Monday, March 31, 2014

The Family (2013)

JohnnyTwoToes finds this french themed crime comedy an uneven ride

Luc Besson's newest film, The Family stars Robert DeNiro as a former mobster who has turned state's evidence against his criminal "family". As a result, he and his own family, the Manzoni's, have been relocated to Normandy, France under the Witness Protection Program under the authority of F.B.I. agent Robert Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones). 

The problem is the Manzoni's seem to always bring un-needed attention to themselves by misbehaving so the F.B.I. is running out of places to hide them. When in Normandy, the Manzoni family sets about starting over.......again. The son, Warren (John D'Leo) after some bumps at school with the local bullies, starts operating a criminal enterprise at the school running numbers, extortion, cheating on school exams and all sorts of extra curricular activities, none of them legal. The daughter, Belle (Dianna Agron) has set her sights on the new exchange teacher in school, with her own "extra curricular' activities. Maggie, the mother (Michelle Pfeiffer) has her own problems just getting used to another relocation. Which brings us to Giovanni Manzoni or Fred Blake as he and his family have been named for this relocation. He claims to be a writer, and he is trying to write his version of his life with Agent Stansfield who is worried what Manzoni will say. Mr. Manzoni....errrr..I mean Mr. Blake also has his own fish to fry with the local water company and the chemical treating plant that sits not too far from the water plant. Meanwhile, the criminal 'family' is exhausting all avenues of searching for Giovanni and his family for snitching. 

The Family is an oddly uneven film that seems to not know what it wants to do. Is it a social satire, a fish out of water story, an action film, dark comedy, slapstick or an amalgamation of everything? If it is an amalgamation then it works best as a satire. 

There are a few funny moments mostly with the kids at their school. John D'Leo and Dianna Agron shine as brother and sister who both deal with their new school in their own way and film has some fun with that. DeNiro and Pefeiffer have some chemistry as husband and wife but The Family's plot is based on AMAZING coincidences, most notably a quote used in the local newspaper that leads up to your standard climactic shootout. There is more than just one coincidence that seems to rely heavily on a script (written by Besson and Michael Caleo based on Tonino Benacquista's book Malavita aka. Badfellas) which is scattershot all over the place. 

Some material hits the mark but mostly, The Family is so uneven that it can't be taken seriously when it wants to be and the humor comes across uncomfortably since each character resorts to extreme violence to resolve it. There are other plot gimmicks as well that are introduced but never dealt with at all. Yet, this is not an awful film and there are some fun moments, but overall, the material is too dark to be laughed at and the real meat of this film is lost with the extra trimmings of too many paper thin characters and far fetched plot devices that undermine the whole point of the film. The Family is better than Stand Up Guys, but that is not saying much. The Family-**1/2 out of 4.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Pearl Jam - Yield (1998)

Pearl Jam's Second Best Album. Period!

After the commercially and artistically disappointing 1996's No Code, Grunge pioneers Pearl Jam returned with their best disc since their smashing 1991 debut album Ten. Despite the amount of pressure on the band at that period, Yield sounds like a really good jam session that someone caught on tape. The band sounded looser, more sincere, and more inspired than they had on any album since their debut. A delight if you are a Pearl Jam or a 90s grunge rock fan like me!

Yield opens with the raucous "Brain of J." This song sends a strong signal that Pearl Jam was every bit as viable in 1998 as they were in 1992. Next up is "Faithfull," one of two songs written on the same day by guitarist Mike McCready. This song has a wide dynamic range, opening with McCready’s soft strumming before reaching what has been called "the Pearl Jam groove." The other track McCready wrote that day is Yield’s first single, "Given to Fly." Even though the song borrows quite heavily from Led Zep’s "Going to California," it’s still one of the most powerful tracks Pearl Jam had recorded in years. 

Another of Yield’s highlights, "Wishlist," finds the band more optimistic than in year’s past. Did you ever think you’d hear frontman Eddie Vedder sing, "I wish I was a messenger and all the news was good"? In fact, the overall feeling on Yield is more positive than on any of the band’s other CDs. Whatever the reason for this change may be, it was a welcome one and critics and fans alike positively loved this album. 

Other highlights on Yield include the folksy "Low Light" and the powerful "In Hiding." Other than one ill-advised, untitled track, there are no bum tracks on Yield, which makes it a drastic improvement over No Code. In the end, Yield is Eddie Vedder’s show. His stock may have dropped in the last few years, but he’s still one of rock’s premier frontmen. Vedder skillfully handles the wide range of emotions and topics on Yield, and he sings with a renewed sense of urgency. Grunge may be dead (well, almost), but Pearl Jam fortunately are still very much alive.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

This is the End (2013)

JohnnyTwoToes is so so hugely disappointed with this misfire!

I must say I was stunned by this film. This Is The End is the newest film from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg and if they thought people where going to laugh at this film then I must not know what funny is. The cast all play themselves as they converge at James Franco's home for a party. Until that is, the Apocalypse happens and literally all hell breaks loose and the group has to band together to survive while staying at Franco's place. 

With a cast that has Rogen, Franco, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson and Emma Watson (yes, Hermione from the Harry Potter franchise) along with countless other cameos from Paul Rudd to Michael Cera to Rihanna this film should have been a laugh riot. I sat unmoved by anything that happened on screen. Who thought this was funny?

I am definitely no prude, but I have never seen such a gratuitously and unnecessarily vulgar film as bad as This Is The End. There was not one chuckle, not one moment of freshness in this film. If you want to enjoy watching people yell, curse, hurl vile and disgusting comments about perverse sex acts back and forth and for good measure watch people get stoned then this is your kind of film. Stoner films can be done well. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is a perfect example. Dazed and Confused is another example. I can still appreciate a clever and wit film about people who do get high. Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle is another example of how to do a stoner comedy. Sadly this wasn't one.

This Is The End was written by Rogan and Evan Goldberg who also did the screen story based on a short film "Jay and Seth Vs. The Apocalypse". If it was unintelligible as a short film of nine minutes, it is even worse at almost 120 minutes. The film is quite content to let the actors play themselves but they come across as a bunch of jerks. Who would want to hang out with these guys? Is this the image they want to go for. It tries to make a point towards the end of the film about being a good person, but it is too little, too late.

And to soil little Emma Watson in this film is unconscionable. She is however, old enough to know better but she is trying to break the image of being a wholesome little girl. This is not the film for her to break that image. I get that. There is a whole scene as the guys discuss the "Rapey Vibe" when Ms. Watson enters the house. It is not funny, but offensive especially to women who have been victims of rape. 

There is nothing that works in this film, with the exception of Henry Jackman's score. Except for a scene or two, the actors come out as jerks, the script is nonsensical and the film has NO redeeming qualities what so ever. How this garnered the rave reviews it received is beyond me. It cost about 32 million dollars to make it (Rogan and Goldberg asked for more) and brought in over 100 million at the box office. I don't know whether to laugh or cry at that. I might have to amend or expand my 'Best and Worst' list of 2013 to throw this piece of crap in there. Do not waste your time. This Is The End-* out of 4

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Return of the Blog

Will be back! 

The Websnacker is out on a unconference at a beautiful tropical island deep in the Andaman sea, disconnected from the wired world and to a large extent, human civilization. Even this is an automated scheduled post. Like the iconic Terminator catchphrase, this blog will be back, very shortly! Trust the Websnacker!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Curve - Come Clean (1998)

A tuneful mishmash of electronic rock and dance music from the 90s

The Electronic Alternative rock band Curve’s debut album, 1992’s Doppelganger, is undoubtedly one of the most underrated albums of the ‘90s. This British duo pioneered the field of mixing gothic darkness, shoegazing dream pop and tuneful dance music, a field later popularized by likes of Garbage (and imitated by countless others). In fact, Curve could re-release Doppelganger (or their celebrated singles collection Pubic Fruit) and still sound more advanced than most of today’s bands. 

Curve took an extended vacation after 1993’s Cuckoo, but later the duo of Toni Halliday (vocals) and Dean Garcia (bass, guitar, programming) officially came back together again to produce this album. Halliday kept busy during the band’s break by working with various techno acts, while Garcia worked on a few film scores. The duo’s 1998 album, Come Clean, proved that their side projects had helped Halliday and Garcia sharpen their skills. In fact, it was not commercially successful but also critically praised.

Come Clean opens with the brilliant single "Chinese Burn", a song Halliday claims is "me talking to my alter-ego, the bad person inside me." Even after so many years, it’s as intense as anything I’ve heard it then. On the second track, "Coming Up Roses," Halliday and Garcia show a little bit of their R&B side. Garcia uses his electronic arsenal to make "Coming Up Roses" slink and slither behind Halliday’s sultry vocal performance. 

Tracks like this are Curve’s specialty – they were one of few bands that can sound as abrasive as Atari Teenage Riot one minute, and as smooth and graceful as Sarah McLachlan the next. Curve embraced remixes and electronic angst back when grunge was all the rage. Now Kurt is dead, Soundgarden has broken up (well, almost), and Bush is doing remix CDs and working on a new a album for a very long time. Sadly, Curve is also no more but its no exaggeration that Curve were ahead of their time. If you have never heard of Curve, start with this album.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Escape Plan (2013)

An Entertaining Popcorn Action Flick that thrives on the superstar chemistry

Now that Arnold Schwarzenegger is no longer the Governater of California and can focus on making movies again, we fans are all super elated. We know it won't be My Dinner With Andre or Citizen Kane but as a friend once said to me, "Movies are movies. Film is art. Some movies are made for different reasons, but film is STILL art." I guess there is enough to debate on that issue but Escape Plan is a cool ride. 

Escape Plan stars Sylvester Stallone as Ray Breslin, a master tactician for breaking out of prisons to show their flaws. He is a published author and the hottest commodity for someone testing their new prison facility. He receives an offer of 5 million dollars to breakout of a prison that is "off the grid". Ya know, black ops kind of stuff. The prison is high tech with all of the guards wearing creepy black face masks who carry tazer billy clubs as well as top of the line firearms. This prison supposedly houses the worst of the worst. The kind of scum sucking vermin that no one wants in their prison. So for a nice payday of 5 million dollars, why not? 

Well, nothing goes as planned and Ray is now in a prison with no way out. He does not even know where he is for help to come and find him. SNAFU'd. He meets Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger), a fellow inmate who seems to know more about Breslin than he lets on. The prison is run by Warden Hobbes (Jim Caviezel) who speaks very softly and has many big sticks at his disposal, most notable Drake (Vinnie Jones). It isn't long before Ray begins to look for a way out with the help of Rottmayer. Escape Plan is fun, I will give it that. 

Directed by Mikael Hafstrom, a Swedish director who has done everything from commercials in his homeland to TV series and miniseries. He has directed a couple of very fine horror flicks, 2011's The Rite with Anthony Hopkins and 1408 a rather excellent film about a doomed hotel room with troubled author John Cusack as the resident. Hafstrom knows how to play the audience and he does it very well here. Revealing little bits of information but still holding back to keep the viewers interested. 

The script, by Miles Chapman and Jason Keller is smart enough to not take itself too seriously but at the same time it is not insulting and the whole cast seems to be having fun. I escpecially liked Caviezel as the smarmy and truly detestable Warden Hobbes. He is firmly in command and is written with brains. These kinds of films are only as good as the bad guy is bad, and Caviezel is a snake. There are some surprises I did not see coming and although some of the humor falls flat, there is enough tongue-in-cheek cheese to keep a smile on your face. 

Arnold and Sly obviously enjoy working together and they have chemistry on screen and Alex Heffes's score is a jubilant mix of synth, percussion and a full orchestra. Escape Plan is so preposterous and over the top that no one can take this seriously and it's not meant to be taken seriously. Therein, is its charm. Overall, Escape Plan is enjoyable in its most ludicrous extremes. Escape Plan *** out of 4  - JohnyyTwotoes

Monday, March 3, 2014

Sinead O’Connor - Faith and Courage (2000)

Not her Best but still worth a listen.

Let's face it. Most of us were fans of the Irish singer Sinead O'Conner. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was also once a big fan of her and I still believe that her first two albums rank among the 100 best releases of the ‘90s. Songs like "Troy" and "The Last Day of Our Acquaintance" prove that O’Connor has tremendous talent, or at least had it once upon a time. 

After her first two albums, though, Sinead completely lost me and most of her other fans. "Am I Not Your Girl" was a complete snooze-fest, and "Universal Mother" was a lifeless compilation that lacked any semblance of passion or melody except a few stellar tracks. To make matters worse, Sinead’s lackluster music was completely overshadowed by the circus of her public life – she shredded a photo of the Pope, was ordained as a priest, and then "converted" to lesbianism or something on those lines.

Ok, the only thing that should matter with Sinead O’Connor is the music, though, so I was encouraged that her 5th album "Faith and Courage" was hailed as the "return" of Sinead O’Connor. The album opens with the pleasant "The Healing Room," but it really gets started with "No Man’s Woman." On this track, O’Connor reveals the amount of pain caused by the men in her life, and she vows to focus on her work instead of her relationships with men. This spirited track has become an anthem for feminists everywhere, and rightfully so. It’s one of the highlights of this album in both lyrical content and musical presentation. 

Other highlights include "Jealous," "Daddy I’m Fine" and "’Til I Whisper U Something," all of which O’Connor co-wrote with Dave Stewart (of Eurythmics fame). With Stewart, O’Connor finally found a collaborator that could bring out her best again. Unfortunately, the non-Stewart tracks on the album suffer in comparison. Faith and Courage falls well short of O’Connor’s first two albums, but the album is much stronger than anything O’Connor had done since those first two releases. There must be a reason why popular online mag - Slant still considers it one of the best albums of the 2000s.

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