Saturday, April 27, 2013

Movie Review: Pain & Gain

First, it should be noted that I haven't enjoyed a Michael Bay film in fifteen years. Not since Bruce Willis commanded manly tears from audiences around the globe in 1998's Armageddon. That's a long fucking time ago. Sadly, the man who gave us Bad Boys and The Rock, went ape shit crazy once he got his hands on +$100 million film budgets. What followed was a series of unbelievable crap fests: Pearl Harbor, Bad Boys II, The Island, and those god awful Transformer movies. I've basically spent the past decade avoiding Michael Bay films like the plague. With that being said, I now have a confession to make: Michael Bay's new film Pain & Gain was absolutely amazing. I seriously loved every minute of it.

Pain & Gain is Michael Bay's low budget (made on a "measly" $26 million) return to his roots. After spending most of the 2000's directing computer animated robots trashing major metropolitan cities, Bay wanted to get back to basics, shooting real actors in front of a camera in his backyard. Of course when you're an uber successful Hollywood mogul like Bay, your backyard is a ginormous mansion in Miami. Either way, Pain & Gain is easily one of the most ridiculous films I've ever seen, both in it's content and execution, and makes for one hell of a entertaining movie.

The Departed, pt2.
A gang of body building criminals who kidnap, extort and murder their way to riches already sounds ludicrous. Well, the film is based on real life events. Like Argo, this film is based on some crazy, asinine shit that is the embodiment of the phrase, truth is stranger than fiction. Mark Wahlberg plays gang leader, Daniel Lugo, and channels previous performances from Boogie Nights and Fear. Make no mistake, his character is a sadistic monster, but he's a loveable sadistic monster. Dwayne Johnson (aka The, Bay cast a dude named after his 2nd film!) has never been more entertaining. Of all the dirt bags in this film, and there's a lot, he's the most loveable. He's an ex-con with a heart of gold, a Jesus freak who loves pumping iron and, an unabashed crack head. I told you, this movie is insane. Anthony Mackie is the final member of the gang who provides infinite amounts of comic relief with his perfect timing and delivery of lines. He's a steroid abuser who's dick stops working and he's got his penis on his mind 24/7.  Tony Shalhoub is great in his role as the film's "victim" but even his character is such a douche you can't help but secretly root for the body building scum bags (aka The Sun Gym Gang).

Honestly, as great as the cast is, Michael Bay is Pain & Gain's true star. His trademark action disorienting directing style, and uncanny eye for projecting iconic visuals onscreen take this already surreal tale to another level. The gratuitous use of slow motion, explosions, low angle shots implying alpha male dominance, explosions, the blatantly sexist objectification of women, more explosions, shoving the American flag in as many shots as possible, ridiculously saturated color schemes, and did I mention explosions already? These techniques are Michael Bay's bread and butter and his indulgence in them have made his recent films all but unwatchable...but Pain & Gain is a different story. It's like Bay woke up from a 15 year nap, more energized and refreshingly self aware. On this project, he's not just trashing his dimwitted protagonists, he's making fun of himself as well.  With Pain & Gain, Bay embraces the frat boy, former Victoria's Secret commercial director stymie detractors (myself included) have thrown at him over the years and he triumphantly responds by saying, "Sup?"

People are criticizing this film for glamorizing the real life tragedy that took place. I see their point but have to disagree. This film doesn't celebrate these imbeciles, instead it showcases and underscores the sheer ridiculousness of these events ever having happened, in a Don King, "...only in America!" kind of way. Some film critics are bashing Pain & Gain because they just love hating on Michael Bay and see this film as a poor man's version of Fargo.  I say this is Bay's Spring Breakers, but jacked on steroids. Welcome back Michael Bay. It's been too long man.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

I GET JOKES: Existential Porn Crisis

artwork by Tiffany Reza

Summer 2001:

It took some time to find you, navigating the backwoods of AOL for safe passage. Last Friday at Johnny’s, in his dad’s den at 2am. That’s where I fell in love. Fell in love at the keyboard. “Forget about her,” they said. “Who cares?” I did. Those punks just wanted a quick fix. I was in it for the long haul. There’s plenty of fish in the sea, but they don’t swim like you Angel. By swim…I mean take three dicks at the same time.  

Angel la Cox.  19/f/Cali. Part German, Hispanic, and whatever you desire. They don’t have girls like you in St. Claire Falls that’s for sure. We’re going to Disneyland for Cindy’s next birthday. So close, but so far. They have nude beaches out west huh? I bet all the sand in your crack isn’t as bad as Damien Rod’s, rod. Just kidding. You took it like a champ. It was beautiful.

The Painal Group homepage says that Back Door Auditions vol. III was your first role. Ten years from now you’ll be 29 and ready to retire. I should be out of college by then. This could work. This could really work…

Shit. Foot steps. Can’t you call grandma later? Angel’s new MPEG is almost done downloading. Only 53 more minutes to go! Fine. Your house, your phone, your rules. I’ll log on tonight when they’re asleep. This new clip, 45 seconds of heaven, it’s worth the risk. I’ll be back Angel. I swear.

Winter 2013:
Grad School. What a joke. I should have got a real job. Or joined the Army. Fuck this library. I need a beer. Why the hell is Denise calling me when she’s knows I’m doing research? Fiance or not, she fucking bugs. Taking a break…

“Gridlock in DC: Congress to…,”   “Top cities for Twenty…” “Shocking: Former Porn Star on trial…”
Angel? Angel la Cox?!

2006, assault. 2008, methamphetamine and prostitution charges brought after motel raid. 2011, New Apostle Congregation of the Holy Spirit welcomes an…oh Angel. What happened?
You were so young and graceful. Your pelvis galloped on those flesh toned condoms like a thoroughbred. All the fame and accolades? The AVN for best new starlet? Why’d you start blowing guys off Craigslist?! Cops have computers too girl! How could this have happened?

I’ve been so caught up. I swear I didn’t know. I…why the fuck is Denise still calling?! God.

I remember you signed with Dirty Diva Productions. I just finished high school. Oh shit, it says you did interracial? Wow. Ok, bookmarked.
Has it really been ten, no wait, twelve years ago. In Derrick’s garage looking at your jpegs online.

What happened to you…what happened to us?

Car payments, Denise, Stanford, Econ fucking happened. Oh Christ what’s the point. You’re cooking rock in some trailer; I’m scouring periodicals from online databases. We’re slaves. We fucked up somewhere and now we’re lost and miserable. You’re turning tricks for cash and Denise won’t stop fucking texting me either! OFF. PHONE OFF.

I’m sorry Angel. I wasn’t there. I’m so sorry. For the both of us. I need to make things right. The only way I can.
New tab. Red Tube search: Angel la Cox.
Fuck this library.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Movie Review: Oblivion

Do you like science fiction films? 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes, Star Wars, Total Recall, Demolition Man, Independence Day, The Matrix, Moon, Wall-E? Any of those? Good. If so, you'll probably dig Tom Cruises' new film Oblivion. It's basically the bastard child of every major sci-fi film from oh, about the last 50 years. The familiarity factor makes sitting through Oblivion kind of fun...until that sensation morphs into a frustrating case of deja-vu.

It should be said that Oblivion has some good things going for it. First, the film is blessed with some amazing cinematography. I can't stress enough how gorgeous this film looks. Next, whoever designed the robotic drones deserves a high five in my book. Sure, they look like R2-D2 and HAL from 2001 on steroids, but they're just creepy as fuck and really stand out as one of the coolest elements of the film. Finally, Tom Cruise has two uber hot female costars who looked beyond gorgeous filmed in 4K. Cruise does his typical action hero stuff quite well here, always. This leads us to some of the film's many problems.

Tom Cruise is too old for this shit. Like I joked in my Mission Impossible 13 review, Tom Cruise is just too old to believably sell this stuff anymore. Yes he's still in great shape, he's handsome, he does his own stunts and saves orphans from burning buildings between takes, but that's the problem! He's Tom Cruise man! Over the course of his *gasp* four decade long career, he's done it all. I've lost count of how many times I've seen him shooting guns, getting blown up, driving fast cars/motorcycles/jets and now space ships. Christ, this is his second movie in a row where he's plays a guy named Jack. When the plot of your movie "borrows," so heavily from other films, the last thing you want is for the film's star to start plagiarizing himself as well.

"Now THIS is pod racing!"

Oblivion basically goes like this:

Oh look, Ethan Hunt from Top Gun is totally winning this pod racing scene. HAL/ Dr. Zaius turned David from Vanilla Sky, into Arnie from Total Recall. So Morpheus is Dr. Ian Malcom and Minority Report guy is Will Smith? But I thought he was Neo?

Well that was fun...and kind of nauseating. So Oblivion is a way cool action/pop corn flick with amazing visuals that pays serious, like major league, homage to great sci-fi films of yore. Tom Cruise is competent as Tom Cruise but I really wish he'd age gracefully and start taking some meaty dramatic roles again. His films have already grossed something like 7 billion dollars...what else does he have to prove? Born on the Fourth of July, A Few Good Men, Jerry Maguire, Magnolia, Collateral...remember those Tom? Come back to us. Please.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Suffocation @ The Vex, Los Angeles. 4-16-13.

Oh, the death metal show. It's been far too long since my last excursion into the extreme metal underworld. Back in the day, I'd spend all my extra cash on tickets, merchandise and gas for concerts, attending two or three a month. Ah to be a carefree youth again. Now I'm older, and poorer, and have different priorities in life...I can't believe it but this was my first metal show of the year and it's mid April!

So Suffocation are back with a new album and new drummer. I've lost count how many times I've seen this band over the years but it really doesn't matter, if you like metal, when Suffocation plays you go. End of story. They brought some rad opening acts along for the ride this time around. California's own Exhumed, Jungle Rot, and up-and-comers Rings of Saturn rounded out the bill. As much as I love Exhumed, I'd say Jungle Rot was the most solid of the tour's openers. Their brand of simple, thrash influenced old school death metal got a huge reaction from the crowd, prompting cheers and mosh pit violence alike. Exhumed was fun, but their sound was thin compared to Jungle Rot and just weren't as tight musically either. Bonus points for the chainsaw/blood and guts routine onstage though. Rings of Saturn...they have heart but really need to practice more. The brand of technical death metal they, try, to play is reserved strictly for the big dogs. Maybe in a couple of years they'll progress to the point where they can comfortably play this style of music but as of now, it just a tad bit too advanced for them.

Enter, Suffocation. The big dogs. After several hours of blast beats, booze, mosh pits and a surprising number of hot girls, New York's finest export took the stage and it was as if none of that other crap had transpired. Instant Men In Black mind wipe. They opened with "Thrones of Blood" off Pierced From Within and I was home again. Standing along the right side of the stage, watching these death metal veterans bashing out old favorites and new songs alike, the audience screaming (and pitting, and stage diving, and...), it reminded me why I got into this crazy metal stuff in the first place. It's just so damn fun. Watching these guys play their brand of "fuckin brutaal" death metal as front man Frank Mullen would say, is like watching a hoard of charging rhino's solve rubicks cubes as they pummel every and all creatures in their path. The music is so complicated, so cartoonish-ly heavy and violence inducing, you can't help but marvel and smile at the end result. Especially when a band can pull it off live as masterfully as Suffocation has been doing for more than 20 years. Their new (old, long story) drummer Dave Culross is a fucking beast of man. He can adapt his playing style to fit all their old material crafted by original drummer Mike Smith (who is rad as hell in his own right) but all the new songs that he wrote (as well as the jams from the Despise The Sun EP from his previous, brief stint in Suffocation) are just on a whole other level.

I'm glad Frank Mullen joined the tour for their West Coast dates. Dude has a family and full time job and can't tour with Suffocation all year anymore. Sure, the dudes they have filling in for him are monsters themselves (John from Dying Fetus, Bill from Decrepit Birth) but Frank IS Suffocation. It just wouldn't be the same without him and his weird faces/onstage rants/awesome NYC accent. Did I mention I love this band?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Tragedy in Boston

A series of explosions rocked the Boston Marathon yesterday, killing 3 and injuring over 100 more.

Despite all the senseless carnage in today's world, events like this are still horrifying when they occur (and they do, all too often it seems). When the news of the bombing first broke yesterday, I immediately went online for more information. I couldn't bare to watch traditional news coverage on television, where the bumbling anchor repeats the same three facts over and over and spends more time discussing the things they don't know then informing the audience about what's actually taking place. Through internet searches and social media, a stream of information was made available to me, including graphic photos that in a sense, provided far more raw and honest than I bargained for. Luckily, the death toll in this attack is considerably low, despite the massive injuries which have included several limb amputations, considering how populated the area was. Even with such a relatively small death count, the heart breaking images provided by both news agencies and spectators monitoring the race, has made this one of the most jarring tragedies on American soil I can recall.

Bummed out? I know. Time for some uplifting music to help lift our collective spirits. From Boston's (well Salem actually) own favorite DIY hardcore motivational enthusiasts Converge, this is "Last Light," and it's dedicated to the hearts still beating. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Movie Review: The Place Beyond The Pines

Prepare yourself, this film is amazing on multiple levels. First, it's amazing that someone even tried to tackle a project like this. Director Derek Cianfrance's follow up to 2010's Blue Valentine continues exploring the dynamics of dysfunctional families. While his last film was about the woeful dissolution of a marriage, The Place Beyond The Pines highlights the relationship (or lack thereof) between fathers and sons, spanning across three generations.

Like I said before, this film is epic in every sense of the word. A triptych tale, The Place Beyond The Pines is basically three separate movies that momentarily converge at one crucial point. Again, it's amazing that someone could even get a movie like this made in this day and age. Ryan Gosling plays a motorcycle riding drifter named Luke who is blindsided when a fling from his past results in fatherhood. He turns to a life of crime in order to provide for his son, and that's when he crosses paths with Avery, a rookie cop with boy scout sensibilities and a young son of his own, played by Bradley Cooper in one of his best performances to date. That's all I can divulge without going into spoiler territory. Let's just say, it's epic. You get action, thrills, nerve racking suspense, echoes of romance, heartbreak, violence, tragedy, all these elements hit you at different times as you wonder just what the hell is happening.

The cast, led by Gosling and Cooper, deliver outstanding performances. Eva Mendes, Ben Mendelsohn, Dane DeHaan and a uber sleazy Ray Liotta are especially noteworthy. It's amazing that someone as beautiful as Mendes (or Gosling...or Cooper) can appear so believably haggard and run down over the course of a movie like this. Gorgeous actors, coupled with astonishingly beautiful shots of Upstate New York's wilderness, saturated with tremendous amounts of grief and melancholy to the point where they're no longer pretty...just sad. My boy Mike Patton's score for the film only accentuates the emotional beatdown that transpires onscreen. Good (in a morose kind of way) stuff there.

As awesome as this film's trailer is, don't fall into it's trap. It's more akin to The Godfather than Heat if you catch my drift. Is The Place Beyond The Pines perfect? Definitely not. Is it a challenging and ambitious film that deserves both praise and discussion? Totally. Props to Derek Cianfrance for even trying this one, but congratulations for it coming together so well.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Clint Mansell @ The Orpheum, Los Angeles. 4/6/13.

Clint Mansell, film composer extraordinaire, has crafted some of the most powerful and awe inspiring music of the last decade. The music he creates for the screen ends up being as crucial, if not more so, than any actor's performance or visual effects. He's composed the scores for all of Darren Aronofsky's films (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, The Wrestler and Black Swan) as well as other movies like Moon, Last Night and the recently released film Stoker. Last Saturday, Mansell performed a rare concert, backed by an amazing band that included the Sonus Quartet, at the historic Orpheum Theatre in Downtown Los Angeles.

The Orpheum was the perfect venue for this show. It's easily, hands down, the most beautiful theater I've ever stepped foot in. Built in 1926, the Orpheum, with it's opulent French themed architecture/decor, was the crown jewel of Los Angeles' vaudeville circuit. It's where a young Judy Garland was first discovered in 1933. A place with such rich cinema and entertainment history like this made Clint Mansell's stunning blend of film and music compositions all the more meaningful.

Mansell proved to be a gracious host this evening. He acknowledged how rare and odd this whole event was, first that he even left the house on a Saturday night and second, that people actually wanted to see the background noise to some little indie films "nobody's even seen." He began the night with the film score that started his new career, the electrified/paranoid music from Pi.

All of Mansell's compositions differ from each other but all retain his unique signature on them. Perhaps that's why Mansell is such a success. His music is not only tailor made for each film, but it resonates on a deeper emotional level as well.

The selections from Moon and Stoker were more subdued than the manic score from Requiem for a Dream, just as The Wrestler's score featured more guitar based instrumentation than his previous works. Mansell shared some background information about each piece beforehand, revealing some amusing anecdotes into his creative process as well as insights into each film's production.

This was easily one of the best audiences I've been privy to in some time. The crowd, consisting of people from all walks of life (rich folks from the west side, Hollywood types, art school/hipsters, OCD movie geeks, etc.) sat in absolute silence/awe the entire night. Nobody talking amongst themselves, taking blurry iphone pics or recording video, none of that. I saw like two people taking pictures on my side of the venue. With the respectful audience, the gorgeous venue and the all engrossing performance on stage, I'd this concert was executed flawlessly.

Mansell ended the night with his epic arrangement from The Fountain, "Death is the Road to Awe." The standing ovation at the end was definitely well deserved.

Monday, April 8, 2013

American Psycho w/ Huey Lewis & Weird Al

Holy Jesus. American Psycho is one of my favorite movies. You know this. I had a different post planned for today but I just had to share this awesome parody of the film I stumbled upon because, " was a laugh riot."

Here is the original clip from the film where Paul Allen meets his demise:

This brings us to new Funny or Die clip:

How fucking cool was that? I must have watched this like 3x in a row when I first found it. Huey Lewis doing a Patrick Bateman to Christian Bale. My head is still spinning over this one.

Friday, April 5, 2013

under-covers: The Cranberries / Faye Wong

Perhaps, one of the greatest guilty pleasures in my life: the perverse enjoyment I get listening to musicians covering other artist's songs. The weirder the cover, the better! It doesn't matter how awkward or horrible the quality (shitty cell phone video, I'm looking at you), I'm an absolute sucker for this stuff. Here's the latest installment of "under-covers."

The Cranberries are an Irish rock band that pretty much highjacked the American airwaves during the alt-rock boom of the early/mid 90's. They were huge and pretty much everywhere. This band wrote some of the catchiest and most haunting songs imaginable. I was a young brown kid growing up in Southern California, I had never heard anyone sing like Cranberries vocalist Dolores O'Riordan before. Such beauty and almost intimidating power in her voice, I almost didn't know what to make of it. Here is one of their biggest hits from back in 1993 and the subject of today's under-covers installment, "Dreams." 

Yep. Still potent twenty years later. I immediately conjure images of lush forests, waterfalls and for some reason, pirates. I don't know whats up with that but, the song still does the trick.

Now we move on to the challenger. I had no idea who Faye Wong was until I finally watched Wong Kar-waii's brilliant 1994 film, Chungking Express late last year. Turns out Faye Wong is one of the most famous celebrities in Asia (which puts her in the running for one of the most well known people on Earth) and not only steals the show as an actress in Kar-waii's film, but she sings too! Here is her Cantonese version of "Dreams," used in one of the best scenes from the movie.

I'll be honest, I was not prepared for that amazing cover when I first watched the film. I heard the beginning of the song and thought, oh cool they're using The Cranberries which would have been ok since Chungking Express features the extensive use of Western music (well, one song in particular)...but then I heard the words in Cantonese. The sudden language barrier made this old song feel new and even more ethereal and dream like than ever before. That and Faye Wong has a super dreamy voice (see what I did there???). I didn't even know she was the one singing until after the fact, which made me swoon for this cover version even more.

So what's the verdict? I love them both. Both versions transported me to exciting foriegn worlds upon first listen. Props to The Cranberries for writing a song that holds up in any language.