Saturday, July 26, 2014

Movie Review: Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer is easily the most unique and entertaining sci-fi action flick since Pacific Rim. Comparing the two movies would be pretty pointless however, Pacific Rim was a blockbuster homage to B-rated kaiju films of old and was purposely campy. Although adapted from a French graphic novel, Snowpiercer feels fresh and excitingly original. While watching the film's many action spectacles and curve ball plot twists, I couldn't help but remember my first viewing of The Matrix. Snowpiercer is nowhere near as complex or self serious as Neo's Simulacra and Simulation inspired computer madness, it's just a damn thrilling movie that found me sitting on the edge of my seat and smiling ear to ear throughout its duration.

do not fuck w/ Captain America: EVER
The film takes place in the not too distant future, where a failed global warming experiment backfires and ends up freezing the entire planet, killing all life in the process. The last remnants of humanity live on a globe crossing train called, the Snowpiercer. For the survivors, Earth and the outside world no longer exist, their only reality is the train. Like in our current times however, life on the Snowpiercer sucks if you ain't in the top 1%. The huddled masses in the back of the bus/train are living all the worst post apocalyptic dystopian cliches, while the fat cats in the front stroke their beards and sniff hallucinogenic toxic waste til their hearts' content. Chris Evans leads a rag tag rebellion on board who try to overtake the engine and end their life of squalor and misery.

Director Bong Joon-ho has created the perfect storm of drama, action and over the top absurdity in this flick. The film's all-star cast (John Hurt, Korean star Song Kang-ho, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer Jamie Bell, Alison Pill, Ed Harris and fucking Captain America himself) serve up amazing performances which anchor this film's otherwise flimsy premise to some much needed reality. The violence depicted onscreen is both jarring and titillating. People drop like flies in this movie and it seems like each death is gnarlier than the last. Finally, the set design and costumes of each train car makes the protagonists journey feel like something out of Alice and Wonderland. The film shifts gears from scenes with awesomely done stylized violence, to somber depressing ass drama, to laughably over the top zaniness and it somehow all works. If you're looking for an intelligent alternative to the Transformers type drivel we're spoon fed every summer, you cannot go wrong with Snowpiercer.

Movie Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

If you enjoyed 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, you're going to friggin love this new installment of the Apes franchise. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is one of those rare sequels that just annihilates the original in every possible way, like Empire Strikes Back or The Winter Soldier from earlier this year. The first film had a lot of ground to cover and although it was thoroughly entertaining, felt a tad rushed overall. You see the apes being experimented on, watched James Franco (because he always plays James Franco) raise Caesar, yadda yadda yadda, ape revolt in the streets and a civilization ending virus begins spreading. That's a lot of ground they had to cover. Part two doesn't suffer from this, Dawn of the Apes takes place ten years after the events of the first film and is an entirely self contained, world building phenomenon of a film. That, and there's talking apes with machine guns on horseback.

So the simian flu virus has wiped out most of humanity. Caesar and his gang of genetically enhanced apes live in the forests outside San Fransisco, hunting, learning and generally building a pretty chill primate civilization. That is until, they encounter some desperate humans in the woods one day, pitting the wants, needs and personalities of each species at odds with one another. This leads to both external and internal conflicts between apes and human alike. I don't want to spoil the plot because the less you know about the film the better, just hold on for the most surprising film of the summer.

I jokingly implied that Andy Serkis should have received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Caesar in the first film. Now, I'm dead serious...Andy Serkis deserves a best actor nod. Caesar is by far, the most complex, charismatic and down right coolest protagonist I've seen in a big budget Hollywood tentpole film in ages...and he's a CGI chimpanzee for Christ's sake! He's not the only badass this time around either. Advances in motion capture technology, and the plot device where pretty much all the humans are dead, allows for Dawn of the Apes to focus on, you guessed, even more apes! Caesar has a family and a (kind of a wussy) son, they have a little ape school led by Maurice the giant/genius orangutan from the first film and then, there's Koba. He's the freaky looking ape from Rise, with visible scars from years of being abused and experimented on by humans. Well homeboy is back with a vengeance in Dawn of the Apes. He goes from victim of circumstance to full on super villain rather remarkably. Again, I'm trying to keep the plot under wraps as much as possible here, but there is some serious philosophical pondering and straight up historical allusions going on in this film [Reichstag fire anyone?], plus it also has talking apes with machine guns on horseback. It literally has everything.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Movie Review: Boyhood of the year or best of the decade? I don't know but Richard Linklater's newest film is unlike anything I've ever seen before. A true marvel of filmmaking.

Boyhood is Linklater's decade plus passion project about coming of age in modern America. Filmed intermittently over a period of twelve years, the movie follows the life of a Texas boy named Mason Jr. from age six to eighteen. You watch him grow before your eyes in a stunning display of time lapse cinema. Linklater captures the subtle joys and debilitating hardships of life, as Mason, his family and the entire county changes throughout the 2000's. Watching this defenseless tike clad in Dragon Ball Z pajamas suddenly transform into a functioning adult before your eyes is simply mind blowing.

The plot is irreverent. It's just life. Boyhood avoids all the milestone/hallmark moments we've seen in other movies. The awkward first kiss, learning to drive, graduating high school, that's all been done before. Boyhood focuses on the in-between; those fleeting, ephemeral moments that make up most of our real lives. While the plot might not be compelling in a "traditional" sense, the cast deserves some serious accolades. They all invested such huge portions of their lives into this project, as the film's runtime winds down and the years pile up, their attachment to their characters and their legit vulnerability onscreen is uncanny. Patricia Arquette delivers the performance of her career, playing Mason's continually struggling mother. Ethan Hawke and Linklater are just peas and carrots at this point. Watching Hawke slowly transform from the hip weekend dad to full blown middle aged family man was like getting smacked by all three incarnations of Jesse from the Before Sunrise films at once. Of course you can't forget the boy of Boyhood himself, Ellar Coltrane. Although his body [and hairstyles] changes throughout, his remarkably consistent performance never waivers. Somewhere along the way this wide eyed boy obsessed with elves and sorcery becomes an introspective photographer, bent on capturing the magic of everyday life with his camera. Good luck trying to pinpoint when this transformation takes place. Things just happen and time just flies by.

Also, for anyone under 30, Boyhood should prove to be quite the nostalgia trip to the wonderfully strange world of the early millennium. The movie's rockin' zeitgeist soundtrack serves as the film's main demarcation points and really anchors the characters to a specific time. Except for the McCain scene. No music needed there.

In short, this movie is phenomenal and Richard Linklater is unstoppable. Go see it.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Movie Review: Edge of Tomorrow

Tom Cruise finally makes a rad movie again...and no one seems to care. Bummer.

Yes, I've chastised some of Tom's most recent films, like the uber repetitive Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and the sci-fi clusterfuck that was Oblivion, but that doesn't mean I'm rooting for the man to fail. In fact, there was a time when I was a huge Tom Cruise fan. His output between 1988 and 1999 is pretty much unfuckwithable. Rain Man, A Few Good Men, Interview with the Vampire, Jerry Maguire, Magnolia to name a few. That's the Tom Cruise I grew up watching. The cunning, fast talking everyman who charmed the shit out of audiences. I'd say he hit his stride in 2004's Collateral, playing the cold as ice hitman Vincent. This role combined all the best elements of Tom Cruise's cinematic repertoire, the Type A personality rambler and his impressive physical work from years as a Hollywood "action star." He should have gone out on top in 2004 and hung up his holster after that film. Instead, Cruise seemed determined to cement himself as a legit action icon with botched/bloated sci-fi attempts and action/thriller type flicks  (War of the Worlds, Knight and Day, two more Mission Impossible sequels, etc etc). You had a good run Tom, but you're 5'7 and 51 years old now buddy, nobody buys the rugged action hero schtick anymore.

That being said, Edge of Tomorrow is a rollicking, special effects driven extravaganza and one of the most entertaining "action" films I've seen in forever, easily Tom Cruise's best film in years. You know why he's so good here? Because he's not the aging try hard hero character we've seen him recycling through for the past decade. Instead, Cruise is back to his quirky, quasi-sleazy 90's self again. He plays a military public relations/media officer who gets thrown into the middle of a raging war zone and does what any normal person would do: he panics, he tries to talk his way out of it, and he dies. He dies a lot actually. Edge of Tomorrow turns the usual Tom Cruise sci-fi action premise on it's head, his amazingly gorgeous co-star Emily Blunt is battle hardened soldier while ol' Tom is the bumbling Wile E. Coyote figure who dies more than a dozen or so gruesomely hilarious deaths.

The film's plot is kind of irrelevant, this movie is all about watching Cruise yuck it up on screen again. He's clever and does his best onscreen ranting since "show me the money." There's some big war between humans and vague alien invaders (who look like Transformers rip offs)  that can somehow manipulate time. Cruise's character dies in combat at the start of the film but somehow gains access to the aliens cosmic reset button that allows him to be reincarnated everyday and learn from his previous battlefield mistakes. It's best not to think about it really, just turn off your brain and watch old school Tom Cruise light up the screen like it's 1996 all over again.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

under-covers: Suicidal Tendencies / Body Count

Back when I maintained this blog on a regular basis, I had a column called under-covers, that showcased…you guessed it, ridiculous cover songs. The weirder the better was my motto. Anyways, flash forward to present day and I stumble across a song that’s not necessarily a cover, but a modern day re-imagining of a classic 80’s hardcore/thrash anthem that made me pull the Under-cover’s tag out of retirement. Check it out.


Suicidal Tendencies were one of the seminal underground bands of the 1980’s. They were one of the few acts that skate punks and metal heads could agree upon without murdering each other. The band’s frenzied musical output helped foster the cross pollination [aka: crossover] of the genres extreme music weirdos like myself enjoy today. Their 1983 song “Institutionalized” is easily their biggest hit, ever. It’s a timeless jam about teenage alienation… and fiending for a cold Pepsi.

How cool was that? Spoken word styling mixed with circle pit goodness. My 10th grade English teacher played that in class when the dregs of the public school system failed to bring anything for “analyze song lyrics” day at school. Mind blowing stuff for a padawan metal kid.


Here’s the new version brought to you by the freshly resurrected rap-metal juggernaut, Body Count, led by the one and only: Ice-T. If you didn’t know about Ice-T’s stint as gangsta rap pioneer turned heavy metal frontman and one time adversary of George H.W. Bush, you need to watch the dude’s Behind The Music ASAP. You’ll never watch Law & Order: SVU the same way again.

Musically, “Institutionalized 2014” stays pretty true to the original. The beefed up production and Ernie C’s precision shredding pushes the track more toward the metal side than Suicidal’s crossover middle ground, but still keeps the manic vibe of the original. The major difference here is Ice-T’s post millennium lyrical overall.  Mike Muir’s diatribe against parental authority from the classic version is genius, but Ice M.F. T is no slouch either. His modernized take down of our increasingly politically correct, technologically dependent society is like everything else the man touches, pure gold. Goddamn vegans.

Ultimately, the original "Institutionalized" will always win out in the end. It's just such a rad song and partially why I love Pepsi so much. That being said, Body Count's 2014 adaptation is probably the perfect cover, will haunt me every time I get my Call of Duty on, and cements Ice-T's status as being all around awesome for a whole new generation.