Sunday, February 22, 2009

Two for ... Sunday? Quick Capsules of "Everlasting Moments" and "Taken"

Everlasting Moments **1/2
Directed by Jan Troell
Starring Maria Heiskanen, Mikael Persbrandt and Jesper Christensen

From the Swedish director Jan Troell, the man behind the Academy Award nominated film The Emigrants, comes Everlasting Memories. The film, which is based on the real life of Maria Larsson, a working class woman living in turn of the century Malmo. The first 90 minutes or so is quiet interesting and captivating, with it's beautiful cinematography and an exciting backdrop of a seafarer's strike. However, the story of the wife, her passion for photography, and her oafish and abusive husband begins to teeter off into redundancy when the family moves our of Malmo. Troell should have cut off at least a half-hour's worth of the 130 minute film.

Taken **1/2
Directed by Pierre Morel
Starring Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, and Maggie Grace

Okay. Time to turn off any sense of logic you have. Turn of any sensibilities. They are not needed for watching the new French (Yes, it's French) action movie, Taken. It's the most absurd thing since the glory days of one-man-army action movies. Unlike some film these days that look back at these films with a sense of nostalgia and irony (Pineapple Express, Son of Rambow), Taken is dead serious. Liam Neeson is an ex-CIA agent who's also a divorcee, who loves his daughter very much to the point of over-protection. When she goes to Paris with her best friend, and is subsequently captured by a bunch of Albanian pimps, this just sets Liam off. For the next hour, Liam Neeson literally flattens anything that comes in his way. The producers of the film should have retitled this movie Liam Neeson Destroys Paris. If it had been a half hour longer, Neeson would have conquered France. The absurdity of Taken make it one of the most strangely entertaining action movies in a while.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Congrats to M.I.A.!

Back in the day with a smaller belly...

Break out the blue cigars, guys. Everyone's favorite Sri Lankan rapper gave birth to a badass baby boy. In fact, she called the sex a few months back when she did an interview with Spin magazine. For those of you with memories like Lenny from Memento, M.I.A. performed her hit "Paper Planes" at the Grammys last week, with other rap stars like Lil Wayne and Kanye West (and all of his afro mullet glory). She was as big as a whale. So obviously, I was afraid that she would go into labor on stage, with Lil Wayne delivering the child, and Kanye providing words of support. It would have made for great television. But alas, the baby was born another day. The baby's daddy is Benjamin Brewer, frontman for the group Exit.

Watch our for the Oscar too. M.I.A. may be performing for her song from Slumdog Millionaire.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Review of "Tonight"

Franz Ferdinand
Tonight ***1/2

It's been a long time since Scotland's Franz Ferdinand released any new music. It's been years since they released the excellent You Could Have It So Much Better, which, ironically, was released a mere 18 months after their acclaimed self-titled debut. Fans waited patiently, estimating that their third album would come out probably around early 2007. Instead of another 18-month period for the new album, fans waited three-and-a-half years for Tonight. The long wait made some Franz fans worried about the band's quality declining.

It turns out that Tonight is no average record, and Franz Ferdinand is not declining in quality. In fact, this album opens up a world of possibilities for their fourth one. Franz is at its most experimental and roughest, and it seems to show what the future has in store for them. Of course, since the band is trying out new melodies and textures, it obviously isn't perfect. There are hooks, but not as epic as "Take Me Out" or "Do You Want To." They also made this one as a concept album about a rough night out. The band still brings their trademark jubilance to the songs, but unfortunately, they are good songs and not great, unlike the previous two albums.

"Ulysses," the album opener, immediately shows us what the band is going for: a rougher sound with somewhat darker themes. It's one of the few songs on the album that exceeds the "good" standard and is actually a really great rocker. "What She Came For" is another one of those great songs with a sugary chorus that ends on a very high note as they get loud and hard. "Lucid Dreams" is arguably the album's centerpiece. It's totally different from the original single released last year. The single version sounded like the soundtrack to a backpacker traveling on the Orient Express. The album version changes the sound and feel of the song, turning a three-and-a-half-minute song into an eight-minute epic. It sounds like it comes from the Nightclub from Hell with a fragmented melody that turns into an experimental dance rock coda, and than transforms into a techno beat. This song is the best example of Franz Ferdinand's experimentation in this album.

The other songs, the "good" ones, have a real David Bowie quality to them. "No You Girls" would fit perfectly on Bowie's Young Americans album, with its catchy chorus and retro keyboards. "Twilight Omens" also has the keyboard as the main instrument, and once again it would be a fine addition to Bowie's '70s repertoire. Even if most of the songs have that feel of Bowie's pop songs, "Dream Again" is like a track from Bowie's album Low, filled with ambience and a muted, fearful sound. Franz Ferdinand has made the best David Bowie album that Bowie never made. Even if it is somewhat of a good thing, it's still a bad thing to say. It's one of the many ironies about the album: it sounds a lot like another artist, but it's still a good album. It's not the band's best work, but it's still better than most of the contemporary British bands that are being over-hyped by the NME, Britain's biggest music magazine.

To add one more irony, this album would probably have been much better if the band had spent more time on it. "Lucid Dreams" may be what the band was trying to achieve, but experimenting on a new sound is very challenging. A band will naturally not want to do too much to alienate old fans, and sometimes if they do it too much, it will come off pretentious and bad. Fortunately for Franz Ferdinand, they have managed to make a good experimental album, close to great, and it brings good fortune to a band who does not seem hesitant to try out new things.

Tougher then a wall of bricks.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Review of "We Pedal Uphill"

We Pedal Uphill *
Directed by Roland Tec
Starring Roland Tec and this guy

A little anecdote to start things off:

Every so often, members of my school’s film club like to take a trek to New York for Harland Jacobsen’s Talk Cinema. It’s a recurring event at the Lincoln Center that shows mainly indie and foreign films before they come out in regular theaters. It’s a fine event, and sometimes the director or produce shows up and has a discussion with the audience.
And so the day came. Being a commuter, I drove up the Parkway for this thing and even though I was expecting many members of our film club, there were only two other people. Oh well. You can’t win them all. On the bus ride to NYC, we talked about our school‘s film program, politics, and how a song we listened to would be perfect theme for 1970’s New York. We didn’t know what the film was going to be. The orginizers there are very tight lipped about the films being shown, apparently because of Juno. So we arrived at the Walter Reade Theater and find out what the movie was, and it was called We Pedal Uphill. We pondered what would it be about. There was a photo that suggested “documentary about the meat industry”. Oh, this could be interesting we all thought.
How wrong we were.
The first few moments of the film involved a man getting ready for something. It really gave nothing to the character. He was only behaving edgy. It’s incredibly frustrating to see a character brush his teeth and clean himself without getting much from the character. It’s almost a law in the world of film. As he drives, he stops in a garage and adds conservative themed bumper stickers to his car. He then enters a radio station and is about to begin his radio show. You’d expect it would be about a Limbaughesque radio commentator. But there’s a twist. He’s a liberal! The announcement comes and the film cuts to the opening credits.
I think, “O, this must be a movie about a Liberal radio commentator in a red state. This could be interesting.”
How wrong was I once again.
The next scene moves to another location and another story begins. It’s was something about a mother worried that her adult son will go the way of the dodo if he goes to a civil rights event, the reasoning because her husband died for the civil rights cause. The scene dialogue was bad, and so was the acting. Not only that, the direction was incredibly amateurish. But I wonder why it made this shift. Is this going to be like Crash, or Traffic, and be about some unifying theme? Nope.
The film is in fact cut up into little vignettes that are all supposed to be about America. I think. Or the general theme involves America, or something else. I don’t know really. The vignettes’ own themes jump around from racism, to homosexuality, to god knows what.
The vignettes are poorly constructed and the actors are bad. There’s barely any recognizable conflict. One vignette is supposed to take place in Ohio (all of the scenes take place in a different state), and it has absolutely no real discernable plot. It’s about lawyer having a slight disagreement with a typist. Is it supposed to be about racism? I guess. The lawyer was black. The typist was white.
Other vignettes seem to have the actors portrayed Southerners in the most stereotypical was possible. One of them involves a black man visiting the man who saved him and his family in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The white Southerner is made up and portrayed as a straight up hick. If this film is trying to make a statement racism, it’s doing a very bad and hypocritical job.
Some of them seem to have no point at all. One vignette, called “The Mouse” (Florida), involves two gay men about to hook up and such, and then they have a frank talk. Because of poor dialogue and once again, bad acting, the whole situation is incredibly awkward, with the feeling the more boring dialogue will happen, or it will just turn pornographic. Another is just a single backwards tracking shot with the voices of what is supposed to the souls of Irish immigrants in the hallway of a factory in Connecticut. What does this scene have to do with the rest of the vignettes? I have no clue really. Every vignette is not really connected with each other.
The worst vignette is the one that takes place in Massachusetts and it involves a librarian being caught up in Homeland Security’s investigation. The acting throughout is horrible, and once again, dialogue is just stupid. Not only that, I mocked this scene in particular. The librarian is doing some work, and there is a persistent knocking. As she comes closer to the door, I yell out, “Candy gram”, in reference to the Land Shark sketch from SNL. I rarely do this to a film.
I think the point where I just stopped caring about the film was when a scene involving the meat industry came up. The reason why I stopped caring was when I saw the actor best known for the Optimum Online commercials that get shown on television where I live. The guy played a dude from New Jersey playing a dude from Oklahoma. I was incredibly painful.
As we left the theater, we were happy that nobody else from the film club had witnessed this terrible, terrible film. It was just bad. Ironically, it gave us all confidence with our own work that we couldn’t a film this pretentious and convoluted. According to the film’s IMDB description:
“We Pedal Uphill paints an uncompromising portrait of a country at odds with itself-America, post-9/11. In his tapestry of today's human landscape, Writer/Director Roland Tec focuses his unique lens on an assortment of lives altered forever by recent events. The cast of characters brought to life in this film is as varied as the geography they inhabit, displaying their power to amuse, delight, disgust and haunt as we question the very meaning of being an American.”
Wait. What? Is that was the film about? I didn’t get nothing, except for “This movie is about America”. Tec believed that he made some sort of message. But there is no message. It’s just a film that believes that it has a message. This movie just confuses, and not informs. Tec is probably just showing off. Next time bring some chips to the poker table. It’ll do you some good, Roland Tec.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Monday, February 2, 2009

Christian Bale Rant

I usually don't delve into the world of tabloid stories and such, but I cannot ignore the tape of Christian Bale freaking out on set of Terminator: Salvation back in July. It's f---ing brilliant really.

PS can somebody tell me what he's ranting about. All I can hear is "Fuck".

What's the reasoning for this rant? Coffee? Interns? Still angry that Chelsea lost the Champions League? We may never know.

Silver Jews last show.

Well, last week Dave Berman called it quits, and here is the video from the obviously emotional final show. Thanks for all the years of keeping it real Dave.

The Boss Is Not Afraid of You and He Will Beat Your Ass

The Boss kicked ass last night at the halftime show. He told us to put down the chicken fingers and to step away from the guacamole. Even the awkward moments were awesome. Best Halftime show since Prince's back in '07.

Oh and some team won 26-23, and they're burning shit down in Pittsburgh for some reason. I think they're Spike from Puppy Bowl Fans.