Get Low

Get Low is a movie I’m betting the majority of you haven’t heard of (because I sure as hell didn’t), which really sucks considering the all-star cast it has for its leads (Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, and Sissy Spacek). The film was released back in 2009 at the Toronto International Film Festival and from then on sort of just, well, stayed low as it were. It only played to about 550 theaters, and got a lot of strong critical reception, but that was about it. A good number of critics that supported the movie went so far as to predict some sort of Oscar attention for the performances which, unfortunately, never happened which is a damn shame considering that is the main reason anyone should see this movie.

Get Low tells the “somewhat based on real events” story of a local hermit, Felix Bush (Robert Duvall) who tries to buy himself a funeral party, that he will attend alive. He strolls into town on his mule-drawn carriage, while the everyday citizens spew their rumors about how he “is in league with the devil” or “killed a bunch of people in cold blood” and such. After Felix has been turned down his interesting request, alcoholic funeral parlor owner Frank Quinn (Bill Murray), who doesn’t want to miss out on a chance to take an old coot’s  money, jumps at the proposition! Felix wants to invite the whole town and anyone who has an interesting story to tell about him to his party, and to insure people come he starts a raffle, the winner of which will inherit his land the day he dies.

This is the premise for the first half of the movie, and they really run with it. There are plenty of opportunities for Bill Murray to have his comedic flair shine, and the interactions (although few) between him and Duvall are pretty hilarious. The film quickly shifts from a more comedic tone to a dramatic one with the introduction of the local widow Mattie (Sissy Spacek) of her and Felix’s past relationship, and her deceased sister Mary Lee. We soon find out that there is much more to Felix and that he is being eaten up by a dark secret that he has kept hidden for well over forty years.

It’s all an interesting story that is told relatively well, but the abrupt shift in tones early on, and some of the weaker fleshed out character relationships (Frank’s business partner Buddy, who adds nothing to the story despite the script’s urge to make him seem important) are a few signs of the not-so-hot script. But as I said above, what makes this movie awesome is the performances. Duvall’s depiction of the recluse Felix has so many layers, and he can communicate such strong emotions just through his stares and glares. Even in the first part of the movie where his character is just supposed to be a crotchety old man, Duvall adds so much more to it. The final monologue Duvall gives at the funeral party is, dare I say it, one of the best speeches any character has given on film and all the credit goes to Duvall. In those few minutes you see an eighty year old actor putting in his whole heart and soul, giving a truly career-defining performance. It’s incredible.

Bill Murray slips into the alcoholic, quick-witted funeral parlor manager role all too well. He finds any opportunity where he can make a scene funny, and is the main source for any of the film’s comic relief. The scenes between him and Duvall are absolutely delightful, but as I mentioned above there are just far too few. Sissy Spacek brings an incredible depth to Mattie, the scenes between her and Duvall have such an air of realism that it’s just a ton of fun to watch.

All of these awesome actors and not a single Oscar nod. Pretty sad, as all of them (most notably Duvall) deserved some high recognition for the work they did in this film. But really, who wants an Oscar these days anyway? The MTV awards is where it’s at.

You DAMN right!

 

 

 

One for the Money, or a Fan’s Wet Dream

I had been a fan of the books for four years.

I had waited patiently for at least three years.

I had devoured eighteen books, four novellas, and a short story.

The project had been eighteen years in the making.

Finally, after the book was published in 1994, One for the Money was released in theatres January 27, 2012, and I almost peed in my seat out of pure happiness for what the Gods had bestowed upon me.  If you really want to sum up how emotionally attached (potentially to an unhealthy state?) I am to this film, take a minute to look and see how many times I have personally talked about movies on this site.  That’s right, for all two of you that decided to take a gander: Zero.  I haven’t bothered.  And why?  Because One for the Money wasn’t fucking released until just now.  That’s why.

For those of you not familiar with the books, and if you aren’t then you need to go cry in the corner and think about all the things that are wrong with your life, One for the Money is the first book in the Stephanie Plum series written by Janet Evanovich- the patron saint of writing a shit-ton.  This information is already listed above, but it needs repetition:  this woman has written eighteen books in the same series along with four novellas and a short story, because she loves me.  Or maybe because she likes the series, or maybe just writing in general.  I like to think that she does it because she loves me.  Right, Janet?  I’m sure she reads this, you know.

But I’m not on here tonight to praise St. Janet.  I’m on here because this movie rocked, and everyone that still religiously looks at this blog needs to know that.  Now, so far actual critics (also known as unhappy pricks who cry every time they pass a mirror- Also, they smell) have picked apart this film, to the point that it currently has a 0% fresh rating on RottenTomatoes.  That’s pretty rough for any movie.  Strap on the fact that this movie is about a female bounty hunter whose only prior experience is selling lingerie at Macy’s and I have no idea what the hell is going on.

Oh, wait.  I do.

Katherine Heigl plays Stephanie Plum, a new bounty hunter whose only prior experience is selling lingerie at Macy’s.  Following so far?  She’s strapped for cash, so she agrees to take on a few failure-to-appears, and the hilarity rolls out.  Also, the guy she’s trying to hunt down happens to be Joe Morelli, a high school boyfriend that she ran over with her car once.  Oh, yeah.  Shit just got real.  And if she can bring Joe Morelli in, she gets $50,000 and a pat on the back for doing it in heels.  I should write chick-flicks.

Now, the movie itself is not a masterpiece.  Yeah, it has tons of flaws, including a beginning that made me think it was going to be the worst thing I had seen since I dreamt I was being attacked by sausages in my sleep.  But the film has something that you can’t quite fully comprehend.  Maybe it’s the setting or the costumes or the cleavage.  Hell, maybe even the lighting designer was just that good.  Part of me, though, wants to put a lot of praise on the cast.

I’ll be one to admit, when someone told me that it was going to be Katherine Heigl as Stephanie Plum, I was outraged.  Then I asked for clarification on who it was and realized the person had not said Sam Kinison.  That would have just been ridiculous.  I mean, he’s a man AND dead.

After Googling to find out who the hell Heigl was, I felt better about the whole thing, and she works in the film.  I found myself getting slightly annoyed with her voiceover work at parts, but she made up for it with the fact that her acting was close to how Stephanie is portrayed in the book.  She’s naïve and not totally sure of herself, but she’s pissed and she has a job that she needs to do.  It worked, and, in the end, you can’t help but find her charming, just like the Stephanie that’s been fleshed out over the years.

Top this off with the fact that the cast also includes Debbie Reynolds as Grandma Mazur, the grandmother you would have if she stopped taking her medication and opened a few bottles of whiskey, and you’ve got the start of a good supporting cast.  I was just happy to see Debbie Reynolds doing something that didn’t have Halloweentown in the title.  Then there’s Debra Monk playing Stephanie’s mother, giving a performance that, again, just seems to fit.   Jason O’Mara, though completely different in look and even style to how I had imagined Morelli brought a different flare to him that made him more human than I had imagined, and I liked that.  It might have had something to do with the fact that I was watching an actor rather than reading a page, but whatever.  Don’t judge me.

The supporting cast has two big stars, though, that deserve special notice.  Ana Reeder as Connie, the file clerk at the bonds office was a bit of brilliance.  When you first see her in the bonds office you’re not quite sure what to think of her.  Sort of like a woman that you need to give a few shots to before she’ll loosen up and tell you the tales of her life at sea.  But it just makes her character even more funny and interesting, and not another smudge on the wallpaper of this film, like she could have easily been.  The other notice goes to Sherri Shepherd.  Playing a hooker must be interesting.  Playing the hooker that is Lula must be a bonkers experience.  From the way she holds herself in those skin-tight outfits, to the careful delivery of her lines, Sherri Shepherd walks away as the most memorable and the best part of the cast.  She has wit and heart, and that’s something that makes the middle of the this film have a bit of a tragic side.

Alright, so I’ve gone ahead and praised this film, but there’s one last thing about it that is the secret to the success of this film.  It’s that the soul of this film is the soul of the book.  The two were written in the same style, and the movie never has a problem using the book as its one and only guide, keeping the sort of things that made the book so damn popular to begin with.  The writers even use tiny things to keep the avid readers of the books smiling, letting us see the world of Trenton that Evanovich has slowly created in the past eighteen years.  That’s right, writers, I saw the Pino’s number listed in Stephanie’s phone- wink, wink.

Most importantly, though, they keep the heart and soul of Stephanie herself.  Stephanie is a character that a lot of people can relate to.  Helpless in most situations, but not one to give up just because things aren’t easy for her.  Mix in some humor and hookers and you have a golden, though slightly imperfect, film.

The Bestest – Brick

Brick (2005)

Written and Directed by Rian Johnson. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Nora Zehetner, Lukas Haas, and Emilie de Ravin.

The second movie to make mah bestest list is Brick, the 1930s detective film set in a modern American high school starring a pre-500 Days of Summer Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

The film opens on the hero, Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) discovering the dead body of his ex-girlfriend, Emily, in a ditch. Through a brief flashback we learn that Emily had called him earlier for help; he stands at a lonely payphone booth as a passing car (or rather the people in it) cause her to hang up and flee. A cigarette butt is sent flying from the passenger window, the first of many clues Brendan uses to piece together her murder.

From this point on Brendan transforms into a classic noir gumshoe, tracking down Emily’s movements through a seedy high school drug ring with the help of his mysterious brainiac ally, aptly dubbed The Brain. If any of this sounds remotely familiar, that’s because it absolutely is. The plot of Brick is nothing particularly different and special, but the way it is told is refreshingly unique.

The characters in this film are less that and more character types. For instance, Brain is a role typically seen as a newspaper reporter hanging around dark bars or dreary alleyways, which Rian Johnson adapts into a typical high school nerd leaning against the back wall of the school or hiding in his private nook in the library. These archetypes keep coming as Brendan ignores threats and strikes deals with the Principal (a role usually filled by police captains in the old detective films), fights the seductions of tough and sassy dames (in the form of the “queen” of the drama department and the popular girl on campus), battles a crippled crime kingpin, and loud-mouthed tough guys whose bark is bigger than their bite (the star of the high school football team, and dope head junky). These adaptations not only make the dissonance between the character’s actions and their modern portrayal all the more interesting, but allow the noir style to be more accessible to modern audiences.

I own that duck cane. Just sayin'.

This isn’t the first modern film that’s combined and adapted elements of noir, just look at Reservoir Dogs, but what sets it apart from the others is that it sets the attitudes and dialogues of classic detective fiction in a modern American High School. The characters all speak like they’re straight out of a Dashiell Hammett novel with lines like, “No, the bulls would gum it. They’d flash their dusty standards at the wide-eyes and probably find some yegg to pin, probably even the right one.”

None of the dialogue throughout is like anything seen in the countless other movies set in high schools, nor can it in any way be described as “modern”. Which is exactly what makes it so mesmerizing. The combination of a modern setting and updated character types with old detective dialogue creates such an interesting dynamic that is more and more entertaining each time you watch.

If you’re unfamiliar with the genre that Brick draws such heavy inspiration from, don’t worry. This film’s got just enough indie quirks in it to keep you interested and if none of that floats your boat then at least watch it for the stellar performances. JGL is flawless as the brooding Brendan, completely embodying the archetype both physically and emotionally, and the rest of the cast all step up to plate, delivering a set of engaging performances.

While the plot may not be anything different, it’s told in such a creative and unique way that you forgive it for that fault and enjoy the noir-iness (made that one up). Find this movie now and go watch it. Please? Thanks.

JIGGLE


The Bestest – Plan 9 Style

Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

Directed by Ed Wood Jr. Starring Bela Lugosi, Vampira, Gregory Walcott, Dudley Manlove, and John Breckinridge

A lot of people ask me what my favorite movie is (not actually true) and after a long, drawn out, awkward silence where I stare into space, desperately raking my brain searching for the movie that stands out above them all, only to come up with images of Gary Oldman or Anchorman, I answer I don’t know. It’s impossible for me to pin down one movie as “the best ever” so I’m going to do something nigh impossible for someone as important lazy as I am and create a list of the best. The best of the best. The bestest. Yeah, there we go. And what better way to kick off my “bestest” list than with what is widely considered the worst science fiction film to ever, Ed Wood Jr.’s Plan 9 from Outer Space!

“Wait, wait, wait, you’re putting what is arguably the worst B movie ever made on your ‘best of’ list?” Yes I am strange voice inside my head. Yes I am. But don’t get me wrong here, I’m not saying that Plan 9 isn’t bad, that thing is God awful. I could go on for hours about the hub-cap flying saucers on visible wires, scenes unexplainably switching between night and day, the countless plot holes, hammy acting, the posthumous performance of Bela Lugosi, and the oh so ridiculous dialogue. Hell, the movie’s opening lines are “we think most about the future because that is where we’re going to spend the rest of our lives.” Suck on that prose Shakespeare.

But none of that matters, Plan 9 is so damn awful that it transcends criticism, you can’t help but smile and laugh when you watch the movie, immediately forgiving its countless flaws and instead taking in its creativity and wackiness. What is so fantastic about this movie isn’t so much the final product (although it certainly is something special in its own right) but rather the passion and determination that it represents. Plan 9 was nothing more than a brainchild of a man who loved movies and who would stop at nothing to make them. Absolutely nothing.

Ed Wood every Saturday night

Ed Wood is often criticized for this highly exploitative filmography, which technically is an accurate accusation since the guy did go on to make X rated movies in his final years (Plan 69 from Outer Space was not of his creation sadly). However he did take pride in his work and held a serious passion for cinema. While his films were cheesy, over-acted, and poorly produced, he put in his full heart and soul to each one, oftentimes holding multiple positions for each film such as director, writer, producer and sometimes even acting in them (much like his idol Orson Welles.)

Not even the untimely death of his good friend and film star Bela Lugosi would stop the production of Plan 9 as the ever crafty Ed Wood incorporated clips of an unfinished film starring Lugosi and had his chiropractor serve as a body double for the remainder of the scenes. Ingenuity at its finest. Let’s not forget too that Ed Wood’s ardor and spirit were the inspiration for Tim Burton’s 1994 film Ed Wood a “biopic” of the filmmaker’s life. A critically acclaimed film revolving entirely around someone considered one of the worst filmmakers of all time. That’s gotta be some kinda irony right?

Plan 9 from Outer Space is like the macaroni picture frame your kid brings home from arts and crafts. Yeah it looks like crap, but you hang it up anyway because it is full of creativity, hard work and love. The film is great for a laugh as well as a source of inspiration (if Ed Wood can make a film I can too!) So here you go Ed, I’m puttin it up on my fridge.

The LAST Exorcism?

The Last Exorcism

Directed by Daniel Stamm, starring Ashley Bell, Patrick Fabian, Iris Bahr, Louis Herthum and Caleb Landry Jones. Released 2010.

Before I begin the review I’d like to start out with a little history lesson on the point of view (POV) style of filming.  A little low budget horror movie by the name of Cannibal Holocaust was released back in 1980 and for those of you unfamiliar with the film it was the first significant step into the POV/documentary sub-genre of horror, albeit an extremely controversial first step (several members of the cast were instructed to lay low for a year, leading people to believe they had actually died during filming.) Despite a few mainstream successes that use this found-footage technique, most notably the Blair Witch Project, it is still a relatively rare approach to film making that focuses more on atmosphere than gore. Feeling smarter?

The major benefit of filming in the POV style is the sense of immediacy and immersion it exacts on the audience; you feel right in the middle of the action and sympathize with the characters as the risks they’re taking seem that much more real. Such is the case with The Last Exorcism, a story that follows a Louisiana Preacher Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) and the events leading up to, as the title implies, his final exorcism. In a nice twist by the screenwriters, Cotton actually turns out to be a fraud: although he’s performed exorcisms, he frames them as a kind of psychiatric exercise, in that people believe they’re possessed by demons, and so an exorcism may actually be precisely what they need to free themselves of that belief. Through a serious case of good ol’ hubris, Cotton decides to have a film crew document his journey into the backwoods of Louisiana for what he says will be his final fake exorcism.

He arrives to the Sweetzer farm and comes across poor Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell), a terribly frightened young girl who has apparently been murdering livestock in her sleep. Convinced that her behavior is all just a reaction to her mother’s untimely death, Marcus begins setting up his first “exorcism” and we see an in depth look at all the behind the scenes work he does to make it as real as possible (fake devil noises, battery-powered shock rings and the like). It is quickly revealed, however, after the first exorcism doesn’t take, that there is something deeply wrong with little Nell and Marcus may have to come face to face with the devil himself to save her.

The power of Christ compels...ah you've all heard it before

Exorcism follows the Paranormal Activity mentality that a creepy noise coming from the other side of a door can be just as frightening as actually seeing what’s making it. One perfect example of this is a terrifying scene where the film crew is running frantically around the house trying to find the source of a crying baby. The camera staggers as the crew bolts as fast as they can around the house, and with every dip and sharp turn the camera makes, you cringe at the anticipation of some creepy crawly jumping out at you. It’s a relatively simple effect, but it couldn’t be any more powerful.

While the majority of the scares come from the atmosphere and the slow hand-held shots, Ashley Bell’s performance as the possessed Bell is terrifying. While she never goes to the extremes that Linda Blair went to in The Exorcist, she is still able to be absolutely ferocious when needed, and her ability to convey threat by staring blankly at the camera or giving a sinister smile is uncanny. In addition to that, it is also surprisingly refreshing to have a horror movie without a ridiculously two dimensional protagonist. Too often we see the oblivious blonde wandering aimlessly about into dark rooms that couldn’t be any more apparent in their danger if they were marked with a sign that said “Walking into this room will lead to a slow, untimely death.” Patrick Fabian’s portrayal of Cotton starts out as a holier-than-thou showman and gradually transforms into a man struggling to find his faith in God. It makes for a character that is not only believable, but one that we want to see succeed.

She's just misunderstood

While it seems like I’m praising this movie, it most certainly isn’t perfect. It has its fair share of weak points, the most obvious being the ending which can be described as…questionable at best. Also, the short run time of only 87 minutes left me disappointed that they didn’t squeeze in at least one more major scare. But, for what it is, The Last Exorcism is one of the better horror movies to come out this year thanks to its reliance on atmosphere and its phenomenal performances. I definitely wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel come out for this one, despite the obvious irony in the title. I don’t know though, I think The Last Exorcism 2: The Lastest Exorcism has a certain ring to it.

Awkward Humor Extraordinaire

Dinner for Schmucks

Directed by Jay Roach. Starring Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, Jemaine Clement, Zach Galifianakis, Stephanie Szostak, and Lucy Punch. Released 2010

Let’s face it, you already know if you’re going to like Dinner for Schmucks. Can’t get enough of Steve Carell’s painfully uncomfortable awkwardness or Paul Rudd’s seemingly effortless charm? Then this is the movie for you. Dinner for Schmucks suffers from a terribly slow first Act littered with too much expository dialogue, but with the introduction of Steve Carell’s Barry, the movie picks up some serious speed and becomes all that it promises to be: funny.

Dinner for Schmucks is inspired by Francis Veber’s French-language comedy The Dinner Game that follows Tim (Paul Rudd) an average guy on the come-up for a company he works for who finds himself invited to a dinner by the heads of the firm after impressing them in a board meeting. This isn’t any normal dinner, however, but rather a twisted comedy show where all the corporate execs invite “people with extraordinary talent”, a.k.a idiots, over and then make fun of them for their amusement. Going to this dinner and impressing the bosses could mean big time promotion for Tim, but Tim’s girlfriend (the talented Stephanie Szostak) won’t have anything to do with it.

In a dilemma, Tim can’t decide if he should take the noble path and stay on good terms with his girlfriend, or make fun of a couple of idiots and score a sweet paycheck. Fortunately for Tim, this dilemma doesn’t last long as he, literally, runs into Barry (Steve Carell). Barry is the epitome of awkward, someone with “extraordinary talent”. He is the embodiment of uncomfortable and to make matters even stranger, he happens to dabble in taxidermy; making lovely mouse dioramas he calls “mousterpieces” out of dead mice. As you can see, Tim’s choice has been made for him by some sort of higher power…or so he thinks, for Barry quickly reveals his true form, a loose destructive force that rages on and cripples Tim’s entire life to its knees through its bewildering incompetence.

As I mentioned earlier, this movie has a terribly slow first Act but picks up the pace and delivers some great comic moments as it rolls on. The writing certainly isn’t top-notch with a handful of jokes that fall flat, but what really makes this movie is the all-star cast. Steve Carell pulls out all his tricks for making the most uncomfortable human being ever in his creation of Barry, an almost otherworldly being whose interactions with other people come across as absolutely pathetic. You can’t help but feel sorry for the poor schmuck, right after you’re done laughing at him that is.

Paul Rudd plays the straight man in this and does so with his usual charm, and while he doesn’t have much to do other than fuel the comedy fire, he does an excellent job all the same. His ex-girlfriend, Darla is an absolute psychotic, driven by her obsession with Tim and bent on getting back together with him, or ruining his life. She is played eerily perfect by Lucy Punch and contributes to some of the most painfully awkward “comic misunderstandings” in the movie, and despite her creepy appearance was hilarious to watch.

The two standouts in this, though, for me were Zach Galifianakis and Jemaine Clement. Zach plays Barry’s IRS rival, Therman, a man obsessed with mind-control and ruining Barry’s life. He has some of the funniest moments with Carell including his domination of Barry’s mind by simply telling him to do something, and one of the most amazing imaginary wizard battles that I’ve seen in a long time. Jemaine plays Kieran a totally insane photo artist with an apparently “untamable animal attraction”. Jemaine is the master of dead-pan as any of you Flight of the Conchords fans know, and he goes all out in his performance here saying lines like, “Have you ever had your arm in a Zebra’s vagina before Tim? You should try it, it’s magical” with such conviction, that you can’t help but think he actually believes it. He transforms such an absurd character into a believable one, making everything he says even funnier.

Barry and Goat-Boy having a heart to heart.

Dinner for Schmucks has its weak moments in some of the writing and the strange voice over epilogue at the end (which probably should’ve been left out) but the faults are over-shadowed by the jokes that land and the amazing cast that delivers them, making this a fun comedy that you’re sure to enjoy.

Review by William Bixby

Mind-Heist Madness

Inception

Written and directed by Chris Nolan. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, and Michael Caine. Released 2010

“There are some people who live in a dream world, and there are some who face reality; and then there are those who turn one into the other.” So says David H. Everett and Inception agrees to the fullest, by constructing a world where dream and reality collide to the point where it becomes nearly impossible to distinguish the two.

Inception, at its very basic level, is a heist film, except instead of robbing a bank or jewelry store the characters break into a subject’s subconscious via dreams and their big pay-off is information. Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are specialists in “extraction”, breaking into someone’s mind and taking whatever information they’re hiding. However this can only be accomplished when the subject and extractors are sedated and hooked up to a “sleep machine” of sorts (similar to “jacking into” the Matrix) allowing for multiple layers of dreams to be created (dreaming within a dream).

Cobb and Arthur are eventually hired to do the opposite of extraction: “inception”, which is planting an idea deeply enough into the subconscious of a target, so that they wake up thinking the idea was theirs, allowing you to plant any idea (sinister or benign) without a trace. They plan on doing this by creating a triple layered dream (dreaming within a dream within a dream, get it?) and so they set out to recruit a team and plan their attack for this widely considered impossible feat.

Chris Nolan has apparently been working on this script for the past ten years, and it’s obvious. The film knows all of its rules and lays them out clearly within the first hour, but as is the case with any movie that takes such pains to set everything up, there’s gotta be some sort of monkey wrench thrown into the machine to complicate matters. Inception makes damn sure of that by throwing in triple-layer dreams where time and gravity exist at different levels and you can fight off security guards in a constantly rotating hotel hallway (which was the coolest scene in the entire movie) and plots twists and revelations that are so simple yet when discovered they’re exhilarating. What makes this film so stunning is the way Nolan weaves all the complex layers of the plot into a seamless narrative that’s simple to follow. He doesn’t hold your hand and walk you through it, but simply lays out the information and trusts that you’ll know what to do.

It gets even crazier than this.

In addition to the spot-on storytelling, the film looks spectacular. The CGI isn’t too over powering, which is impressive considering the amount of crazy cities-folding-on-top-of-each-other action that looks like it was ripped straight out of a bad acid trip. Nolan actually opted out of using CGI for any scenes that he could, for instance the hotel sequence which I briefly mentioned above was shot on a set that simply rotated along its axis. Using more traditional techniques in place of CGI adds believability to what is happening on-screen, making the visuals all the more impressive.

Of course all the sharp visuals don’t mean a thing if the cast doesn’t deliver, and luckily for us every actor on board slips straight into their characters adding a level of believability and emotional connection to this reality-bending drama. Leo plays a man who is packing some serious skeletons in his closet. The mental exhaustion he has starts to manifest itself physically as the movie carries on and he gives off an impression of a man who is barely able to keep his world together brilliantly.

Ellen Page plays Ariadne “the architect” who is in charge of constructing the dream world of the subject in the form of a giant labyrinth. She does a fine job playing a curious college student drawn into such a dangerous task and her relationship with Leo (as she becomes the only one to discover the reason why he is so tortured) is great. Marion Cotillard gives off an eerie performance of Cobb’s wife that fits so well later in the movie as further revelations of her character are made and the rest of the cast are all outstanding in their supporting roles. I particularly enjoyed Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s portrayal of Cobb’s suave partner, Arthur, as he delivers the perfect amount of humor and bad-assery.

From excellent storytelling and breath-taking visuals to a first-rate cast, Inception has all the ingredients of a great film and pulls them together to make one of the best examples of world building all summer. You’ll enjoy every minute of this film and I guarantee that after the credits roll you’ll want to see it again.

Some Things Just Can’t Be Undone

Dragonball: Evolution

Directed by Jason Wong, starring Justin Chatwin, Chow Yun-Fat, Emmy Rossum and James Marsters. Released 2009

This movie blows.

Now, I wish I could stop there. I’d like to end it at that, turn around, walk away and try to suppress the memory of ever having seen this thing. But for some reason, I can’t. It was so terrible that I actually want to talk about it; I need to rant about this horrifying Anime adaptation and the crap that goes on in it, for the good of the land.

Dragonball: Evolution is directed by James Wong (Final Destination) and stars Justin Chatwin, Chow Yun-Fat, Emmy Rossum, Jamie Chung and James Marsters. The movie is loosely based on the Dragonball Manga storyline and focuses on the fight between good and evil. Piccolo (Marsters) after previously being held prisoner on Earth for over 2,000 years is seeking the seven Dragonballs so that he can destroy the planet. It is then up to 18-year-old Goku aided by his new-found friends Bulma, Master Roshi, Mai and Yamcha, to find them first so he can destroy Piccolo because…well, because his Grandpa told him to.

As is the case with most Anime/Comic book film adaptations, things are changed and left out, it’s expected. Evolution tries taking the Dragonball mythos in its own direction which, from a directorial standpoint, is no easy task especially when it is a series as loved as Dragonball. You have to give a guy credit for attempting something that ballsy. Unfortunately, the movie changes too much of what made the series so great. I’m a huge Dragonball fan and instead of enjoying the first live-action movie of this awesome franchise, it felt like I was watching James Wong kick my childhood in the nuts for 85 minutes.

I made a list of annoying differences between the movie and the Manga on Screened, but it’s too large to go through in this review so I’ll stick to the ones that were the most drastic.

I’ll start out with the decision that made the least sense in the whole film. No Krillin. If you know DB or DBZ (I’m too cool to type them out) you know that Krillin is Goku’s best friend, and has been by his side for most every mission. The two of them even started out as rivals, right there is a potential source of conflict, but the movie doesn’t have his character at all. Not even so much as a little cameo or a name drop. It’s as if Krillin never existed.

Not only does the movie leave characters out, but the ones it leaves in get revamped to give them a more modern and Western feel. In the original Manga, Goku starts his adventure at age 12 while in the movie he is 18. The naïve child longing to practice and learn more techniques is gone and in its place is a brooding teenager depressed that he doesn’t fit in and that girls don’t like him. You know, the whole loser teenager that becomes a hero shtick which has been used so many friggin times (and with considerably more success). While this choice could’ve been to try to make the main character more relatable to older audiences, it drifts so far away from one of the most beloved characters in the franchise that it screams “I’m making this movie for money, who cares about the fans!”

Artist's interpretation of what I looked like after the movie.

Considering those departures and several other transformations in this film, it is a franchise failure. But it doesn’t stop there. Even as a stand-alone film, forgetting for a moment that Dragonball was ever a Manga series, this film is still terrible. It is overly cliché, with random plot elements disappearing and appearing out of nowhere, like Goku and the gang who happen to arrive at the precise moment Piccolo gathers all the Dragonballs. The visuals aren’t anything appealing and there weren’t any action sequences that blew my mind or really even entertained me, which is depressing considering the fact that the stunt company behind the action was the same for films like 300 and The Matrix.There’s overacting going on right and left, and not in the fun, campy 60s Batman style that makes it seem like a parody, instead the performances come across as uninterested and lackluster constantly reminding you they don’t want to be there either.

I had read some negative reviews for this before I watched it, but had I know it was this bad, I would’ve done the smart thing and watched Team Four Star’s DBZ parody. This is easily one of the worst films of 2009 (right behind G.I. Joe). Not even the power of the seven Dragonballs could resurrect this monstrosity from the grave, and if anyone tells you that you should watch this, slap them in the face. Then when they’re holding their cheek in pain and astonishment, look them in the eye, say “screw you” and slap them again. Oh, and what are you doing hanging out with a person like that in the first place? Slap yourself while you’re at it.

Phew, feels good to get that all off my chest. Hopefully you won’t make the same mistake I did, and you’ll stay away from this creation. I’ll have a more favorable review up here in the next couple of days but until then, here’s a cool picture to look at.

Heading In A Backwards Direction

It Might Get Loud

Director: Davis Guggenheim, Starring: Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White. Released 2008.

It Might Get Loud is a documentary directed by Davis Guggenheim about guitar legends Jimmy Page, Jack White and The Edge. There is no significant connection between these three other than they are deeply passionate about their music and the electric guitar, and the documentary is simply a conversation with these three about their influences in artistic style and their experiences in making music. While listening to three guys ramble on for two hours may sound like a pretty boring documentary, I couldn’t have been any more entertained when watching this movie.

It’s always fun to get into a conversation about something you’re tremendously passionate about. You get so excited that when you can’t hold back any longer,you open up the gates and unleash a stampede of hardly comprehensible dialogue  trying to show how much you know and care about something. Or, if you can’t do that, it’s just as much fun towatch people get into conversations about stuff they’re tremendously passionate about! (Now there’s an idea for a movie!)

It’s obvious these guys love what they do. Watching Jimmy Page rock out to Link Wray’s “Rumble” with a huge, childish grin on his face or listening to Jack White’s stories about capturing soul in his music the way his Son House, backwater blues influences did, should be evidence enough.Fact of the matter is these guys are artists one hundred percent and each story they tell is twice as touching and inspiring as the last.

Air Guitarin'

Documentaries are excellent at capturing real events, thus telling great stories and It Might Get Loud definitely does not disappoint in that regard. The editing and mashing of interviews, original filming and archival footage creates an amazing aesthetic effect, and sure tells one heck of a story. One example that really stands out is when The Edge talks about a point in his life when he doubted his song writing skills and didn’t think he was a very good artist and how he was living in a time where there was “such a disregard for human life”, and then after a brief pause it cuts to footage of him playing “Sunday Bloody Sunday” in front of a massive  crowd. Good stuff.

As well as documenting stories, this film displays great camera work. From extreme close-ups of their fingers strumming to various pans and tilts of their guitars. This film not only captures the beauty of the artist, but the beauty of their instrument as well.

It Might Get Loud offers enough technical jargon to keep hardcore guitar fans satisfied and is a must see for documentary and music fans alike. Go watch it!

Kick-Ass

Kick-Ass

Director: Matthew Vaughn, Starring: Aaron Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Mark Strong, Nicolas Cage and Chloë Grace Moretz. Released 2010.

It’s become increasingly rare for me to be thoroughly excited about a movie I’m watching, a movie that gets me so pumped up that once it’s over I’m on the edge of my seat, gawking slack-jawed at the screen and longing for more. Kick-Ass did just that.

A group of friends and I saw Kick-Ass about a week ago (from when I originally wrote this, which now is about 5 months ago) and it’s been on my mind since. We had so much adrenaline pumping through us afterwards that once we finally stopped talking about “how freaking awesome that movie was!” we started planning out our own superheroes, costumes, names, powers and all (even drawing the concept art, which could possibly end up on this site…).

I was looking at some other reviews for this movie and most of them (not surprisingly) were negative. What most critics failed to realize about this movie, however, is that it takes you on a ride. Sure, there isn’t that much emotional connection to the movie or any real kind of aesthetic appeal, but this movie is fun. From start to finish, I was having the time of my life and watching that movie went from being a pass time to an experience.

Matthew Vaughn creates a pitch-black satire of the comic genre in his film adaptation of the Marvel comic Kick-Ass.The movie follows the same basic structure that’s become increasingly popular over the years (Wanted andZombieland are just a few that come to mind), a loser protagonist narrating his experience from zero to hero.

The movie tells the story of an average-Joe High Schooler, Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) who transforms into an internet celebrity and local hero when a video of him risking his life to save someone from a brutal mugging (all while dressed in his make-shift super hero costume) becomes a viral hit on YouTube. Not only is his MySpace page getting thousands of views and requests for help, but he’s suddenly got the attention of his lifelong crush, Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca) although she’s only into him because she thinks he’s gay…

The plot thickens when Kick-Ass runs into actual super heroes, Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz), a crime fighting father/daughter duo who straight up murder people. The duo offer to team up with Kick-Ass, offering their assistance whenever he needs it. Up until this point, Kick-Ass has been enjoying his time in the lime light and the new found fame he has, claiming that “with no power, comes no responsibility”. However, he soon finds himself involved in a war between Big Daddy and local crime syndicate leader Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong) and quickly discovers this whole superhero business isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…

Aaron Johnson played an excellent nerdy superhero, Mark Strong did what he does best-played the bad guy and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (who plays D’Amico’s nerdy son) was an excellent rival for Kick-Ass and his McLovin-ish character made for an awesome nerd-on-nerd battle towards the end of the movie, but Nicolas Cage and Chloë Grace Moretz completely stole the show.

Nicolas Cage has chosen you. Feel honored.

Nicolas Cage plays Damon Macready, a former cop who is framed by D’Amico and sent to prison. To make matters worse, his pregnant wife dies while giving birth to his daughter, Mindy.

After his release from prison (time he spent totally pumping up) he does what any single father would do, trains his little girl to be a killing machine.

Cage finally broke away from his seemingly endless line of movies where he played the same National Treasurey character, and his twisted, absurd performance reminded me of some of his earlier work (Raising Arizona and Adaptation specifically). He’s so engulfed with revenge, that he makes Batman look like a melodramatic teenage girl and Cage’s Adam West/William Shatner voice is absolutely hilarious.

Chloë plays Macready’s daughter,Mindy who takes on the masked persona of Hit-Girl. I would’ve been perfectly fine if this movie just revolved around her character because she was amazing. I’ve never seen a young actress say something like “contact the mayor’s office, he has a special signal he shines in the sky—it’s in the shape of a giant cock” and deliver it with such devastating wit. She has the most intense fight scenes in the whole movie, at one point single handedly taking out all of D’Amico’s guards and henchmen in the most gruesome ways she can think of, and behind all the bullet dodging and knife throwing, you can tell Chloë is having an absolute blast. And so was I.

On the surface, this movie seems like just another run-o-the-mill super hero flick, but it is so chock full of super hero references, that it becomes a shameless parody, completely self aware of what it’s trying to do. Kick-Ass satirizes the entire comic genre by making the ultimate comic movie and the result is an exciting two hours that you will never forget. In short: this movie kicks ass. You honestly thought I could make it through the review without dropping that joke? You’re a fool. So what are you waiting for? GO WATCH IT!