Sunday, July 20, 2014

Non-Stop (2014)

JohnnyTwoToes reviews this tense airborne thriller

After seeing a string of rather disappointing films, FINALLY Non-Stop lifted my spirits. It is cliched but enjoyable garbage in a good way in all the ways Pompeii and I, Frankenstein were not. 

Liam Neeson plays a US air marshall named Bill Marks and he has seen better days. A borderline alcoholic, a failed marriage and all of the necessary disappointments that are required of this character. Neeson wears it well, too. While on a transatlantic non-stop flight from New York to London, Marks receives texts to his phone that state the other passengers will start meeting the grim reaper if $150 million dollars is not deposited into an account of the terrorists choosing. The rest of the film is how Marks finds out who it is.

Non-Stop is a different take on Neeson's Taken action persona and although this film is ludicrous it is never the less fun to watch. Juame Collet-Serra, who directed Neeson in the 2011 film Unknown, directs again here and they both keep the tension palpable and Neeson's performance is convincing. 

There is an attention to detail in Non-Stop which was kind of neat. Whenever, Neeson and the terrorist send texts back and forth, the viewer sees them type but they have tweaked it by showing they both have spell check. It brought a chuckle from me. They might be crazy but at least they don't need to worry about how to spell. Logically, this makes sense and might not seem like a big deal, but it is this attention to the smaller details that made this film work for me. 

Clearly, Neeson carries Non-Stop, but the script and story written by John W. Richardson, Christopher Roach and Ryan Engle, bristles with a series of twists and turns that I never saw coming. The plane is populated with your standard characters but the acting is solid from even the smallest of parts so that the story sells and I believed the dire situation. Julianne Moore is Jen, the female interest who does not seem to know what she believes. Is Marks crazy? Is the situation out of his control? She is dubious of Marks and Moore's performance is convincingly effective.

John Ottman's score is an amalgamation of electronics, percussion and orchestral arrangements, keeps the pressure on and is well worth the purchase. All in all, Non-Stop is enjoyable thanks largely to Neeson's focused performance, a fine supporting cast, decent script, solid direction and a great score. NOT coming soon to a plane near you, is Non-Stop. It is available on DVD and ON DEMAND. The soundtrack is available on CD and download. Non-Stop-***1/2 out of 4

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Israeli Way to Divide and Conquer

Third Class Citizens in their own country!

The Palestinian people may aspire for a single national identity but sadly Israel even controls that!!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Elastica - The Menace (2000)

The second album from the abrasive brit alt punk rockers!

In 1995, the female fronted Britpop Alternative Rock Band Elastica headed by ex-Suede members  Justine Frischmann and Justin Welch appeared out of nowhere to score a hit with irresistible "Connection." That song, which borrowed heavily from an older track by Wire, propelled Elastica’s self-titled debut album to the top of the British charts and earned the band a spot on that year’s Lollapalooza tour. 

Elastica then seemed to disappear almost as quickly as they burst onto the scene – their only new songs in the next five years being the occasional soundtrack tune but after years of inactivity, Frischman and company bounced back into the music world with The Menace, their second album in 2000 

Elastica leader Justine Frischman’s most significant musical contribution of those years came when her ex-boyfriend, Damon Albarn of Blur, wrote the entire 13 album (Blur's 6th) about the couple’s breakup. There are plenty of clues on 13 which indicate that Frischman’s view of the separation was much different than Albarn’s. Whereas Albarn saw the couple’s split as a tragedy, Frischman hints that it was simply time to move on. This is especially true on the track "My Sex," a spoken-word piece with an ambient background. In this song, Frischman details what she wants out of a relationship. 

The Menace opens with the computerized sound of a barking dog, then kicks in with some heavily damaged guitars and videogame sound effects. Frischman then sings, "Don’t want you on your back/ I just got on my feet" - the first indication on the album that she feels more liberated than heartbroken. Musically, The Menace bears little resemblance to Elastica’s debut disc. "Image Change" sounds more like a Massive Attack remix of an Elastica song than an actual Elastica song; "Your Arse, My Place" could be a lost Bikini Kill single; "Miami Nice" is a trippy electronic instrumental; "Kb" sounds like Atari Teenage Riot on Prozac; and "How He Wrote Elastica Man," which is a collaboration with Mark E. Smith of the Fall. The Album closes with a cover of Trio’s "Da Da Da," leading us to wonder if Frischman chose the song for it’s repeated "I don’t love you/ You don’t love me" lyric. 

The Menace was probably too abrasive for modern rock radio, so many didn’t expect another "Connection" filling the airwaves. Although it is not a great album like their hit debut, it is a very creative effort and is mostly entertaining. There’s not a wasted track to be found, which is more than can be said for 90% of the alternative rock albums released that year.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Counselor (2013)

JohnnyTwoToes finds this slowburning thriller a sedate but good watch!

When Ridley Scott is in great form, he can be simply awesome as evident in Prometheus, Gladiator, Black Rain and perhaps his best Alien. Then he does, what I would call 'smaller' offbeat films like The Counselor that flop but are decent in their own right. The Counselor is just such a film. 

You have to be in the mood for it, and I happened to be in the mood for a loquacious drama about a Counselor (Michael Fassbender) who decides he wants to do a one time drug deal to make some quick cash. Only once he is in too deep, does he realize it is too late to get out before everything he has can be taken from him. The Counselor was bashed by critics and audiences, for the most part and it is sometimes a bit monotone as the Counselor meets with one contact after another and has the same seemingly cryptic conversation with each of them. I began to understand that this is how they probably talk to one another. They don't talk about things directly since they are criminals conducting criminal enterprises. They talk AROUND things, so they can still follow their dialogue when no one else can. That keeps them out of the slammer. 

The Counselor was written by scribe Cormac McCarthy who is credited with a great screenplay like No Country For Old Men (also starring Javier Bardem, who is in The Counselor with hair looking like he stuck his finger in the light socket) and the novels The Road which was turned into a good film with Viggo Mortensen and All The Pretty Horses with Matt Damon. McCarthy has an ear for how people talk and although most of the dialogue in The Counselor is a bit removed from everyday conversation that we have, it was still interesting to hear how people talk who are hiding themselves and their lives from everybody else. 

The movie is well cast with Fassbender in the title role, Bardem who is client and an associate with his girlfriend, Malkina coyly played by Cameron Diaz and the counselor's fiance played by Penolope Cruz. Brad Pitt is Westray, who is also a client and an associate of the counselor. They all are in fine form, but none of them will be remembered for this film. Their work is decent but not earth shattering. 

The Counselor features some grisly violence and it moves well in spots but Scott's direction is a bit too laid back and I can see why people ran gagging from the theaters in this one. Still, it has Fassbender who is becoming a household name and he is terrific. His counselor is a decent looking rogue (no pun intended to his X-Men friends), who thinks by his sheer looks, charisma and charm will protect him in the drug world. Oh, he could not be more wrong. These are butchers who will kill anyone they even SUSPECT is dishonest. 

After things go horribly wrong does the counselor's world begin to unravel with expected consequences, which begs the question. How could the counselor be so stupid? How could he not know that if things go wrong, who they were going to come for? There are some surprises and nice noirish themes throughout and on this night I liked The Counselor for all of its odd charm and quirky storytelling. It was also nice to see Rosie Perez back in an A list film even though it was a small supporting role and new film score composer Daniel Pemberton does a nice ethnic sounding score that is worth getting if you are so inclined. 

Would I watch The Counselor AGAIN? No. But, for what it was I did like what I saw. Is it for everyone? NO. But is you don't want a film that assaults you and all of your senses, and are looking for a quiet pot boiler on a quiet night, The Counselor might be just for you. The Counselor-*** out of 4

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Dancer in the Dark (2000) - Selmasongs

An acquired taste for the senses

I just finished watching (again) the Palme d'Or winner at the 2000 Cannes, Dancer in the Dark by Danish Dogme director Lars Von Trier. This was the third film in von Trier's "Golden Heart Trilogy"; the other two films being Breaking the Waves (1996) and The Idiots (1998).

Dancer in the Dark is a powerful fable of a blind woman sacrificing her life for her son, and the experience of this movie may be traumatic. Astonishingly heartbreaking and extremely thought-provoking (depending on how you interpret this movie), the theme of Dancer in the Dark is using the ability to fantasize to overcome the suffering in reality. 

This Danish musical drama is almost like a weird documentary with crime-tinged undertones, a hauntingly good soundtrack and beautifully shot with handheld video cameras. As the main character, Icelandic popstress Bjork is Selma, a naive, goodhearted mother who is going blind from a congenital disorder and working in a factory to save money to rescue her son from the same fate. After multiple misfortunes, to say the least, Selma suffers a devastating consequence brought upon by her own trust and naivete.

In her darkest moments, Selma copes by imagining her dismal surroundings to be the setting for a grand musical. To her ears, the machinery in the factory where she works becomes a symphony, and workmen dance with brooms with the grace of Fred Astaire. Men lift up women in leg splits as bells chime, and day-to-day activities are choreographed as if the world is perfect, and we exist to sing jubilantly in praise of it. Instead of her grim murder trial, Selma imagines the courtroom as her grand finale, with friends there to catch her should she fall. 

Bjork is a stand out in this movie and fully justifies the many accolades and awards she received for this film. An esoteric movie this is, the second time viewing was an insightful and refreshing experience! And those interested in the fantastic soundtrack, must checkout Bjork's Selmasongs shared below!

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Great Gatsby (2013)

JohnnyTwoToes is pleasantly surprised with this big-budget remake!

The Great Gatsby is really a timeless story. Whether in the early decades of the twentieth century or in the early decades of twenty-first century, it is a story of how money and power alters one's vision of reality. As a fan of the 1974 version with Robert Redford in the title role, I was kind of dreading Baz Luhrmann's vision of F.Scott Fitzgerald's novel. I did not think they could remake this without trashing the story with modern visuals (something Luhrmann is known for) and making the story hip to sell of few tickets instead of just holding to Fitzgerald's original intent. Let's face Luhrmann's films are either loved or hated. Still, as remakes go the new version that is now out on video is actually a pretty good one. I was pleasantly surprised. 

Leonardo DiCaprio is Jay Gatsby, a flamboyantly wealthy young man that does not have much of a past to speak of but has taken up residency next to a World War I vet, Nick Carraway on Long Island, New York. Overlooking the vast water that separates the island from the mainland, Nick has settled into a modest home and has a modest job as a banker. He is quiet, a bit shy and seeks the quieter life. That is until Jay Gatsby buys the mansion next door. Gatsby with his extravagant lifestyle, peaks Carraway's curiosity and the two men become good friends. Nick seems to be entranced by the lavish parties and all of the opulence that Gatsby has but for Gatsby it is a means to an end. Her name is Daisy (Carey Mulligan). Gatsby has set his sights on Daisy and Daisy seems smitten with Gatsby. But Daisy is married to a boorish lout, named Tom. Tom is a schmuck, no doubt. But is he that dumb to not suspect what is going on with his wife and Gatsby? Nick, at first, is nothing more than an observer of the behaviors of these strange people. As the story progresses, Gatsby's infatuation with Daisy becomes almost too obvious and the conflict begins to head towards a tragic end. Nick by film's end. is as emotionally involved as Gatsby. The bigger they come the harder they fall. Gatsby falls hard. 

The Great Gatsby is not a perfect film, but Luhrmann has made an interesting one where the characters all seem to have a lot more going on in their minds than they say and that is especially true of Tom, played beautifully by Joel Edgerton. He is crude, callous and one begins to wonder what Daisy ever saw in him. How can she not fall in love with the handsome and dashing Jay Gatsby? Luhrmann and Craig Pearce's script dances around each character's thoughts that are never expressed but, yet I began to see by their actions what was going on in their minds. The film is viewed primarily through Nick's eyes and he has come back from the war seeking the quiet life but when he meets Gatsby, a whole new world opens up to him and Nick starts to think that, maybe, this could be him one day. The right thing leads to another... 

The casting of this film is flawless. Leonard DiCaprio is on a winning streak and he has distinguished himself as a Hollywood legend in the making. His performance as Gatsby is terrific as he balances his money and power with madness and a desire to possess Daisy at all costs. Carey Mulligan is simply radiant as Daisy. She is a frail thing that can't seem to make up her mind as to what she wants. Toby Maguire is perfect as Nick. He starts out in the film as a mousy kind of a fellow but invests all of his emotion into the goings on at the Gatsby estate. He invests too much. The remainder of the cast is rock solid with Adeliade Clemens as Catherine, Daisy's dearest friend, Isla Fisher is perfect as the emotionally wrecked Myrtle Wilson and Jason Clarke is her brooding gas station attendant husband, George. 

The Great Gatsby is stuffed with wall to wall production, elaborately produced and full of lush colors, lavish costumes and sets. This is Luhrmann's strength but it is not the only thing going on. The acting is flawless and the script is smart. It lets the audience make up their own minds as to how the characters react and I have to say that is not something you see in films today. Today, films seem to want to describe EVERYTHING and nothing is required of the viewer. The only problem I had with this version is that is tends to sputter in spots. I also felt the modern day music that seems to be peppered throughout the film was a little garish. The score by Craig Armstrong is terrific and it could have been more prevalent throughout the film. The score is worth purchasing on its own and the song, "Young and Beautiful" is heart wrenching and is also worth purchasing as a single download. Still, The Great Gatsby is a solid film, well produced, acted, written and directed. This remake is a pleasant surprise. The Great Gatsby-*** out of 4

Friday, July 4, 2014

MTV Unplugged In New York - Nirvana (1994)

Acoustic Nirvana for Nirvana Fans

When Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" reached millions of disenchanted young people in 1991, the grunge nation was born. When Nirvana's Kurt Cobain killed himself at the age of 27, that era started to fade. This acoustic performance, which was Nirvana's last time on television, is one of those rare records that defines an era in grunge rock music. 

On MTV Unplugged In New York, Cobain and company (including Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl) spend a lot of time paying tribute to their influences. Nirvana performs songs by the Meat Puppets, the Vaselines, and David Bowie. Cobain's blistering interpretation of Bowie's "The Man Who Sold the World" is one of few remakes that sounds better than the original. One disturbing note is that, of the six remakes on this disc, all six are either about death, the price of fame, or both.

While many may disagree, Cobain did not possess a great voice, and he wasn't a virtuoso guitarist. What made Nirvana's music special was the amount of feeling that Cobain put into every song and performance. Kurt didn't just sing his songs, he felt them. Cobain preferred to hit a bad note with a bead of sweat than to sing the right note without emotion. For many, that quality made his music hard to listen to. For others, it made him the best performer of this decade. A prime example of this can be heard on the unplugged versions of "Pennyroyal Tea" and "Where Did You Sleep Last Night." 

MTV Unplugged In New York gives us a taste of what might have been had Cobain not decided to commit suicide. It is the profile of an artist who discovered that success does not equal happiness. Kurt Cobain took his own life before we were ready to lose him, but he left us with songs that will never be forgotten by those who really heard them.

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