

There is a music postcard up, where you can sample some of the new Outkast songs from the film. In addition to that, there are also a number of clips online, including the trailer:
Trailer, Clip 1, Clip 2, Clip 3, Clip 4, Clip 5, Clip 6, Clip 7, Clip 8

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August 22, 2006

Box Office Update 8/18-8/20: Snakes on a Plane Slithers to the Top, Just Barely

Not quite as commanding as the studio had anticipated, but Snakes on a Plane did take the top spot this week. This is the second film that shows the overestimation of the internet audience, the other being last year's Serenity. All the hype and all the buzz amounted to a funny title and not much else at the box office on what turned out to be a weak weekend. Snakes opened well with $7.5 million on Friday, but quickly tailed off over Saturday and Sunday. It's a shame too, the film is a blast of a B film. I never really expected it to go very far, as opening weekend was assuredly going to be its best shot at a profit. All I will say is, if you want to have 90 minutes of stupid fun, this is your movie.

Also moving onto the top ten this week is Accepted, a surprisingly entertaining teen comedy that pits the establishment against some unconventional teaching techniques. Justin Long takes the lead and proves how adept he is at playing the everyman loser role. Debuting down at number 9 is Material Girls, starring the Duff sisters. It opened with less than stellar results, and will likely sink fast.

Rounding out the new entries is Little Miss Sunshine, jumping 5 places from 12 to 4 in its fourth week of release. This is a delightful film about a family beset with all manner of issues. Take a motivational speaker, a housewife, a sex starved and drug addicted grandfather, a suicidal brother, a silent son, and a daugher that wants to be a beauty queen, and put them in a VW bus, mix well, and comedy will ensue. Very good film, and not your typical summer flick. It stars Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carell, and Alan Arkin.

Among the returning films Will Ferrell leads the pack as Ricky Bobby placed second with a drop of a mere 37.8%. Performing even better, but a little further down the list Barnyard fared surprisingly well dropping only 21.9% and the Disney juggernaut of Dead Man's Chest slipped just 28%. Pirates take has crossed the $400 million barrier, making it only the 7th film to reach that plateau, and only the 5th to do it during its initial release, plus it is th second fastest to that point.

Four films dropped from the list this week: The Descent (11), Miami Vice (12), Zoom (13), and Monster House (14).

This Week

Last WeekTitleWknd GrossOverallWeek in release
1NSnakes on a Plane$13,806,311$13,806,3111
21

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

$13,755,387$114,341,2633
33World Trade Center$10,901,350$45,105,8682
42Step Up$10,157,605$39,738,4352
5NAccepted$10,023,835$10,023,8351
64

Barnyard

$7,581,622$46,088,2733
712Little Miss Sunshine$5,610,845$12,692,0594
86Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest$5,212,351$401,253,0927
9NMaterial Girls$4,603,121$4,603,1211
105Pulse$3,519,889$14,695,9882


Box Office Predictions Recap
Well, I guess three out of ten isn't that bad. Not too good either, especially if you look a some of my dollar predictions. Oh well, there's always next week.

Actual

PredictionTitleWknd GrossPrediction
11Snakes on a Plane$22,126,226$25 million
22Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby$8,203,822$17 million
53Accepted$20,659,573$15 million
44Step Up$7,237,927$13.5 million
95

Material Girls

$18,730,762

$10 million

86Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest$4,510,408$8 million
107Pulse$9,701,882$6.5 million
38World Trade Center$4,706,430$5.5 million
69Barnyard$4,616,462$3.5 million
1310Zoom$3,285,771$2.5 million


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