Friday, July 11, 2014

Movie Review: Boyhood

Boyhood...best 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.

THE ORIGINAL:


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.


THE COVER:

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.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Movie Review: The Fault In Our Stars

I went into this movie with a quasi-open mind. I say "quasi" because if anything, my reverence for author/YouTube personality John Green [the dude who wrote the book the movie is based on ] made me partially biased toward liking the film regardless. Well, the verdict is in...The Fault In Our Stars isn't a horrible film, it's just jumbled mess.

Shailene Woodley stars as Hazel, a bright but cynical teenager dealing with the fallout of childhood cancer. She's on some experimental drug treatment that has saved her life thus far, but left her with some serious health problems and understandably, causes her to mope around the house all bummed out. One day at recovery group [note: ALL cinematic recovery groups need a Marla Singer type, least they turn to drivel], she meets Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort...what a name), the dashing, recovering cancer patient/manic pixie dream guy she's been secretly longing for. The manic pixie dream girl trope is turned on it's head in this case, because in The Fault In Our Stars, it's a guy who appears outta nowhere with the sole purpose of whimsically teaching/entertaining the female protagonist to change her life and force a uber dramatic character arc upon them. Great job guys. Hadn't seen that one before.

"Thought's on my soliloquy? Do share them?!" said no teenager: EVER.
Anyways, the film follows these young starry eyed teens as they deal with the two most tear inducing topics in existence, love and death. Seriously, I wouldn't be surprised if this film received secret financing from Kleenex. It's so overtly sentimental that it kind of rides a weird wave between cheesy and offensive. The Twilight fans might kill me, but the romance portion of the film is what really holds The Fault In Our Stars back. It's so cheesy and preposterous, normal humans don't speak like these kids, that it breaks my heart to say this may be more of a knock against John Green's source material than the film itself. That being said, most of the cast is pretty weak sauce, save for Woodley, who was the saving grace in last year's teen shitfest The Spectacular Now, Willem Dafoe (who's good in everything) and my homie Nat Wolf from Palo Alto who steals every scene he's in. Everyone else is pure Lifetime Movie of the Week territory. Heartthrob Augustus included.

The Fault In Our Stars does put an interesting spin on these kid's health issues. The elephant in the room with most movies is addressed front and center here, making the cancer drama elements the strongest of the film. How these young characters deal with these weighty life and death issues, while battling hormones, is what salvages this movie from being a complete cheese fest. Even then, there's still cringe worthy elements thrown in that disrupt otherwise, touching moments [SPOILER: sick girl may or may not be able to jet set off to Europe and meet a reclusive international celebrity because of illness. Boo-fucking-hoo. You're alive and that shit should be the least of your worries. Real people who can't afford legit medical care might not give a care about yo bourgeois problems: end rant]. Like I said before, the movie isn't horrible, it's just a hit-and-miss, jumbled mess.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Movie Review: 22 Jump Street

It's no secret, most movie sequels suck. For every The Empire Strikes Back or Godfather II, there are thousands of uninspired, schlock fest flicks like Son of The Mask, The Hangover Part II & III, or the inevitable Transformers 6: War of the Hybrids. It's like Mel Brooks said in Space Balls, "we'll meet again in Space Balls 2: The Search For More Money." Anyways...with that in mind, it pleases me to announce that 22 Jump Street doesn't suck. In fact, the film is almost as side splittingly  funny as it's predecessor and because this sequel is perhaps, the most meta/self aware film since Wayne's World, it's even more ridiculously entertaining in it's own right.

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are back as the same Police Academy rejects we saw in 21 Jump Street, but this time they get sent to college. That's it. The plot is basically the same as the last film and everyone in the movie knows it [more on the film's hyper self awareness later]. The major difference this time around is the film's larger budget allows the 22 Jump Street cast to go full on 80's action, buddy cop parody, meaning much more chaos, destruction and lulz-y shenanigans.They also take the subtle homoerotic undertones of dude flicks (Predator, Lethal Weapon, etc etc)  to amazing new heights. Like before, Hill and Tatum's bromance is the heart of the film but now it's like a legit same sex civil union and it's hilarious. Jonah Hill may be the certified comic relief but seriously, Channing Tatum steals every scene he's in. He doesn't have as many great "AP chemistry bitch" lines like in the original, but he's still a one man wrecking crew when it comes to lulz and physical comedy. He and Ice Cube deliver the biggest laughs in the film. One scene in particular between the two of them that I dare not spoil, had me and just about everyone else in the theater ROFL. For real.

So back to all the meta/self aware stuff. Yes, perhaps the best part about 22 Jump Street is how often it takes shots at itself. It's a dumb sequel making fun of other dumb sequels. Hill cracks jokes about Tatum's own failed action hero attempt with White House Down, Ice Cube repeatedly alludes to the film's budget, no one in the movie believes Hill and Tatum are college age students and hammers them with old man jokes, and seemingly everyone enjoys pointing out  that this Jump Street's plot is "just like last time." It's all so zany and self aware, they do everything short of breaking the 4th wall onscreen. I half expected Ferris Bueller to pop and start talking to the camera at one point. Sure, the recycled plot and over the top self awareness could be considered a sign of lazy writing, but it's executed oh so well, it's exceptional delivery makes up for it. In fact, keeping tabs on all the film's in-jokes is almost as entertaining as the movie itself. 22 Jump Street is not the most original film in existence [a sequel of a reboot/adaptation] but in a weird way, it is sort of reinventing the wheel.