Anything is Possible: Thoughts on The Raid 2

July 19, 2014

The-Raid-2-Logo

It has taken me a moment to write down the thoughts, emotions, the sense of truth and purpose that comes from The Raid 2. Since it’s release on March 28th I have felt great elation as words of joy and excitement filled my social media timelines, text messages, and phone calls. The Raid 2 is love.

The Raid 2 fucked the game up for everybody. I don’t just mean in the way that Gareth Evans made a sprawling 2 hour plus crime/action movie hybrid for four million dollars that looks and sounds better than every big budget action blockbuster this year. The moment that fucked the game up, that fucked my mind up, is when Kenichi Endo’s character Goto says, “Anything is possible.” Sure, he is referring to criminal machinations being unfurled around him, but Evans holds the shot on Endo and lets the line linger in the air. This is a mission statement, a call to arms. The Raid 2 is proof that you can do anything. Every action sequence has a breathless chant of “This is happening this is happening this is really happening” running underneath it. Long take battles in a nightclub that spill out into snow covered alleys. The camera floating above the jail yard as prisoners fight to the death covered in mud. A woman who kills a whole subway car full of thugs with two claw hammers. The camera traveling effortlessly through a vehicle during a car chase. But on top of what “Anything is possible” means to The Raid 2 I keep thinking what it means to me as a human being, a person trying to exist as a creative person. I perform improv, which has it’s champions and critics, much like any other art form, and “Anything is possible” is true for any improvised scene. There are no limits, no settings, no rules. You decide your destiny. When Goto said it, I felt a kinship and a bond with the film and with true creative people everywhere. We can do whatever we want!

Going back to The Raid 2 as a film, all of it would be for naught if I didn’t care about the characters. And I do! Obviously Rama is the guy I care about over everything, he’s just a good guy in a bad situation who happens to be just better at fighting than anyone on planet Earth. Still, there’s only one of him and a shit-ton of bad guys. I care about Bangun, the world’s most sensible crime lord. He knows when to kill a guy and when to take the high road and not leave a mountain of bodies. It still doesn’t work out great for him but his sensibility rang true. A character like Uco is inherently unsympathetic but Arifin Putra’s performance is such that his sadness and ultimate betrayal are given time to well and grow so that when he decides to gun down his father, the scene has weight and it means something. Even when the characters are only small sketches, like Hammer Girl and the Bat Guy and the guy who just looks tough and leaves your body in a field, their characters are illustrated with small wordless details that say more than a ream of exposition. On a very base level, my feelings on The Raid 2 are purely “Holy fucking hell that guy just had his face blown OFF!” But I also cherish moments when Bangun realizes his son’s treachery or when Uco faces himself in the mirror after murdering his father. That show of emotion and betrayal wouldn’t mean shit if Evans hadn’t laid the groundwork. Also the car chase. And the kitchen fight. And the porn den battle. And on and on. The Raid 2 is everything.

raid2

 

Lorin saw all the movies nominated for Best Picture. Give him a kiss.

March 1, 2014

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The morning of the Oscar nominations I was surprised that I had already watched eight of the nine films nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards.  I saw their promotional campaigns, caught some trailers and thought, “Heck, I’ll check that shit out. Why not?” This never happens, as I stopped seeking out Oscar bait films and even after a film is Oscar-nominated(and subsequently becomes an Oscar-winner) I don’t run out to see it. The Artist and The King’s Speech can win all the awards they want, doesn’t mean I gotta subject myself to their tyrannical middlebrow ways. (If I’m going to watch a black and white silent movie I’ll watch Buster Keaton, who was straight killing it back in the day. You see Sherlock Jr.? Fuck outta here with The Artist.) So I realized, if I just went to see the one remaining nominated film, I would have seen them all and I could knock out a nifty blog about all the films.

Philomena

Learning lessons!

So I went to see Philomena and it was fine, you guys. Total middlebrow, “funny” without actually being funny, more soft chuckle than loud guffaw. Sassy old lady teaches stodgy middle aged man how to, well, not be so stodgy I guess. And he teaches her that the Catholic church did her dirty. It was hardly the worst, not close to the best, but the theater was warm and my friend and I were easily the youngest people in the theater by 30 years. So it was classic Oscar bait. Won’t offend anyone too much(the Catholic church is shown as shitty, but not totally shitty), and it has that “gay people are real people too” bent but without actually giving any significant speaking roles to gay characters. If this thing had dropped in 1995 it would have looked like Santana at the Grammys, only at the Oscars, and instead of holding Grammys they would be holding Oscars. Y’know, that’s not a great comparison. Forget about it.

Shit.

Oh shit!

Did you see Gravity? That movie is Fucking Awesome. People got real bent out of shape about Sandra Bullock’s back story but I thought my wife made a good point when she said, “It was going to be one of three things: dead husband, dead kid, or sexual assault. I admire their restraint.” As do I! You see some of these people bagging on Gravity like it’s 2 hours of Sandy crying about her kid, when it’s actually 90 minutes of Sandra trying not to fucking die in space! It’s amazing that Rachel and I didn’t break our hands watching this movie. Ebert used to talk about movies where you would bruise your partner’s forearm from squeezing it because shit was so tense. Gravity is the quintessential bruised forearm movie. Heck, forget bruised, you and your friend/lover will both need hospital care for your broken arms because Gravity Never Stops. Just like real gravity, it’s always holding you down, quite literally pinning you to your seat, for fear of being demolished by a passing burning satellite dish. Sandy doesn’t get a single moment to chill between dodging debris and explosions and making sure she has enough air. My dog for life Alfonso Cuaron directed, so no surprise that the movie is hot fire. Cuaron previously directed Children of Men, which is hall of fame, lifetime pass greatness. Cuaron could blow up a hospital of legless babies and blind puppies and we’d be like, “Al! Holy shit! Jeez, man! What did you do? Be careful! That is fucked up. Oh my god, all those legless babies. Fucckkkkkkk…………..Jail? Nah man, it’s cool, see ya later.”

Your dad

Captain Phillips is solid work from a director I don’t like that much. Paul Greengrass bears the responsibility for 90% of all American action movies containing barely any shots where the audience can tell what is going on. The second Bourne movie has Matt Damon in a car and apparently something happens. I dunno, AND I WATCHED THE MOVIE. Captain Phillips doesn’t have this problem. You can clearly see what is going on the whole time. And what is going on is life, man! Tom Hanks is just trying to move some shit in his boat and these pirates are just trying to hijack so they can just keep living under horrible tyrant conditions. Captain Phillips is the quintessential dad movie. Every critic hates the conversation Tom Hanks and Catherine Keener have at the beginning of the movie but that is an exact conversation that my dad has with my mom all the time. All dads. All moms. Captain Phillips is life.

This is actually tagged "old-people-watching-tv.jpg"

This is actually tagged “old-people-watching-tv.jpg”

Nebraska is fine and understated and legitimately funny. Once again, total dad movie. The scene where all the old people watch tv and talk about stuff they can barely remember, I’ve lived it! Everyone with grandparents has lived it. It was too real.  That said, the best performance in the movie is from Will Forte, but he was once again snubbed by the Academy.

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Dallas Buyers Club is a perfectly fine, minor film. It’s been positioned as a major work and some kind of acting tour de force by Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto. McConaughey is good, Leto is turrible. I enjoyed this movie while I watched it, in a very “sticking it to the jerks” kind of way. The jerks in this case are doctors, who only care about profits and killing people instead of helping them. Classic movie doctor stuff. Since I heard that the actual guy McConaughey portrayed was a bi-sexual dude, it’s kinda lame that they had to concoct this whole homophobia angle, essentially saying that there wasn’t much story there and they had to change an essential aspect of the main character’s life in order to give him an “arc”. But seriously, Jared Leto sucks so bad, don’t give him an Oscar.

Buffering

Buffering

Would Her work if the OS were voiced by someone other than Scarlett Johansson? The glut of internet videos that have parodied the film seem to prove that it would not work at all. I feel like anyone who bought in to this relationship between a man and his OS was just seeing Johansson in his head and thinking, “Well, yeah, it’s Scarlett Johansson. This makes sense.” Why else would Spike Jonze replace Samantha Morton as the voice of the OS, except to replace it with the voice of one of world’s hottest sex symbols? Plus the world it presents does not make any sense. Joaquin Phoenix’s job makes no sense. Everyone’s pants make no sense. This whole movie was like the Emperor’s New Clothes.

What a buncha dummies.

What a buncha dummies.

But I do not begrudge Her and it faded from my thoughts not long after I walked out of the theater. Unlike American Hustle, the worst film of 2013. Now certainly movies like 47 Ronin and A Good Day To Die Hard are ostensibly “worse” but American Hustle, this fucking movie. Where to begin? David O. Russell has managed to top his terrible track record, after the shitshow that is The Fighter and the abomination of I Heart Huckabees. Those movies are total garbage but American Hustle feels especially terrible since Russell is trying to imitate Martin Scorcese and failing in every way. American Hustle has all the important features of a post Three Kings Russell work: shit acting, no sense of tone, and camera work that is straight up amateur hour. Amy Adams is next level terrible. I could feel the entire audience recoil every time she uttered that “Australian/British/nope” accent. I can suspend disbelief pretty far, but none of my group of friends could grasp how any of the characters in the movie ever thought her accent was genuine. My good friend McCarty is a big David O. Russell fan, and even he said to me, “Yeah, Amy Adams is really bad in this.” When Bradley Cooper’s character gets all upset that he had been “duped”, there was a collective sigh of exasperation in the theater. These characters, what a bunch of dummies! Not to mention that David O. Russell managed to make a Scorcese ripoff that is devoid of all the sex, drugs and violence audiences flock to decadent 70′s era movies to experience. One gun is fired in the whole movie! In a goddamn flashback! Jennifer Lawrence is miscast as a woman at least ten years older than Lawrence can actually portray. How are we as an audience supposed to believe that Christian Bale would cheat on Jennifer Lawrence with Amy Adams? Fuck outta here!  And that twist? Who didn’t see that coming? Why did this movie that cost millions of dollars to make look like it was shot in your grandma’s basement? Why does it look like dinner theater Goodfellas? Shoulda called this thing Garbage Town USA.

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12 Years A Slave is intense. You saw it, you know what I mean. It’s impressive in the way it never stops to let you get a breathe and collect yourself, because slaves didn’t get that option either. This movie is great in just about every way that a movie can be great. Will any moment in film be able to duplicate the combined sensation of elation and dread like the Paul Dano beating scene? Oh man. I’d never felt anything like that before. I can’t say it’s my favorite movie, but if it won all the awards I would not be mad about it.

Balling out of control

Balling out of control

The Wolf of Wall Street is nuclear powered craziness, top down no stop fuck your shit up insanity. 3 hours this fucking thing just beats you senseless. At one point I thought, “Oh shit, I guess it’s powering down.” I was wrong! It was just a fake out, because then they’re driving boats through hurricanes and blowing up planes! Leonardo DiCaprio is hall of fame in this one, physical comedy master class. Who knew? We knew! We all saw him going buckwild in Django Unchained last year. How’s he gonna top this one? He might not! Who cares? Scorcese shamed everyone in the directing game. Bow down to the master.

Would it have killed the academy to put an even ten movies up for best picture? Throw Inside Llewyn Davis a bone. For a best picture list this isn’t half bad. You got a couple instant classics, some easy crowd pleasers, a few dad movies, one lame-o stinker and only one total piece of shit. For the Oscars this is not bad at all. But honestly, my favorite movie of 2013 was Spring Breakers. Franco, Korine, and Benson got robbed.

Spring break foreverrrrrr

Spring break foreverrrrrr

Lorin Kozlowski’s Favorite Movies of 2013

1) Spring Breakers

2) The Wolf of Wall Street

3) Fast and Furious 6

4) Gravity

5) Before Midnight

6) This Is The End

7) You’re Next

8) The World’s End

9) Evil Dead

10) The Counselor

Vampire Academy

February 12, 2014
VA

Vampire Fucking Academy

I really need to get into this Young Adult Fiction game. These guys are making bank, selling millions of books, and everything is a copy of a ripoff of a pretty terrible original idea. According to wikipedia, which is never wrong, Stephanie Meyer, the author of the Twilight series, “had no experience as a writer of any kind and had never even written a short story before Twilight.” Incredible. We can do it, you guys! Someone who definitely did it is Richelle Mead. She is the author and creator of the Vampire Academy series, a blatant mishmash of Twilight, Harry Potter, and Gossip Girl. Get that money, Richelle.

I don’t want to give excuses but I went to see Vampire Academy because of the creative team behind it, brothers Mark and Daniel Waters. Mark directed Mean Girls and Daniel wrote Heathers(and Demolition Man!) What a team. But what they had to contend with is the Vampire Academy mythology. Shit is complicated. Three(!) varieties of vampire. You got your cool, laid back, chill vampires that apparently just want to get jobs and live chill lives. Then you have these 30 Days of Night/Blade II looking jerks, who run around with red, infected eyes and generally seem like rude, dirty people. I couldn’t tell if they were full on monsters so in thrall to their bloodlust that they had lost all sense of decorum, or if they actually have some plan besides ambush and kill. Some of them can talk, but it is of the wheezing, “You shall die…” variety. While I expected them to be the main villains of the piece, they actually only exist on the fringe of the plot for some boo scare attacks and to be cannon fodder. Apparently you can choose to be this kind of vampire, like how some people aligned with Voldemort in Harry Potter though I don’t know why. Voldemort had some swanky safehouses. These guys live in bushes and caves and their eyes look just terrible!  The third type of vampire is not even really a vampire, more of a glorified security guard, who just protect the more chill vampires from the crazy ones. These three types of vampires have specific names that I cannot bring myself to type. I am so sorry.

The main character is Rose Hathaway, who is played by Zoey Deutch, who is, fun fact, Lea Thompson’s daughter. Bury us old people in the ground because the new generation is here to replace us. She is pretty good, just the right kind of detached, take no shit kind of girl. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t follow the instructions of a single adult for the entire movie. Do you, Rose/Zoey! Rose has a thing for her combat training instructor Dimitri, and it was pretty much the only relationship I cared about. There is this red headed guy (Rose calls him Duckie at one point) who keeps trying to get with Rose but she knows what is up. And what is up is Dimitri and his ten year age difference.

Sh'yeah right! Keep dreaming, son.

Sh’yeah right! Keep dreaming, son.

I looked up the plot of the book series when I got home and it looks like they tried to cram about 5 books into one movie. It shows. Rose is BFFs with Lissa, who might be Queen of the vampires one day, but first she has to declare a major, I think? Rose and Lissa start out the movie having run away from the Vampire Academy because of some car accident that killed Lissa’s parents. Oh man this car accident. You guys, these cars couldn’t have been going over 15 miles an hour, tops! Right before they collide it cuts to black and pans up on flipped cars and broken glass like they were doing some Twisted Metal shit. Hilarious. After this crash is shown, it is then repeatedly mentioned for the next half hour, just in case you forgot about the crash. Oh man, the crash. Remember the crash? The crash. Oh shit, damn. But maybe they were talking about when Crash won best picture and how it was a travesty? I bet that’s it.

Never forget.

Never forget.

Rose and Lissa have a very similar dynamic to Blair and Serena from Gossip Girl, right down to the hair color. This did not occur to me until AFTER I got home from the movie, so I’m pretty disappointed in myself. Despite weighing about 95 lbs, Rose is supposed to be Lissa’s bodyguard, or at least will be in future after she graduates from Vampire Academy. Lissa gets to be queen and  you  have to go to school to get a degree in bouncing? Weak sauce, Rose. Tell Lissa to outsource and you get a degree in one of the sciences.

Oh man, the magic in this movie. I can imagine Mead’s “A-ha” moment when she said, “Vampires, but they can do magic! Where is my pen? Honey, have you seen my pen? What? I can’t hear you. Stop vacuuming and talk to me….My pen. I’m looking for my pen…..Which drawer? The one we keep the stamps in?….Hmm, I don’t see it. Oh, here are those scissors you were looking fo-OH MY PEN!”

I'm just kidding, Richelle.

I’m just kidding, Richelle.

Team Waters were given next to no budget for the magic in this movie, which consists of a scene where wind powers are demonstrated on a row of pinwheels and some guys display their fire abilities by making gun fingers at candles. You did what you could with what they gave you, Team Waters! Oh wait, one guy does get set on fire at one point for calling someone a slut. Down with slut shaming! There is also a water effect at one point that is so bad Rose breaks the fourth wall.

Rose doesn’t get to do any magic, because she’s too busy brewing up sexual chemistry with Dimitri while they “train”.  Late in the film Dimitri and Rose are bewitched into almost fucking in order to distract them from a larger dastardly plot. This leads to the great line from Dimitri as he rips off Rose’s clothes and says, “Nice dress, let’s burn it”, and tosses it into a fire. This scene was very real and true.

"Sorry I burned your dress." "No you're not." "Yeah, you're right."

“Sorry I burned your dress.” “No you’re not.” “Yeah, you’re right.”

Despite having more exposition(and hidden exposition) than I usually will tolerate, I kinda liked this movie. Team Waters was clearly fighting an uphill battle of low budgets and derivative source material but they carried off most of it. When Vampire Academy puts the mythology aside and focuses on the high school drama the younger cast members get a little spring in their step. No one in the cast seems completely comfortable with the silly supernatural elements that make no sense, but everyone knows how to deal with high school drama. At a few points no one even talks about being a vampire or having powers and they go to the mall and buy dresses for the dance. When one character bared her fangs near the end of the movie and got punched in the face I thought for a second, “Oh shit, this chick is a vampi- oh wait, I knew that. She punched her because she is a bitch. Being a vampire had nothing to do with it.” VA has a bunch of scenes where characters call each other “blood whores” and spread rumors about blood sucking threesomes and that shit was fun and interesting. When characters start talking about destiny and healing abilities I would lose interest. Obviously I still miss Gossip Girl a lot. 

Truly never forget.

Truly never forget.

Heck, I would say that your tolerance for teen dramas will determine whether you will even make it through this whole movie. The pan of the film at Grantland points out that Vampire Academy would have been better served on tv, and I agree. Give us a whole season of Rose and Dimitri burning holes in their loins. Take your time with your apparent vampire war that is set up for a sequel that will never happen now. I hope some of these guys find work after this movie. I’m sure Zoey Deutch will be fine, and the guy who plays Dimitri has a bright future of getting thrown out a window by Jason Statham.

 

Lorin’s Favorite Music of the year 2013

December 30, 2013

2013 turned about to be the year when every major artist in the game dropped a big album and maybe half of them were any good. For every triumph like Yeezus or Hesitation Marks you’d have a disappointment like Magna Carta Holy Grail or Random Access Memories. I could write a whole thing on the let down albums this year. Nah. Too easy.

20) Stay Trippy – Juicy J

Those Rubberband Business mixtapes were my shit and Stay Trippy was a long time coming and totally worth the wait. All bangers about strippers and drugs, which is what we as human beings want from Juicy J. “All I Blow Is Loud” and “Gun Plus a Mask” are instant classics and “The Woods” is probably the best thing Justin Timberlake did all year.

19) Heartthrob – Tegan and Sara

“Love They Say” is pure beauty and sadness. So is “Closer”. Whole thing has this weird mix of happy/sad going on. I’ve never really cared for Tegan and Sara before this album and I know there was talk about Heartthrob as some kind of craven grab at popularity but these songs sound real good, and real true. Getting a budget doesn’t mean you can’t still be true! And everyone wants to be popular! Who are we to tell Tegan and Sara they can’t put food on their families?

18) Blurred Lines – Robin Thicke

If this guy could dance he would have the world on a string. Still, everything on this album is better than both those bloated 20/20 thuds. Breezy and fun, done in 40 minutes.

17) Trap Lord- A$AP Ferg

All you need to know about this album is that the chorus to “Dump Dump” is

“I fucked your bitch, nigga, I fucked your bitch

I fucked your bitch, nigga, I fucked your bitch

She suck my dick, nigga, she suck my dick

She suck my dick, nigga, she suck my dick”

16) Artpop- Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga is overstudied and not nearly as good as she thinks she is. And yet, this album is fire. So many bangers, just vicious shit. Purposely ugly in all the ways that appeal to me, yet with these huge neon hooks. The hook for “Sexxx Dreams” is like a laser to the face. “Aura” is a monster.

15) B.O.A.T.S II: #MeTime – 2 Chainz

2 Chainz goes front to back here, just casually dropping bangers and classics like it is just the most natural thing in the world.

14) Save Rock and Roll – Fall Out Boy

Fall Out Boy are one of my favorite bands. Their three album run in the mid 2000’s is some hall of fame shit. They don’t get any respect though because their audience is largely girls and old men like to write rock history. Save Rock and Roll is weird and actually doesn’t have a ton of guitars on it, but it still has great hooks, fantastic singing from Patrick Stump, and a song about masturbation. The boys are back.

13) Nothing Was The Same – Drake

2013 was my year of Drake. I know why people don’t like him and sometimes I still don’t like him but I think he has more songs I like than dislike and Nothing Was The Same is pretty good. I think it could have used a couple more bangers like “Started From The Bottom” but that wasn’t what he was feeling at the moment. But did you hear “Trophies”? Shittttt.

12) Excuse My French – French Montana

This may be the last we hear from French Montana. The album flopped and people have already moved on but this album has tracks. Hot fire all over and these beats, son. Diddy paid good money for these beats and it would be a shame for all of us to ignore them. Also, the ignorance of “Pop That”, “Marble Floors” and “Ocho Cinco” all on the same album is awe inspiring. May French continue to be worried about nothing.

11) Dynamics – Holy Ghost!

The first three songs are kinda eh but then it makes a huge jump in quality and you can forgive those first tracks and come to like them a little bit. I saw these guys live this year and they aren’t very interesting performers but the songs sounded good and while they can’t really pull off their ballads live, those tracks are the best songs on Dynamics. “I Want To Be Your Hand” is an instant classic.

10) Matangi- M.I.A.

This album should have been called Bangers. M.I.A. never fell off, really. I’ve gone back to MAYA a few times and it is still hit and miss but who doesn’t have a moment like that? We keep giving Jay-Z second chances. Matangi is easily M.I.A.’s best album, no contest. The production is vicious, she still doesn’t give a fuck, and unlike her other records it isn’t back loaded, it’s just loaded.

9) My Name Is My Name- Pusha T

I still listen to Hell Hath No Fury all the time. I bought Till The Casket Drops even though the reviews were bad. I listened to No Malice’s solo album(terrible, btw). I rocked that Play Clothes mixtape for like half of 2009. I’ve listened to the Re-Up Gang record at least 4 times. I really really like The Clipse. My Name Is My Name is largely flames, Pusha T goes hard, Kanye hooked him up with some hot beats(“No Regrets” oh shit), dude is back. I wish The Clipse were back but this is great. Best Pusha track of the year is “Millions” off of the Wrath of Kaine mixtape.

8) Hesitation Marks – Nine Inch Nails

Nine Inch Nails have never made a bad record. This is a fact. Look it up. Every album is good to great, though us hardcore Nailheads can argue over which is which. (Year Zero is my shit). Hesitation Marks isn’t a return to form, thank god, it’s just the next step. There are dancey songs and funky songs and songs that are slow like “Hurt” and it is all fine and good.

7) Black Panties- R. Kelly

What do I do with you, R. Kelly? How do I reconcile your past actions with the music you made and continue to make? It’s tough. And tougher for the victims of your crimes. Black Panties is a really good album. The track with Future is next level. “Legs Shakin’” is bananas. “Every Position”, totally nuts……Man. I dunno.

6) Long.Live.A$AP – A$AP Rocky

A$AP Rocky is a cool dude. That’s what he sells, being cool as shit. The first half of this album is like riding in a haze of cool(and weed smoke). Then he drops “Fucking Problems” and “Wild For The Night” and your heart level jumps up and you freak out and start breaking things and then you simmer down again. Then “Ghetto Symphony” comes on and you level a city.

5) Old- Danny Brown

If you ever bad mouth Danny Brown on Twitter, Danny Brown Stans will come out of the darkness and flood your mentions with anger and vitriol. “Danny Brown is the truth!”, they will scream. “Danny knows what is going down in these streets!” He does! I agree! This album is great, leave me alone.

4) Beyoncé- Beyoncé

Like the rest of you, I’m still digging into this one, but it’s highlights are plentiful. “Drunk In Love” and “Blow” were early favorites, and “XO” gets better with every listen. I was rocking “Bow Down/I’ve Been On” since January so “***Flawless” is of course my shit. Frank Ocean is still boring, though.

3) Yeezus – Kanye West

I like how nothing is going right for him in “I Am A God”, which everyone seemed to miss. Oh well, Kanye foreverandeverandeverandever.

2) For Professional Use Only – Araabmuzik

Araabmuzik got shot this year by some guy trying to steal his chain. Araab lived, dropped a sick remix album, kept on keeping on. Plus, you’re asking for trouble trying to rob the guy who made “This For The Ones Who Care”.

1) Paramore – Paramore

I started to like Paramore a lot after those two guys left the band and some astute blogger somewhere pointed out that all the songs on their last album were about how those two guys were just a bunch of assholes. That they quit because they were concerned about “keeping it real”, whatever that means in the pop/punk scene, which is the phoniest scene around. This album is a great rebuke to those guys, and really anyone who shit on this band, because the songs are sooooo good. Songs about being adults, and moving forward, and living your life after hard shit happens. I listened to this album a lot, and it was a no brainer when I had to pick my favorite of the year. “Ain’t It Fun” is a nice final “fuck you” to those guys who quit, but it could also just be about lazy people. There are levels to this shit.

Best songs of 2013
1) “This For The Ones Who Care” – Araabmuzik

2) “Fo Real” – Future featuring Drake

3) “Do What You Want” – Lady Gaga featuring R. Kelly

4) “Hold On, We’re Going Home” – Drake featuring Majid Jordan

5) “Fucking Problems” – A$AP Rocky Featuring Drake, Kendrick Lamar, & 2 Chainz

6) “Suit And Commercial” – The Hood Internet (Daft Punk/Justin Timberlake)

7) “Higher” – Just Blaze x Baauer featuring Jay Z

8) “All You’re Waiting For” – Classixx featuring Nancy Whang

9) “Going With You” – Sebastien Grainger

10) “I Told Em” – French Montana

Wunderstudies

July 5, 2013

Wunderstudies: Open mouths, big hearts, full of song (L to R- Brett Goodnack, Ayne Terceira, Dan Derks, Tessa Karel, Anna Gilchrist, Keara Kelly) Not pictured- Nathan Ratliff, Brett Bavar, Stephen Gottschalk

True story: Wunderstudies was my first experience with musical improv. My friend Andrea turned to me before the show and said, “You don’t strike me as a musical kind of guy.” “Wait, this a musical?” I replied, and I steeled myself for the show. But lo and behold, it was wonderful. Ayne Terceira performed a character I recall having the name Die Hard and the show was exuberant and joyous. The songs sounded like real tunes, written and rehearsed. And of course the improv was stellar, supportive and hilarious. That show has remained the benchmark for all the musical improv I have watched ever since. The team is basically all top notch improv ringers, and it is no surprise that every Wunderstudies show I have made it to since has been full of great performances and wunderful songs(I’m sorry, I had to do it!). While I am saddened to hear that after two years together the group is ending(and even sadder that I won’t be able to see this last show), what a run they have had. Did you see that show they did about dogs? INCREDIBLE DOG WORK, BRETT GOODNACK! Stay wunderful, every last one of you. (OH LORD I DID IT AGAIN)

If you are in Pittsburgh, see off this fantastic team at 8pm tonight, Friday July 5th, at the Steel City Improv Theater, 5950 Ellsworth Ave.

Man of Steel

July 2, 2013

I realized about 10 minutes into Sucker Punch that Zack Snyder is my dude for life and I just had to get over myself and let him in. People hate Sucker Punch so much but that train action sequence is some hall of fame one take awesomeness(in the truest sense of the word) and the rest of the movie is just overreaching but it means well. Could my dude have done more to not set his female empowerment movie in a world of rape, abuse, and prostitution? Sure. But he didn’t know any better. I could say the same for Zack’s work on Man of Steel. Could it have been more thoughtful and bright? SURE. Zack wants to make you happy, and he heard you hated Superman Returns for being a fucking bore where Superman spent 5 minutes lifting planes and 135 minutes staring at his child through a wall. So he gave you a movie where Superman levels a goddamn city. Like Superman, Zack Snyder doesn’t always know his own strength.

Snyder was hand picked by Christopher Nolan himself to make this one. The internet loves themselves some Nolan but I’m fine about him. I can respect Inception but that whole fucking movie is also exposition though shouts to the elevator sequence and JGL flipping and flopping like the pro he is. I like his Batman movies but I don’t think Batman Begins has aged too well and The Dark Knight Rises was hindered by the same choppy fight scenes that Nolan always has in his movies. BUT, I’m fine with Chris Nolan. Like everyone else, I ride for Dark Knight. Oh, Insomnia was solid.

“You’re killing it, kid.” “I’m actually older than you, Chris.”

Man of Steel switches up from the get go by showing us Krypton before it exploded and letting us know that Superman’s dad was balling out of control. Right now Russell Crowe is straight killing it in everything I see him in, and Man of Steel is no exception. Riding winged wilderbeasts, jumping off cliffs, straight baller shit that you always assumed your dad did before you were born. Match this one up with his scene stealing run in The Man With The Iron Fists and Russell Crowe is having a great second act of a career. Now he just needs to show up in a Tarantino and rip someone’s eyeballs out while talking about how great Isaac Hayes was in Truck Turner(much love to the hospital shootout in Truck Turner).

Kevin Goddamn Costner on fire as Jonathan Kent. Seriously, that halting self importance is utterly perfect here. First he’s telling little Superman that he should have let a bus full of kids die(true) and later he has probably a top ten all time death scene. I know I engage in plenty of hyperbole but when ol’ Kevin put his hand up my damn jaw dropped. “It’s cool, son. One day you’ll level Metropolis. Let me get killed by a tornado.” Diane Lane does good work as Martha Kent, even taking a choke slam from Zod. I don’t want all of Superman’s parents to have brutal deaths but if Zod had, I dunno, thrown her into space or something, Superman would have a veritable hattrick of insane parent deaths. (Superman’s real mom is consumed by the fires of an exploding Krypton, which she confronts like a boss.)

Henry Cavill is fine as Superman, you guys. If he was trying to be funny and charming and failing I MIGHT see your point but this Superman is serious and conflicted and smoldering and Cavill has that shit down. It’s 2013, Nolan and Snyder cast for fuckability, and ladies want to mount Henry Cavill. It was a little on the nose to have someone in the movie say as much but also it is 2013 and not at all surprising to have a big budget motion picture assume the audience isn’t picking up what it is putting down. In this case it is putting Superman’s sack on your chin. Does he have a ton of chemistry with Amy Adams? Maybe not. In this iteration Lois Lane doesn’t really seem like a lady on the prowl, just a reporter looking for a story and willing to do some sneaky shit to get away with it. Good luck tricking Lois Lane, everybody. She will get by you and you will be so mad but still let her keep her job and fly on the secret jet holding the only weapon that can stop the bad guys.

Mad props to Michael Shannon who decided to not evoke Terence Stamp’s Zod at all and just be sad and pissed off Michael Shannon. He just wants to wipe out the planet Earth of all humans and animals and replace it with Kryptonian shit he grew up with. Why won’t you let him just live his genocidal dream? Shannon never cries but he is clearly bummed out about all this.

The two big action sequences are NUTS. Smallville? Cinder. Metropolis? A pile of glass and cement. Let us be real: if Superman is going to fight other super people the resulting damage is going to be excessive. I understand the handwringing by some Superman purists that Supes should have taken the battles away from populated areas, which is totally true. Completely irresponsible! That said, battles in unpopulated areas are low budget movie moves. If you have the budget to level a city with actual people in it, you do it. Leave the empty warehouses and wide fields to Asylum and DTV. That isn’t really a defense but the shit looked great. And isn’t insane collateral damage a touchstone of comic book battles? Joss Whedon originally had a whole section of Avengers dealing with the damage fallout and he scrapped it because what a downer! “How was the movie?” “I didn’t like the part with the lawyers and the rebuilding.” Shouts to the first 45 minutes of Avengers that kinda suck.

The other controversy surrounding this movie concerns the scene where Superman thrashes Zod all over the city trying to kill him and then kills him. “I can’t believe he killed the guy whose face he smashed through a hundred windows!” Superman had to kill this guy, he was trying to terraform the Earth into Krypton! Afterwords Superman is really bummed about it, as anyone would be after killing someone. Then he talks to his mom and gets a job.

In closing, Man of Steel is the best Superman movie ever made where Kevin Costner gets killed by a tornado and someone keeps a portable version of Russell Crowe on a flash drive. Zack Snyder is already writing a scene in Man of Steel 2 where Superman kicks the moon into Brainiac’s house.

Nooch

April 12, 2013

It will be my pleasure one day to point at her picture in a magazine or up on a billboard and say, “Nicole Antonuccio? I knew her back in the day in Pittsburgh. She was always great.” Nicole is one of those people who means what she says and delivers. She is a rarity, someone who dreams up big ideas and then actually pulls them off. I’m so proud of the work that Well Known Strangers has done on stage and I know a big part of the chemistry and camaraderie that exists is because Nicole got a little idea in her head for us to make a series of web videos. So we had a brainstorming session one afternoon. The group of us all sat around and bounced ideas back and forth. I tend to be a little cynical about these kind of things but Nicole addressed concerns and ideas and potential conflicts like a pro. Next thing I know, we’re having another meeting, building characters and creating scripts. Suddenly everyone is writing these scripts and these scripts are funny! Whoa, now we’re all in costume in Tessa’s boyfriend Alexei’s basement, filming these scripts. We have lights! Nicole is right there, directing us and acting and making our ideas a reality. Did I mention we were having a great time? We were! A damn blast.

Well Known Strangers

A couple days pass and Nicole sends us some raw footage. “I’m so excited you guys that I cut this together really quick.” The footage is fantastic. All the while, our shows are getting better, we’re getting better. In mid December we submit Well Known Strangers to the Chicago Improv Festival and I have to admit I kinda forget about it. Jump ahead to a late evening/early morning at the beginning of February. I’m dealing with a finicky dog when my phone dings an email alert. Well Known Strangers has been accepted to the Chicago Improv Festival. I’m wide awake now. It’s happening. We’re really that good. Nicole starts releasing the videos, each better than the last. I realize that I’m not nervous about shows anymore. I trust these people. They trust me. They’re funny. They think I’m funny. And honestly, wouldn’t that be it for you? Your group is doing well, you cut some fine web videos, maybe time for a break? Not Nicole.

She sends an email out for some help developing another improv show. She’ll be playing a character and she wants help fleshing it out. I show up with Ben for a Friday(!) evening practice where we find Nicole and Connor ready to go with ideas. This is no idle thought. This is a real show. There is a plan and it is happening. A couple of weeks pass and I look on the Steel City Improv schedule to see the premiere of That’s What Jeanne Said, a live improvised talk show. Nicole took this idle idea and made it flesh and tangible and most importantly, it’s good. Better than good. Of course Nicole has produced sharp, funny web videos to promote this show too. Now it’s time to take a break? Nope no not at all. Nicole decides that Jeanne, in keeping with her character, an upstanding young lady looking to become a journalist and better her community, will take part in a half marathon to benefit Girls On The Run. Running a marathon in character, that is the Nicole Antonuccio dedication. During all this, inevitably really, Well Known Strangers wins Group of the Year at the SCIT Awards and Nicole is honored as Female Improviser of the Year, because real recognize real. This is the long way of saying that Nicole deserves it all and more because she puts in that work. This Friday April 12th she is presenting a special show of That’s What Jeanne Said that will benefit Girls On The Run and like everything else that Nicole is involved with, it will be great. You should go. 10pm. 5950 Ellsworth. Say you knew her when.

Jeanne

 

The Best Music of 2012. Sorry for the lateness. (I’m not sorry)

February 5, 2013

I have been messing with this list for so long that I almost let 2013 pass me by. 2012 was good. I saw The Afghan Whigs live. I started doing improv which has completely changed my life for the better. I celebrated a year of marriage to the love of my life. THE RAID: REDEMPTION came out. Banner year all around. Let’s get to the tunes!

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25. Rufus Wainwright – Out of the Game
I’m not a hardcore Wainwright fan. I like his upbeat stuff more than his ballads, I don’t have any interest in his reenactments of Judy Garland concerts. His last album was horribly self indulgent but this Mark Ronson produced record is Rufus taking the hint to have fun, be loose, and sing songs about Rashida Jones. I’m at the point in my life where the artists who once sang of wild nights and hedonism now sing songs about island vacations with their husband and kids. That album title is heavy.

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24. 2 Chainz - Based on a T.R.U. Story
I think we all inflated our expectations for this album. 2 Chainz was murdering guest appearances all over the place, being the best part of every song he popped up on. A whole album of 2 Chainz? Yes please. The highlights tend to be the guests like Drake on “No Lie” and Kanye West on “Birthday Song” but 2 Chainz has charisma and a knack with hooks so you have a pretty fun ride. Delete the Mike Posner track on sight.

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23. Blinker The Star – We Draw Lines
90’s could-have-been drops a sleeper. Is this alt or indie? We Draw Lines is super hooky and well produced, which I guess means it isn’t indie. With so many 90’s groups returning with absurd twists on old sounds and songs, Blinker The Star came out with just great tracks that manage the trick if being reminiscent of the old sound without being derivative.

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22. Usher – Looking 4 Myself
“Climax” is great and we should be happy just to have that. That the rest of Looking 4 Myself turned out as well as it did is kind of a miracle. Usher doesn’t strike me as the best barometer of taste, and I still recall how bad “Love In This Club” and “Moving Mountains” were, so the style experiments that work on this are nice surprises. The two Swedish House Mafia tracks aren’t mindless EDM like “O.M.G.” and most of the lyrics on the album are introspective in ways I never would have predicted. “What Happened To You” is a particular higlight in this regard. At the same time, the sexual confidence of Usher is largely unfettered and very hilarious. I think we’re like one album away from a song that will have the subtext of “I sexed her so hard she died. My bad.” Can you keep up with Usher sexually? He is doubtful.

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21. R. Kelly – Write Me Back
Dude can’t stop. Write Me Back falls right in line with 2010’s Love Letter. Good to great throughout, with the exception of two songs that you can delete from your iPhone like I did. “Feelin’ Single” is one of the greatest songs R has ever written, and “Share My Love” endorses impregnating as many people as possible. See you in July, Robert!

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20. A-Trak – Tuna Melt EP
Four bangers and then he steps back to let you collect yourself. A-Trak is one of those “genius takes hours of practice” kind of guys and his time and effort shows on this pretty flawless little EP. I think this bodes well for the years of classic bangers to come.
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19. Gucci Mane – Trap God
Gucci Mane also dropped Trap Back last year but Trap God  is just a little bit better. I’ve finally come around on Gucci’s mush mouth style and I like it quite a bit. Of course it’s best when coupled with someone frenetic like Waka Flocka Flame, who elevates a track like “Rollies Up” to classic status. Also, do you guys know how much a rolex watch costs? A lot! Having multiple rolexes seems financially irresponsible. Plus who owns a watch nowadays? The time is on your phone, Gucci!
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18. Katy B – Danger EP
It only took a year and change for all the dubstep people to switch up their style to actual danceable EDM and what a joy it is to behold. Apparently just a teaser EP for an upcoming full length, B sets the bar high. Even the ballad is good. True story, I listened to “Aaliyah” four times the first day I heard it.
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17. Waka Flocka Flame – Triple F Life: Friends, Fans & Family                          

 It is tough to follow a classic. That’s right, Flockaveli is a classic. Deal with it. Triple F can only pale in comparison but Waka still brought the heat. “Lurkin” is an instant classic and “Candy Paint and Gold Teeth” is laidback fun. “Rooster In My Rari” is the kind of crazy fierciness I expect from Waka out the gate. I’m not entirely on top of the vernacular but I’m pretty sure “Rooster” is about getting head a in Ferrari. I COULD BE WRONG.
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16. G.O.O.D. Music – Cruel Summer
Hey, I know there are a couple crap songs on this, but it also has “To The World”, “Clique”, “Mercy” and “New God Flow” right in a row at the beginning. And that Cudi song ain’t bad either. “Cold” is fire. Every Kanye verse is a career highlight. This thing is great! Great! (I deleted “Sin City” off my iPhone long ago)
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15. Skrillex – Bangarang
I don’t think I’ve come around on dubstep so much as the artists who know what they are doing have managed to make dubstep’s more abrasive elements more fun and listenable. So Bangarang is just uptempo bangers, with very little of that that slowed down drop garage that was the Skrillex calling card on previous releases.
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14. TNGHT – TNGHT
Someone somewhere pointed out that this album is just trap beat instrumentals. Good description, person I can’t give proper attribution. Every beat knocks, 16 car shaking minutes.
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13. The Presets – Pacifica
This is actually a heck of a lot like the last album by The Presets, Apocalypso. Best tracks are in the middle, kind meanders at the end, fun experiments all around. They do seem more earnest now. Hey, we all get older. It’s fine. “Fall” and “Promises” are dance songs with real emotion within them.
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12. Gossip - A Joyful Noise
This is the best Gossip album, full stop, no debate. Total dance party, great production, and Beth Ditto sounds amazing. Worst album art of the year though.
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11. Japandroids - Celebration Rock
This album took me a couple months to really start digging. These guys rock faces and do that “Whoa oh!” singing that is a lot of fun to sing along with in the car. “Continuous Thunder” is a great closing track which is saying something since most rock album closing tracks are total bummers. You know who knew how to close an album? Rage Against The Machine. The last song on their first album is “Freedom”, which is a balls out classic. End with a classic. Make me happy I stuck around til the end.
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10. Death Grips – The Money Store
I’m not going to lie to you, some of this album is terrible. But it is mostly awesome. The drums and the synths will suddenly merge out of their isolated chaos and sync up into a joyous union of laser anger. That is a pretty accurate way to describe “Hustle Bones”. The guy can’t really rap and the lyrics make no sense but it all comes together on “Hacker”, which goes all disco ball synths out of nowhere and reminds us that angry punks still like to kiss girls.
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9. Vitalic – Rave Age
Vitalic drops some hall of fame bangers on this one. “No More Sleep”, “Stamina”, “Next I’m Ready”, all monsters. No one has dropped an all banger, all monster tracks dance record since the duel headed releases of MSTRKRFT’s Fist of God and The Bloody Beetroot’s Romborama in 2009 but this comes pretty close.
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8. Future - Pluto/Pluto 3D
You can listen to either version of this album, I’ve just been listening to the 3D release because it has the “Same Damn Time” remix on it and Diddy’s verse is amazing. Also I think having “You Deserve It” as the first actual song is a better look. Future is a hook machine and all of his tracks are hits or hits to be. Like Waka, he knows how to make his guests shine, like T.I. on “Magic” and especially R. Kelly on “Parachute”, where Robert basically hijacks the album to tell all his haters that he is back and better than ever. Truth.
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7. DMX – Undisputed
Got intensely into DMX in 2012. It started when i caught his appearance in the concert film Backstage where he suffers no fools, leaves it upon his wife to properly greet Chuck D and answers Chuck’s question about the tour experience saying that every moment not spent on stage is pure misery. Then I watched DMX in Belly and my mind was blown. This guy is too real. I believe everything he says. It isn’t always nice(it is never nice) and it is frequently ugly and it is riveting. DMX is an amazingly consistent artist. His discography is largely dud free and his previous two albums have an incredibly high ratio of bangers to not-bangers and while Undisputed is more 50/50 bangers to not-bangers, X stays X. He’s passionate, he’s angry, and he has a great ear for beats. Swizz Beatz stays DMX’s greatest collaborator. “Y’all Don’t Really Know” is an insta-classic X/Swizz collaboration.
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6. Hot Chip -In Our Heads
Such beautiful songs. Hot Chip at their most sincere, at least to me. I haven’t watched any of the videos off this album but all the videos for their previous albums seemed to undercut the emotional sincereity of the songs, like Hot Chip were worried about being too real. These songs sound like they come from a pure place, like they’re talking and “it’s just me and you”. (h/t Kanye) Closing with the one-two punch of “Let Me Be Him” and “Always Been Your Love” is an emotional wallop.
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5. Torche – Harmonicraft
It’s all about the tones, man. I don’t know how to play guitar so I don’t know if they’re tapping, plucking, or flicking the strings with a guitar pick but it sounds majestic. And powerful. And delivered with a brevity unseen in metal. Next song! Next Song! Is this metal? It seems too poppy and clean, yet it roars. I’ll leave that for someone else to worry about.
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4. Carly Rae Jepsen – Kiss (Deluxe Version)
I still don’t care for “Call Me Maybe” and that horrid song with the Owl City guy but just about everything else here is fantastic. A couple club bangers(“Tonight I’m Getting Over You”, “Wrong Feels So Right”), great pop tracks(“This Kiss”, “Hurt So Good”, basically every other song) and nearly every single one is about forbidden love or risky romance. I think at least a quarter of these songs are about the queasy feeling you get when you first develop feelings for someone, and the rest are either about hooking up with someone even though Jepsen’s character is involved with someone else, or in the case of “Tonight”, dancing away the pain of a breakup. All produced to glistening perfection. Shit’s great. I also deleted all the ballads long ago. We are truly in the future.
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3. Deftones – Koi No Yokan
Is this the best Deftones album? Maybe. These guys just keep getting better and Koi No Yokan hits all the sweet spots and never falters. This is easily the best collection of Deftones midtempo slow burn ballad monsters that they’ve been trying to perfect since the self titled album in ‘03. If “Entombed” doesn’t become a metalhead wedding staple I will be very surprised. It still has plenty of blazing riffs but it’s pretty great to hear these gorgeous ballads, with Stephen Carpenter’s guitar just wailing into (what I imagine is) the night sky.
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2. Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
“Oh!”
“Whoa!”
“Oh man!”
“This album ain’t kidding around.”
“Seriously? SERIOUSLY?!?”
“C’mon, that isn’t fair.”
“…..shit.”
- Me listening to this album the first time.
My reactions haven’t changed. Killer Mike and producer El-P go hard for the entire running time, with Mike covering Reagan’s poisonous legacy and telling enjoy stories about Jojo’s conversations with a phantom Ghostface. El-P’s beats are across the board hall of fame shit and “Big Beast” is the kind of monster track that is so perfectly constructed and powerful with two great guest spots from T.I. and Bun B that continues their tradition of being better on other people’s records than on their own.
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1. Miguel - Kaleidoscope Dream
Kaleidoscope Dream is the best album of 2012 because it is infused with joy and ingenuity. Miguel is locked in to what he wants his music to sound like and he doesn’t chase any trends, he is undeniably himself. The production is lush and expansive but the focus is always on Miguel’s voice and his lyrics, which are really good. I love The-Dream but the guy traffics in a kind of smart-dumb style, same with R. Kelly at times. Miguel writes himself characters and scenarios that are interesting and funny and sad. “Pussy Is Mine” manages to sound like the deepest lark ever made. “Oh, I was just messing around in the studio on this heartfelt paeon to a woman who I think is going to leave me. No biggie.” Anyone else get goosebumps from the first 30 seconds of “Don’t Look Back”?

Best songs of 2012

1. “New God Flow” – Kanye West, Pusha-T, Ghostface Killah
2. “This Kiss” – Carly Rae Jepsen
3. “Feeling Single” – R.Kelly
4. “Sweet Life” – Frank Ocean
5. “My Life” – Rich Kidz feat. Waka Flocka Flame
6. “Big Beast” – Killer Mike feat. Bun B, T.I. and Trouble
7. “Climax” – Usher
8. “I’ve Seen Footage” – Death Grips
9. “Don’t Look Back” – Miguel
10. “Aaliyah” – Katy B x Geeneus x Jessie Ware
11. “No More Sleep” – Vitalic
12. “Birthday Song” – 2 Chainz feat. Kanye West
13. “Lurkin” – Waka Flocka Flame feat. Plies
14. “The House That Heaven Built” -Japandroids
15. “Snakes Are Charmed” – Torche
16. “Hacker” – Death Grips
17. “Bad Girls” – M.I.A.
18. “Bangarang” – Skrillex feat. Sirah
19. “Fuckin’ Problems” – A$AP Rocky, Drake, Kendrick Lamar, 2 Chainz
20. “Hot Cheetos & Takis” – Y.N. RichKids

Cloud Atlas

November 4, 2012

The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer go hard. They also treat the audience like intelligent adults, which didn’t get them much money back but that happens. Cloud Atlas is remarkable in that they got it made at all and with this cast. Hugh Grant as a face painted murderous cannibal? Hugo Weaving as Nurse Rachet? That alone is worth the price of admission.

Cloud Atlas isn’t afraid to hit the audience in the head with it’s messages and that is fine, just fine. The filmmakers also wanted to do everything in this movie and lord do they. Probably the only movie ever made with a daring escape from an old folks home cross cut with a high speed aerial race through holographic roadways of a futuristic Asia. It’s like no one ever said no to any idea but most of the ideas were good anyway so it worked out. When I was in college I used to find movies all the time from Japan, Korea and France that would push the envelope of content and form and I would lament that American filmmakers never came close to that level of audacity and creativity. Based on the grosses of films like Cloud Atlas and Scott Pilgrim vs The World, American audiences don’t want daring. It is still nice to see someone try every couple years. Darren Aronofsky went buck wild with The Fountain, which flopped, but was able to recover and become an Oscar guy while still going hard(Black Swan is hot fire)(y’know what The Fountain is hot fire too) so I can only hope that the Wachowskis don’t lose their nerve and make something boring. I have gone on record as not enjoying Speed Racer but they clearly weren’t taking notes from anybody on that one either.

But Cloud Atlas is a winner because it has ideas and characters and momentum. All six of the intertwined stories are interesting and compelling in different ways while still contributing to the thematic whole of the film. And the really crazy thing is that everyone is relatable and sketched out, whether they’re a worker clone, a gay prostitute/composer, or a post apocalyptic tribesman. All human experience is relatable, and the basic human need for freedom and the search for ideas is always a great framework for a story. Or six stories at that.

Y’know who is great in this movie? Halle Berry. No shit. I know she has an Oscar but man have I sat through some Halle Berry shit shows in my time. Some how, Big T and The Ws managed to pull some fine work from Ms. Berry, be it as an intrepid reporter or as a white Jewish woman. Tom Hanks is kinda hit and miss, but he is very, very good as Zachry, the post apocalyptic tribe guy who is constantly haunted by a top hatted Hugo Weaving hallucination. Classic Hanks. Classic Weaving.

The makeup in Cloud Atlas is frankly bananas. The movies have not yet figured out old age makeup so that means that we have to endure a couple scenes where Hugh Grant is playing a melted candle. Hugo Weaving goes through the most transformations, playing a large breasted female nurse, an asian guy,  a sideburned assassin, the aforementioned top hatted, green skinned ghoul, and a rotted nose slave owner. The yellow face that Weaving wears along with several other non-asian actors is inevitably distracting and yeah, kinda racist and ignorant. I think the Wachowskis and Tykwer were trying to be post racial and work out their ideas about universal people and that we are all one in a continuous loop of life but ehhh, that shit is still kinda racist. I mean, Tom Hanks didn’t play a black guy at any point, yknowwhatImean?

But better we reach for the stars then never try at all, right? Right. Cloud Atlas is literally about trying when it seems like a bad idea/wrong idea/worst idea and just living(or dying) with the consequences.

Hard Boiled

August 4, 2012

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I cannot believe it took me ten years to rewatch Hard Boiled. I have certainly spent the last ten years enthusiastically telling people how great it is and they need to watch it but what I really should have been doing is forcing those people to watch Hard Boiled right at the moment I thought to recommend it. C’mon, like what they were doing was better than this movie? Fat chance. Of course it may not have been physically possible to watch Hard Boiled at that exact moment (wedding, in a bar, at a house party, between acts at a music festival) but sometimes sacrifices have to be made and if you are going to do any sacrificing do it at the altar of John Woo’s Hard Boiled.

Watching Hard Boiled ten years ago, I recall screaming a lot, a hallmark of many a great action film. Not screams of fear but that of joyous “That happened and I thought something like that could never happen and now I’m a better person” kind of scream. HB is chockablock with screamy moments, like when Chow Yun Fat slides down a railing firing two guns at the same time. Or when Tony Leung pops out a boat and smokes a guy like an armed jack in a box.

I couldn’t recall the plot of Hard Boiled and was surprised to see it used the old undercover-cop-wants-to-get-out-before-he-is-in-too-deep bit. That it also incorporates the cop-on-the-edge-turn-in-your-badge bit as well means that there is little room for anything but badass badassness. Chow Yun Fat’s cop on the edge is named Tequila and he likes to rappel into chop shop warehouses and have insane gun battles. He also likes to play clarinet and he can chew a toothpick and smoke a cigerette at the same time. Tony Leung’s undercover cop is named Alan(!) and he tends to look more concerned about the crazy things Tequila drags him into. Tequila thinks Alan needs to relax and realize that “Life should be fun”. Right after he says this they slide out of some mortuary freezers and mow down a whole room of bad guys. Fun!

I completely forgot about that character of Mad Dog. Portrayed by Philip Kwok, Mad Dog comes from a long line of quiet badass bad guys. He doesn’t say much but he certainly knows how to blow up a trailer with grenade, barrelroll past the explosion and gun down the guys coming to see what the commotion is all about. Slick. Kwok looked familiar to me and I was not at all surprised to see that right before filming Hard Boiled he had worked on Riki-Oh: The Story Of Ricky. Two classics! He also featured in a movie called The Sword Stained with Royal Blood. I cannot vouch for the quality but that title is A plus. Mad Dog has some cool honor codes, like when he disagrees with the murder of an entire hospital and puts down his gun so that some patients can leave the room that his gunfight has stumbled upon. Mad Dog is a bad guy, not a monster.

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Not a monster

Now Johnny Wong, that guy is a fucking animal. So Chow Yun Fat pops him in the eye.

Can I tell you about my favorite part of Hard Boiled? I mean, besides all the other parts I’ve mentioned above. It happens right after the shootout at Alan’s houseboat. Alan is suffering from a shotgun blast to the back and Tequila has just helped him kill a shit load of bad guys. What is that? Oh no, Johnny Wong is en route to the dock and if he sees Alan with Tequila then the jig will be up! Tequila says,”I gotta get out of here. I’ll see you soon,” turns around and dives right into the water, clothes and all. I cannot express how both hilarious and awesome this moment is. Also, practical.

Hard Boiled is still the gold standard for action movies. Vern called it “Die Hard times ten“. I think it might be Die Hard times 20. Maybe even 30. Did I mention that periodically throughout Hard Boiled Tequila will go to a bar and get advice from John Woo? Yes, it is true. And it tends to be pretty good advice too. More directors should do this. I would have liked seeing Tom Cruise get help from Spielberg during Minority Report.

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“So the movie is going good.” “Yeah, real good.”


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