Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year 2014

Wishing everyone a great 2014!

Happy New Year to all the nice folks who read this blog! On this momentous occasion as we enter a brand New Year, author Neil Gaiman's quote comes to mind "I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something"! 
Rock On, do new things and remember to like the Websnacker Fanpage on Facebook.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Gravity (2013) Film Score - Steven Price

JohnnyTwoToes reviews one of the very best film scores of 2013! 

Gravity (2013) is one of the best films I have seen all year, and the score should be, at the very least, given an Oscar nod but wanting and actual reality are two different things especially when it comes to the Academy awards. English born Steven Price has scored only a few main stream films, full length films; Attack The Block, The World's End and Gravity. Both The World's End and Gravity were this year's films, so Steven Price is a relative newcomer. 

Gravity is such a great film and deserves Oscar contention in so many categories but the score is so important to a film like this. It can either be a blessing or a curse. The fact that Price has completed a near perfect film with a score that is as thrilling and breath catching as the film itself. It is a mostly electronic score with only a few acoustical instruments used in the final theme, "Gravity". The first track, "Above Earth" is short but sets up the chaos that ensues, and "Debris" is a real nail biting track that pits our heroes for a battle to survive. "The Void" and "Atlantis" are more soothing tracks as our heroes figure out a way to make it to another space station. 

Mr. Price continues to break our hearts with the lengthy track of "Don't Let Go". After lulling us into our own space, he then jars us awake with "Airlock" and "Fire". "ISS" is a beautiful track as you can almost imagine floating high above Earth looking into the vastness of space. There are several long tracks that are peppered throughout the score which makes the run time of the score of about 75 minutes, THANKFULLY. 

Price sprinkles little bleeps, chirps and static in the background of his score to simulate the passing of satellites, and broken radio transmissions and actually times it with the pace of the track. He also abruptly breaks the song off as if to simulate a broken transmission which is a nice touch, along with a ringing tone like we would here when hear a loud bang that makes your own ears ring. "Parachute" and "In The Blind" is a mixture of hair raising and soothing elements to continue the plight of our heroes. "Aurora Borealis" and "Aninqaaq" are two more soft, melancholy tracks that have the little chirps of the passing satellites in its background and they are two of my favorite tracks; simply, heart wrenchingly beautiful. The remaining tracks, "Soyuz", "Tiangong", "Shenzou" and the end credits theme "Gravity" are a majestic mix of hope and life as our heroes seek to survive and not to give up hope. 

Composing a score is hard enough. Making all of the pieces come together to make the film work is a tough nut to crack. Composing a score for a film like Gravity would be even more difficult. We never really see the actor's faces so we rely on the actor's vocal fluctuation and the music to tell the story. The music for Gravity really is as much a character as any of the performances and director Alfonso Cuaron has constructed a film around the score rather than the score being chopped up and inserted in bits here and there. What drove the film for me was the score (not taking anything away from the acting and such) and Mr. Price has composed a heroically powerful score that deserves a listen to and it stands as its own creation, not just for the film. He is a composer to watch out!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Joyous Christmas and Happy Holidays

Wishing you all a Happy, Merry Christmas

Christmas is here again. From the Websnacker and his blogging crew, we thank you for your love and wish you a joyous Christmas, fun filled holidays and a smashing New year ahead! And remember, keep readin' so that we can keep bloggin'! Cheer on!!

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013)

JohnnyTwoToes is disappointed with this dull teen adventure fantasy 

Okay, so while I may not be the target audience for The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (TMI: COB), I still can hope for a remotely intelligent and thoughtful film with a dash of humor and adventure. RIGHT? Well, if you said yes to any of those questions or if you have a pulse and enjoy films, then TMI: COB is not for you. 

This film has been compared to other films like Harry Potter and Lord of The Rings not only in its subject matter but in its execution, with good reason. Of all the films this has been compared to,TMI: COB is an inferior rendition at the very best. Sorry, but I have to be honest. 

TMI: COB tells the story of a young girl named Clary (Lily Collins), who discovers she is a Shadowhunter; a demon killing Buffy if you will. She witnesses a strange killing in a nightclub on her birthday but only she can see it so, naturally everyone including her best friend, Simon (Robert Sheehan) think she is losing her marbles. Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower) is her mentor in the demon slaying world along with Alec (Kevin Zegers donning a very good British accent) and Isabelle (Jemima West). Clary's mother, Jocelyn (Lena Headey) harbors the dark secret of the Downworld but when demons take Jocelyn and put her into some kind of coma it is up to the Scooby gang to find her and slay some demons. *Yawn*. 

TMI:COB is a great looking film, visually. The cast is a great looking one, too, despite the over applied makeup to Jamie Campbell Bower as Jace. He looks like some kind of crossing dressing ghoul, complete with an almost anorexic frame, tattoos, sunken eyes and eye liner for those sunken eyes!!!

The problems with TMI:COB is pretty much EVERYTHING. It is poorly acted, the characters are one dimensional, the script (written by Jessica Postigo) is an amalgamation of not only Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, but Underworld, Blood and Chocolate, Blade and pretty much any teen fantasy film. This has all been done before and done better. 

Like I said, I know I am not the target audience but I am sure the Harry Potter films were INTENDED for a younger audience than an average adult. How is it a film like TMI is such a wretched one? Simple. The characters are all. Even when Jared Harris (Giles to Buffy's Clary), and Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the main villain, Valentine enter the film (almost 90 minutes into it), by then it is too little, too late. These characters have nothing intelligent to say or do and they all wander through set piece after set piece with dull action scenes and predictability throughout the entire story. How many times do we have to sit through the the hero and the heroine falling on top of each other, their lips nearly locked and their eyes entrancing each other as that fleeting sexual moment arises. Just as they seem to lock up in each others arms and passions, they immediately clear their throats and jump to their feet. Why? Because we can't have these two bumping uglies just yet. Sadly, we have two more films for them to do the deed and create more little Shadowhunters. There is that scene as well as a laughable one in which our hero and heroine lock lips in a building called The Institute. Yes, folks they lock up and the music swells and then it starts to rain on them as they embrace. IN THE BUILDING, mind you. Yes, just like Pig Pen from the Peanuts, who has a cloud of dust following him around wherever he goes, these two have well cued rain clouds. Either that or someone needs to get the sprinkler system looked at. I could just go on and on..

TMI: COB is an excruciatingly inept film in just about every area. Uninteresting, dull, predictable and enough sappy nonsense to make even a die hard teenage girl puke up her Coke and Juju beans. Only the visual effects and Atli Orvarsson's score seemed to keep me from gouging out my my eyes with my drink straw. Harry Potter and just about every other referenced film TMI: COB is derived from shows you can have a great script, intelligent and interesting characters and competent direction to make a great film that appeals to all demographics. Norwegian Director Harald Zwart (One Night At McCool's, 2009's Karate Kid) is more than able to direct good films but this is certainly not one of them. Worse news, yet? A sequel is coming in the not too distant future. Up to this point, with the same director and writer. They wouldn't? Would they? Oh, most certainly they would. City Of Bones: The Mortal Instruments-* out of 4.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Shoulda Been Home - Robert Cray

Revisiting a true Blues all time Classic

In his 2001 album, "Shoulda Been Home", the 5 time Grammy winner Robert Cray, one of the founding fathers of Contemporary Blues almost completely eschews that genre in favor of sweaty retro-style Memphis soul of the Hi and Stax variety. Using the twin tools of his guitar playing and singing, both equally smooth and soulful, Robert Cray helped reinvent the blues, and that’s not only a heavy burden to carry, in many ways it’s a horrible legacy to live down.

Not that Cray’s slick, sultry brand of blues has anything more than rudimentarily in common with that particular ilk of soulless, toothless, wankery. It’s just that he’s the Nirvana to their Bush, a great musician who broke through and opened the door for a wave of uninspired and homogenized imitations. Soulful, fiery and funky proof that slick and smooth doesn’t have to be boring and lukewarm and detached. Maybe that’s the reason why Shoulda Been Home finds Cray and his band singing and playing what is basically Blues-tinged Soul music and not the other way around. Or maybe the appeal of that old O.V. Hill, Otis Redding style music was just too irresistible. They certainly didn’t switch up their styles because of a lack of critical acclaim.

Each of the Robert Cray Band’s previous 8 albums have been nominated for a Grammy, including 1999’s Take Your Shoes Off, a Grammy winner that also mined the fertile Memphis Soul sound. Shoulda Been Home continues that winning formula, with Cray handling the songwriting on about half of the tracks. His originals are strong, holding their own and then some next to Mack Rice and Elmore James classics.

That’s right, Elmore James. Cray and co. certainly haven’t abandoned the blues completely. The Chuck Berry-ish version of James’ “Cry For Me Baby” is testament to that, as are many of the scorching yet restrained guitar solos that Cray sprinkles throughout the album. Remember to check out “Baby’s Arms,” a Cray original and the opening track -it’s an upbeat tune featuring an all-star horn section, and it’s soulful, fiery and funky proof that slick and smooth doesn’t have to be boring or lukewarm and detached.If you want a true Blues classic from the early 2000's, look no further!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Film Score of the Month - Alien (1979) Intrada Edition

JohnnyTwoToes revisits the masterpiece from the late Jerry Goldsmith 

When Alien first came out in 1979, it redefined the science fiction/horror genre of film making. Ridley Scott had made a relatively low budget film but one that was simply terrifying. Even today, after I have watched it numerous times, it still scares the crap out of me, part of the reason is the direction and the stellar cinematography. Knowing where to place the cameras and how a scene flows and very few films have gotten in right the way Ridley Scott has. You never really see the Alien completely and Scott is smart to let people's imagination do the terrifying. 

In the first 45 minutes of the film virtually nothing happens, but the mood of this film is already set creepy and ghastly from the opening credits sequence thanks to Scott's choosing of the late Jerry Goldsmith (1929 – 2004) to score Alien. When the score was originally released, it was only available on cassettes and vinyl. Since the technology was such that they could only hold, record and release about 30-45 minutes of music on cassettes and vinyl consumers were left with a minute amount of music. The actual released running time of the score's original release was 35:44, hardly enough to do it justice. Until Intrada Records released the complete 2 disc score in 2007. 

The entire score is simply one of the very best in the history of film scoring. Goldsmith and Scott had many go arounds about what Goldsmith wanted to do (a heroically brave sounding score) as opposed to Scott's desire for an abrasively scary score. Most of the time I would side with the composer, however in this case I am so glad the film makers opted for a creepy and terrifying score. The Intrada version has its share of the heroic side of Goldsmith's score but it has restored a great deal, if not all, of the terror inducing music that makes Alien such a treat. 

Disc 1 features the complete original score and the Main Title track is the heroic theme Goldsmith was going for. Hyper Sleep is a track that features a lone trumpet with some strings and backup horns and it is a beautiful track of a ship coming to life. The next few tracks, The Landing, The Terrain (very effectively chilling), The Craft, The Passage and The Skeleton all set up the horror that befalls the spaceship, Nostromo and her crew. The Passage features some very ominous wind like instruments coupled with some straining strings which will give you chills (at least, they did for me). There are a couple of pretty tracks like Nothing To Say, a mournfully light track. 

Most of Alien, though is wonderful array of screeching strings, belching brass and punctuating percussion. The remainder of the tracks are racingly terrifying as the battle for survival begins to take shape. Goldsmith has an entire orchestra (The National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Lionel Newman) at his disposal and he uses sounds from every section. As I said, brass, strings, percussion and surprisingly some pretty scary elements from the woodwinds. There are a few elements which also employed the use of electronics, something which Goldsmith incorporated in many of his action scores in the years following Alien, most notably in the Rambo scores. 

The last seven tracks on disc 1, 'the rescored alternate cues' are my favorite. Starting with the original opening theme that only appeared in its entirety on the re release of the director's cut which is PERFECT for what follows in the film. It should have been in the original cut to begin with, but Scott let Goldsmith insert his own choice. Both are great tracks, but the restored, rescored alternate cue is much better; perfection. 

Disc 2 features the original released soundtrack album which is decent but incomplete, however they have restored some more alternate bonus tracks like a film version of the Main Title which is a great track. Virtually all of the extra tracks on this 2 disc masterpiece are alternate, unused inserts and versions that are as hair raising as the complete score itself. 

Intrada Records has done a phenomenal job going back to the original masters and digitally remastering this score from start to finish. With 2 discs, 47 tracks and over two hours of music nothing, to my knowledge has been left out. Alien is a classic horror film that terrifies me 34 years later. Now, the music will do that, too. Enjoy!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Running Scared (2006) - Paul Walker's Finest

JohnnyTwoToes pays tribute to Paul Walker and reviews his very best!

By now, most of the world knows of the tragic death of actor Paul Walker (Sept 12, 1973 - Nov 30, 2013) and his friend Roger Rodas on Saturday in Valencia, California as a result of a horrific car crash. The two had just left a fundraiser for Mr. Walker's charity that was assisting people all over the world who had been the victims of natural disasters. The organization is called Reach Out Worldwide if you are interested in contacting them. 

Walker had been friends with Rodas for the last ten years and Rodas owned a car company called Always Evolving which dealt with high end car mechanics and such. What I heard from a lot of people over the years was that Paul Walker was not a good actor. I have had many fierce disagreements with people who know films and they maintain although he was in some good films, he was very limited in any range and did not have much to go one with what he DID have. Now that he is gone all I hear is how The Fast and the Furious franchise will not be the same without him. 

I have maintained and will always maintain that Paul Walker was a great actor and aside from his movie star good looks he was a rare breed in Hollywood. A man, who over the years became spiritual, thought of his fellow man as equals and did immeasurable good for thousands of nameless faces marred by natural disasters. So when people ask me what was my favorite Paul Walker film The Fast and the Furious franchise, as good as it has been, is not it. 2006's Running Scared (not to be confused with the buddy comedy of the same name from 1987 with Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines) was written and directed by Wayne Kramer and it is such a great film that I found it to be the best film of 2006 and Paul Walker's finest performance. 

Running Scared stars Walker as Joey Gazelle, a low level member of the local mob whose sole purpose is to dispose of guns used by his cohorts in crimes so the guns can't be tied to the criminals who used them. When one of the guns turns up missing Gazelle frantically tries to find it before it falls into the cops hands. One of the people that might know where the gun is, is a local boy who is friends with Gazelle's son. Once the cat is out of the bag, so to speak , there is nowhere to hide for Joey and his family, until he makes things right. 

Kramer's script is based on the graphic novel and this film has packed EVERYTHING into it. There were twists and turns I never saw coming and Vera Farmiga who plays Joey's wife is a revelation. Strong and sexy, she is the best thing to happen to Joey, ever. But this is Walker's movie. His acting his a tour de force. Frantically searching, Walker's Gazelle is smart and knows how to play both sides against the middle and Kramer's script is deliciously saucy and profane as Gazelle has to stay one step ahead of the good cops, the corrupt cops and his own criminal family, all of whom are gunning for Gazelle, they just don't know it.......yet. 

Walker is solid in this film from start to finish and his range goes from lovable father and husband to a cold, calculating criminal trying to survive. It is a star making performance but because of the lurid subject matter the film did not do much business and kind of went unnoticed. However, Kramer's film is a masterpiece! A perfectly constructed thriller that literally throws so many plot twists you will never see them coming and it respects the intelligence to follow the plot lines never talks down to the audience. 

Running Scared is not family viewing for its subject matter but it is a sharp, crisp and electrifying thriller and a true showcase for the acting of Paul Walker, in particular. Walker went on to work with Kramer in 2013's Pawn Shop Chronicles. I have not seen it but intend to and have heard it is a wild ride, as well. 

Paul Walker was taken too early for people to really enjoy what he could do in front of the camera. But one thing is for sure, when I think of Paul Walker's best films, Running Scared is at the top of my list. As for the latest The Fast and the Furious film which was scheduled to be released in July of 2014, there is no word on what and how will affect the film. Obviously, with Paul Walker gone that definitely will effect the film, but in which is unsure. The makers and the studio have already invested tens of millions of dollars into the 7th film and so it is too late to turn back now. Paul Walker would not have wanted that, anyway. The filmmakers will figure it out somehow, and hopefully it will be a fitting tribute to a fine actor taken too early. The show must go on. Running Scared-**** out of 4

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thank you for igniting something amazing!

Thanks for all the love

Sometimes, you forget to thank the nice people who make your life so happy in so many ways. Sometimes, you forget to tell them how much you really appreciate them for being an important part of your life. 

Sometimes, you forget your generous, large hearted fans, followers, readers, fellow bloggers, friends and family who spare their time and money for your blog and keep it alive!! So on Thanksgiving, here is a BIG THANK YOU to all the shiny, happy folks who keep fueling this blog to greater heights! You are a spark plug for good. Thanks for igniting something amazing. Thank you!!!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

JohhnyTwoToes loves this 2nd installment of the Star Trek Reboot

The long awaited sequel to the rebooted Star Trek franchise makes its way to Earth and this time it is called Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) directed by the in-demand director of the moment - J.J.Abrams who is also set to direct the new Star Wars movie. 

Star Trek Into Darkness (STID) features all of the cast returning with Chris Pine as Kirk, this time battling Benedict Cumberbatch's John Harrison (aka Kahn) as Harrison tears Starfleet a new one to exact his revenge. This one literally starts out with a bang from the first frame of film to the last and it is even better than its predecessor (though some fans disagree)

The film asks questions of loyalty, honesty and integrity and it does them justice with a fine script by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof that is intelligent, clever and witty. STID is not so much a retooled version of the 1982 Star Trek The Wrath of Kahn film as much as it is re imagined. Cumberbatch is a formidable foe and he is well written and acted; cold, calculating and unmerciful even when it comes to women he fights. 

I have avoided much of the intricacies of the plot because director J. J. Abrams and the writers have changed this version quite a bit from the 1982 version and I don't want to ruin any of this great film. All of the actors have been perfectly cast from the main ones down to the secondary performances including the absolutely stunningly, voluptuous Alice Eve playing Dr. Carol Marcus (remember her?). Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, John Cho, Simon Pegg and Anton Yelchin as the lead characters are just perfect. They could not have cast these films any better. Spock is probably the most difficult character to play and Quinto does it with quiet grace. Spock will always wrestle with his emotions and his ideas of what human emotions should be, as a Vulcan. It is a joy to see a character so well played by Quinto and it causes the audience to think, as well. 

Michael Giacchino's score is terrific, as well. The full orchestra just blasting away with beautiful melodies and harmonies with the action perfectly timed into the score. I did not think they could do another Star Trek film that outdo the first film, but they have. STID is masterfully directed; exciting, fun, funny, intelligent and one of the very best films of the year. Since we are in the holiday season for most people, if you are looking for a great family film, Star Trek Into Darkness is perfect fun. Star Trek Into Darkness-**** out of 4

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Jim Vierra & Friends

Great Country Rock with a Gospel Touch

For truly beautiful gospel country rock that breaks stereotypes of contemporary christian music, you must checkout JIM VIERRA & FRIENDS, the No. 1 band on the ReverbNation Christian - Gospel -Country charts for Tracy, CA. 

With inspiring lyrics, stellar musical workmanship, memorable tunes and great vocals like those found on "You're So Beautiful" and "We All Fall Down", this is high caliber country rock music with a divine  gospel  touch spearheaded by the multifaceted Jim Vierra, well known songwriter and producer for both Christian Contemporary and Country Music. 

You can hear/share it all on their Reverbnation page and also on the new website in the works! The exact link on the website is the listening library page! Dont fail to shower your love by liking their fanpage too! Support Independent Artists!!!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Man of Steel (2013)

JohnnyTwoToes critiques this bombastic but fun re-imagining of Superman

The latest reboot of another superhero series has made its way through the theaters and is now on DVD and On Demand; Zack Snyder's long awaited Man of Steel (2013). As a fan of the Christopher Reeve version of Superman, I was dubious of how good the remake (if you can call it that) could possibly be. I was surprised; somewhat. 

Man of Steel is not your daddy's Superman. The film opens on Krypton, Superman or Kal-El is being born amidst a dying planet. Natural resources gone and an imploding core have left Jor-El (Russel Crowe), Supeman's father little time to convince the planet's elders to seek life in the outer posts and start anew. Zod, a one time friend of Jor-El wants to take over the planet and rule with an iron fist, but Jor-El wants no part of Zod's blood lust for power. The two were once friends but, now, have nothing to say to one another. I loved that the first thirty minutes or so stayed on Krypton and we see a once glorious planet in its last days in a vivid display of visuals. 

Crowe is very good as Jor-El and I could see his point of survival. Zod is played with ruthless zeal by the terrific Michael Shannon and he tears up the screen with his rage and thirst for power. After the attempted coup d'etat fails, Zod and his minions are banished to the outer limits for all eternity. Once on planet Earth Kale-El knows he is different, knows what his powers are but not much else about his past. A kind couple (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) pick him up after he crash lands as an infant in a corn field. They raise and love him as their own, but Clark as he is now called does not seem to fit in. After a series of odd jobs from all over, he finally gets a line on a mysterious site that has been discovered and travels there to get a job and find answers. It is there he meets the lovely Lois Lane (Amy Adams). Once Zod and his gang of thugs have found Earth and demand the turning over of Kal-El or else, the action begins. 

Man of Steel is nothing like the originals. The originals were fun, lighthearted and Christopher Reeve was terrific as the title character. He was super enough to be accepted as Superman and bumbling enough to be Clark Kent. The whole while his performance willfully acknowledged to the viewer to not take these TOO seriously. Man of Steel, wants to be taken more seriously and it is a much darker and bleaker look for the franchise. That is not entirely a bad thing. 

The film was written by David S. Goyer and with some help on the story by Christopher Nolan and the script is intelligent however, the humor is sparse throughout the film. I particularly liked Kevin Costner's performance as Kal-El's Earthly father. It has a quiet peacefulness to it and, although he is not in the film that much his character stayed with me. Diane Lane is also solid as Kal_El's Earthly mother, as is the beautiful Amy Adams as Lois Lane. 

We don't get to meet Jimmy, yet but I think that will come in the upcoming sequels.Henry Cavill is a decent actor and he does do what is required of his character, but he does come across a little flat. But there is a strong supporting cast with Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, Richard Schiff as the kindly doctor who helps analyze what the discovery is, Harry Lennix as the lead General that wants to protect Earth at all costs, and the sexy Antje Traue, a cold hearted snake and Zod's right hand, so to speak. 

Much of the first half of the film is told in a series of flashbacks and some of the best moments in Man of Steel are the quieter ones with Henry and Costner, surprisingly. Man of Steel is a good film and I am going to recommend it. It has a compelling story, terrific visuals and is well acted. It is also a stark and bleak look at the man from Krypton, still there has been a lot of thought into how to make this film different.

Director Zack Snyder has delivered a bold and adventurous film that is a lot of fun. Snyder has re imagined this franchise and, for the most part it is a good film. I guess if I had any problems with it, they were the fact that the visuals tend to overshadow the story and the final climactic fight scene is a little too much over the top. But if you get a little weary of skyscrapers falling and trains being cast about like toys, just hone in on Hans Zimmer's wonderful score. I have been critical of his music for films recently, and thought he was scoring too much and not letting his creativeness regenerate between films,but he has composed a majestically gorgeous score that is worthy of a nod from Oscar. At almost two and half hours in length, Man of Steel might seem a little long but it is time well spent, mistakes or not. Man of Steel-*** out of 4

Monday, November 18, 2013

Barenaked Ladies - Maroon (2000)

The Canadian Rockers Best Album! 

When the Toronto alternative indie rock band  Barenaked Ladies splendid U.S. breakthrough album, Stunt, released in 1998 to criticial acclaim, it sold over 3 million copies and spawned the verbose hit One Week, which threatened to strip Barenaked Ladies of substance and staying power.

Rather than trade on the frisky charms of that fluke novelty, the Canadian rockers gamble on sophistication, serious life issues and a shameless wallow in classic ska-rap-indie pop in the marvelous Maroon. While Barenaked Ladies' fifth studio album, produced by Don Was, contains ample schoolyard mischief, it also grapples with mature subjects and distinctly unfunny themes, especially in the harrowing and graphic car-crash epic Tonight Is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel.

The 12 tracks nimbly fuse bright jangly guitars and peppy melodies with often disturbing or fretful lyrics. In first single Pinch Me, the dreary tale of a man mired in tedium unfolds over a shimmering slice of upbeat pop. The tug of war between the silly and the serious gets literal in Never Do Anything, where a cheeky remark counters every pained confession. Remove the strident and overwrought Sell Sell Sell and Maroon suggests itself as a worthy disc. In fact, their best! 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Frozen Ground (2013)

JohnnyTwoToes reviews this intense cop vs serial killer true crime story

The Frozen Ground (2013) tells the true story of Robert Hansen, Alaska's most famous serial killer. One could immediately dismiss this film as another money grab by Nicolas Cage, but to do that you would miss a rather interesting character study of a serial killer, the determined cop tracking him and the serial killer's victim who fortunately escaped. 

As stated, The Frozen Ground is a true story and John Cusack plays Hansen with a reserved calculating coolness Hansen became known for. Cage plays Jack Halcombe, an actual fictional character based on Glenn Flothe, the real cop who finally caught Hansen after more than a decade. Flothe was a dogged police officer who tracked Hansen for 13 years (Hansen's intelligence and bureaucratic red tape were the primary reasons for the difficult arrest). Both Hansen and Flothe were meticulous and both creatures of habits, but Hansen rather was well liked in the community. 

No one ever suspected Hansen was a savage brutal killer of prostitutes.An owner of a local bakery, Hansen spent most of his days working but at night and on the weekends he would kidnap, torture and then kill young women - mostly unsuspecting prostitutes - around 21 of them. As an accomplished pilot, as well, he would then transport the bodies to a remote cabin in the Alaskan wilderness and bury them out in the middle of nowhere. Before you know there is ten feet of snow and the frozen ground would seal up the victim's identity and any evidence linking Hansen to the killings. 

In the movie, one of his victims, however, Cindy Paulson manages to escape, but despite Jack's noblest intentions to make her a part of his own family, she insists on fleeing back to the Alaskan streets. When Hansen finds out she is still alive, it is a race for Jack to find her before Hansen does. 

The Frozen Ground plays like a movie of the week, but writer and director Scott Walker (in his first feature film debut) wisely keeps the action crisp, the dialogue straight forward and everything on a small scale. In doing so the film feels very real. 

When Cusack is on screen as Hansen, he delivers a stellar take as the cold killer so absorbing that you will never look at Cusack the same ever again. Cage is quite effective too as the fictional Jack Halcombe and it is good to see him stretch his acting legs, so to speak, after watching him collect a check for some unbelievably horrible crap, lately. 

Vanessa Hudgens really surprises in an outstanding performance as Cindy Paulson, the desperate prostitute who seems to like what she is doing. There is a scene when she even tells Jack that she wants to go back on the streets regardless of the consequences but later, when she realizes that Hansen is gunning for her, she tries to run. Enter 50 Cent as her pimp who is also behind her and now you have some real tension that soon culminates in a thrilling finale, enhanced by Lorne Balfe's engrossing orchestral score that ramps up the ticking of the investigative clock.

The Frozen Ground has a few cliches though. The lovely Radha Mitchell is wasted as Holcombe's always suffering wife (of a police officer). They have the usual arguments about his work and his love for his work more than his family. Mitchell is too fine of an actress to be used in this kind of whiny role. Also, what would a cop movie be without the always bitching Chief Of Police at loggerheads with Halcombe. Besides, there is not much time spent on why Hansen did all those killings! Still, The Frozen Ground is a solid and well made police thriller which despite some cliches, is still worth watching. The Frozen Ground- *** out of 4

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Shock 'Em Dead (1991)

Cheesy B Horror flick that warrants a watch!

Shock'Em Dead is a really low-budget (in other words, a true pedigree "B") horror movie from 1991 directed by Mark Freed. So low-budget, that you may even have trouble locating it. The first thing you'll notice is the girl in the picture - yes, that is Tracy Lords, ex-porn star, actually "acting" in a movie where she does absolutely nothing sexually related. She was pretty popular then! 

The funny thing is, she does her job well! At least compared to the rest of the actors, most of which are some of the silliest you'll ever see. So if the movie is so bad, why do we have it here? Well come on now! Everyone likes a good "B" movie, and this one is no exception. 

Basically, this music nerd (Stephen Quadrosdecides to make a deal with the devil in order to become the biggest rock star in the world. Unfortunately, he finds out what the "catch" is, and it isn't pleasing. Although it is for some reason considered a horror movie, you'll find it to be a great comedy. Funny original songs such as 'I'm In Love With A Slut' will make you laugh, and the special effects must do the same. If you like band-related movies, 90's flicks, or low-budget films, this is something you'll want to hunt down. You can find the official 20th Anniversary Edition DVD here

And if you liked Traci Lords, you might want to see her in her recent appearance in the 2012 surreal black horror/comedy - Excision (2012) which also stars John Walters, Malcolm McDowell and Ray Wise.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Film Score of the Month : Wall-E (2008) by Thomas Newman

A Poignant Space Opera that must be in your library

Thomas Newman has always been in the top five of my favorite film score composers. His music has been described as being able to walk a very fine line between happiness and sadness with everything in between. And Wall-E (2008) is probably my favorite  Thomas Newman score (and also my fav Pixar film of all the films they have released). 

A beautiful film about the pangs of first love (even though it is between two robots) and strong, unbreakable bond of friendship, Wall-E transcends joy and sorrow and Newman's score is one of his very best. 

As the film opens we hear snippets of music from Hello Dolly! At this point in the film's history, Earth is a vast wasteland. Instead of skyscrapers made of steel and concrete, there are towers of trash that Wall-E and his fellow robots have compacted over the decades. It is uninhabitable for humans who have taken refuge on a mammoth sized space ship called the Axiom. It is on planet Earth where Wall-E meets EVE, a robot sent to see if there is ANY sign of life so the human race can return and start over.

'Put On Your Sunday Clothes' first stanza is heard as the film opens and then disappears into an echo and Newman's score kicks in with '2815 A.D' . It is a ghostly track about a civilization that has all but disappeared, but we follow Wall-E as he does what he is programmed to do; compact trash. He is lonely until 'The Spaceship' arrives and 'EVE' appears. 

'Eve' and 'Define Dancing' two are two of the most beautiful tracks on the album, and Newman uses a harp with the strings for an unforgettable couple pieces of music. They are similar but if you have seen the film then you will know they are important as the two robots begin there friendship. Wall-E is smitten, no doubt. As in 'First Date', a series of very funny attempts happen as Wall-E tries to make a favorable impression on EVE. 'The Axiom' is the title theme for the ship as Wall-E follows EVE back to the ship. It is a mysteriously majestic piece that Newman has done so well as in The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption and Cinderella Man.

'Foreign Contaminant', '72 Degrees and Sunny', 'March of the Gels' are a return to the quirky inventive pieces of music I first fell in love with by Mr. Newman. A dizzying mix of electronics and orchestral pieces that make them some of the best tracks on the album. 

Surprisingly, there are no bad tracks on this album and the end theme composed by Newman and Peter Gabriel called 'Down To Earth' is a real toe tapper, as well. La Vie en Rose' as performed by Louis Armstrong, the Hello Dolly! pieces and the end theme song give Wall-E some extra depth that is missing from a lot of film scores marketed for the MTV generation.

The entire score runs the gambit from happy to sad and it is effective in each piece, each note and nobody does it better than Thomas Newman. With 38 titles on the CD there are no tracks that I would skip on this magnificent score; not one. It is a beautiful, happy, sad, poignant and classically memorable score and my pick for score of the month. It is available on CD and digital download and worth every penny.  Thomas Newman's Wall-E score gives a little something for everyone. JohnnyTwoToes

Monday, November 4, 2013

Pacific Rim (2013)

JohnnyTwoToes was expecting more from this cliched but fun blockbuster!

Guillermo Del Toro' s sci-fi monster actioner - Pacific Rim is exciting big-budget fun entertainment, (even if there are cliches that you would normally not expect from a film directed by Del Toro). I mean this is the guy who brought us no less than eight films; from Cronos, Mimic, The Devil's Backbone, Blade 2, Hellboy and Hellboy 2 (a third one is in the works with Del Toro directing) to Pan's Labyrinth (one of his best) and now Pacific Rim. One thing can be said about his previous films was that they were interesting and refreshingly inventive. Pacific Rim had been hailed as one of the year's best films, and although it is a good popcorn monster action flick, there are too many cliches for me to put it on the ten best.       

Pacific Rim stars Charlie Hunnam as Raleigh, a hotshot 'pilot' of the Jaegers. Jaegers are massive robots that are piloted by two people that are neurologically linked together in the same Jaeger. They are battling the Kaijus, gargantuan alien sea beasts that have come up from the sea floor through the tectonic plates as a result of a multidimensional portal. Huh? Yes, this is all explained in the first ten minutes of the film. Since I am recommending this film I won't say much else (if you've still not seen it). 

Pacific Rim boasts some stunning visuals to enhance its story so fear not, you will understand the plot. It has a fair amount of standard plot devices, however, including the naive pilot who has emotional horrors in her past, the punk that does not get along with the hero, the CO that is stoic and runs a tight ship and the long shot duo that pits the hero with the untested and emotionally fragile trainee. I guess I was hoping NOT to see the usual plot devices that are used here and ones we have seen many, many times. 

When I first saw what Pacific Rim was about and saw the word Jaeger, I thought, "Wow. A film about giant bottles of liqueur duking it out with massive sea creatures?! NOW THAT is something fresh and exciting (referring to Jaegermeister) ." Of course, I am joking but there seems to be a reliance of  vivid, crisp visuals to propel the story rather than the believable characters and a freshly written story. 

Yes, the plot is still fresh and inventive, but the characters seem to be stock characters from other films. Still, the acting is decent. Idris Elba as the no nonsense Commander Stacker Pentecost and Rinko Kikuchi as the emotionally tender recruit Mako and Ron Perlman in an extended fun cameo do stand out. My problem was with Charlie Hunnam as the hero, Raleigh. His acting seems forced through most of the film. He does what he needs to do to sell the character but not much else. 

At the heart of this film are battle sequences which are fantastic and worth the price of the admission ticket. They are spectacularly shot, will get your blood pumping and are plentiful throughout the film. There is a lot to like about Pacific Rim including a great score by Ramin Djawadi (one worth buying) , but by the films end the all of the cliches will have been serviced. Does the hero show the punk how it's done? Does the naive trainee show what she is really made of? Does the troubled commander show his soft side? Does the hero realize there is no 'I' in team? If you answered yes to all of these questions then you can sit back and enjoy the slug fest that is Pacific Rim. It is a good film, but could have been even better. Pacific Rim- *** out of 4

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Trojan War (1997)

Underrated 90's Romantic Comedy that deserves a revisit!

Apparently made for $15 million, this Jennifer Love Hewitt flick directed by long time Robert Rodríguez collaborator - George Huang (Swimming with Sharks/1994) was a box office disaster when it hit the theaters. 

Strangely though, it has an infectious twist on the classic 90's romantic comedies and the perfect teen quality humor which were so typical of the 80s and 90s. Dunno why this flopped so miserably when it was released but sure is a worthwhile addition to any collector's archive of unpopular movies. 

To start, let's just say that the movie has a lot to do with condoms, and every condom you see in the film including the 800 of them in the store scene are ALL Trojan brand. Hmmm... advertising maybe? Heck, at least the advertising has to do with something fun (and safe).

Will Friedle (Boy Meets World) plays the leading role, and Love Hewitt plays his best friend. Little does he know that she is in love with him, and his interest in another girl (Marley Shelton) begins to drive her crazy. This is where the movie's tagline comes in and things get quite funny: "She has 24 hours to convince the guy of her dreams that she's the girl of his."

Throughout most of the film, Brad (Friedle) is on a quest to purchase and bring back a condom so that he can have sex with the girl he thinks is his dream girl after being given the chance. Unfortunately, everything goes wrong - his car gets stolen from a gang, his clothes get ruined, he gets stuck in an unsafe town alone, kidnapped by a bus driver - you name it - this poor kid gets stuck dealing with the worst of situations. In a cute happy ending, things of course all work out for the best. 

Although the movie is a romance, it's more of a comedy (with a great soundtrack). The movie is so stupid that you'll find yourself laughing here and there but then again, that is why it is here. If you can't think of anything to rent, are in a stupid mood, or are a fan of Love or Friedle - chances are you'll enjoy this flick. It's worth seeing at least once. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Purge (2013)

JohnnyTwoToes explains why this horror thriller is wasted potential! 

Somewhere in The Purge (2013) is a great horror movie just waiting to be made. The problem is, all we have is this Purge to go by first. James DeMonaco (who debut directed the 2009 Luc Besson produced crime drama - Staten Island also starring Ethan Hawke) writes and directs The Purge about a wealthy family (in America 2022) in the midst of a yearly event. 

A blood ridden cleansing ritual in which anyone and everyone can go an commit any crime they want, including murder, without violating the law! Anything goes and all emergency services are suspended for twelve hours. Supposedly, the idea is that people get the rage out and the rest of the year they are productive members of society. Release the beast, seems to be the mantra of the future! 

Ethan Hawke is a narcissist home defense salesman, James Sandin and his wife, Mary (Lena Headey) seem to believe in the yearly event. To signify their support for the the Purge they place blue Baptista flowers out in front of their home. Their two children Charlie (Max Burkholder) and Zoey (Adelaide Kane) are too busy being kids to notice purge night, for the most part. A local young man has the hots for Zoey and sneaks back in to the house just before the security system is armed.

The night starts simple enough. James goes to work in his study. Mary jumps on the treadmill for a jog. Charlie plays with his remote controlled toys and Zoey is busy snogging with the local young man, Henry. Charlie happens to see a wounded black man running down the street on the CCTV from the home and disarms the system to let him in. James turns it back on once the man is inside. About ten minutes later a group of mask wearing preppies led by psychotic Rhys Wakefield turn up at the front door of the Sandins. They demand the release of the man they let in and all will be forgotten. Refusal means the thugs will break in and kill EVERYBODY. It is here where the film goes wrong. Horribly wrong. 

DeMonaco is in such a hurry to get to the violence out that he does very little to expound on the yearly Purge and what it really means. What The Purge boils down to is your basic, run of the mill home invasion horror film with sci-fi outlines. But we have seen better. The Sandins breakout the shotguns and various handguns and the mob seems to be oblivious. They skip through the house in their night clothes with machetes. Not much of this film makes sense. Are the thugs unaware of the loud bangs of mister twelve gauge? 

All said and done, however I would like to see a film like this done well in a sequel (which is apparently in the works). I would give DeMonaco more money for the budget and more time to develop a meaty script about how Purge night came to be and why. How is it that there is virtually no unemployment or crime? What is the significance of the blue Baptista flowers? How do the authorities deal with crime the rest of the year? Surely there are psychos out there not waiting on purge night to come around to kill and maim. 

The Purge is a short film (the credits roll at 80 minutes. By 85 minutes you are out in the lobby ordering up another Slurpee), so DeMonaco has little time to go anywhere with his creation. I have a sneaking suspicion that DeMonaco wanted more money for his film (as it stands now, he was only allotted a paltry three million dollars though the movie surpassed that figure) and more time to write a deep and involving script but the money and time were not given to him. 

The Purge does the best it can and Nathan Whitehead' s mostly electronic score is terrific but offers very little in new material and it does not recycle old material very well, either. More importantly, The Purge never seems to dig into the interesting premise it introduces and ends up being another shock and awe slasher flick and a predictable one at that. 

Disclosure: This Blog and the Websnacker Twitter account were involved in the pre-launch marketing and promotion of this movie. However, as always, our reviews are and will continue to be independent.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Généalogies d'un crime (1997) / Genealogies of a Crime

A whimsical and surreal piece of french cinema

Feeling more like a vintage restoration than an original film, this crime drama by the maverick Chilean director Raoul Ruiz (1941–2011) stars Catherine Deneuve in a dual role of a psychologist and an attorney, both caught in a web of crime and deception. 

The movie has a lot going for it: wittiness, precision, and latent wisdom within the script; captivating cinematography; and well seasoned actors. Yet, somehow it falls flat, making the end result less than thrilling (and possibly alienate a few viewers too).

The film begins with a Chinese ghost story about a young man predestined to kill a girl who then, inconveniently, falls in love with his vengeful ghost. Deneuve plays the young Rene's (Melvil Poupaud) psychiatrist aunt. She makes Rene her patient and is later murdered. Next, we see Deneuve as Rene's attorney. She investigates the crime and in the process, becomes enamored with Rene and discovers the many characters involved with the aunt's murder, including a wickedly funny Michel Piccoli as fellow psychiatrist Georges Didier. 

If the viewer believes the narrator, the murder was a perverse version of a therapy session. But Ruiz has no interest in giving the audience any real clues. None of the characters seems less than conniving and duplicitous. This makes for some interesting and witty banter especially between Didier (Piccoli) and his nemesis (Andrzej Seweryn).

The dual climactic sequences within the movie leave the viewer drained before its the eventual conclusion. Still, the presence of Catherine Deneuve and Michel Piccoli, two of Frances greatest actors, a clever- actually way too clever-plot, and alluring cinematography of Paris make this a film that rewards the intelligent filmgoer.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Single Shot (2013)

JohnnyTwoToes loves this dark backwoods thriller

Sam Rockwell has distinguished himself as a top actor and he has done a wide array of genres. From the first Charlie's Angels to the dreadful A Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy to Matchstick Men and now to one of his most difficult performances to date in this dark thriller - A Single Shot

Rockwell plays John Moon, a down on his luck West Virginia mountain man whose wife has just left him with his newborn son. To seek peace and solitude, John goes hunting and while shooting at a deer, he accidentally shoots and kills a girls hiding in the woods. Upon realizing his horrible mistake, he finds she has been living in an abandoned container trailer and is hiding out from someone and has apparently stolen a nice chunk of change. Moon takes the money and tries to patch things up with his wife and child, but still hires a divorce attorney played by William H. Macy. It is then when John starts to get threatening phone calls, and cars start doing drive byes. Since he lives out in the middle of nowhere, Moon starts to get understandably suspicious. He starts to suspect everyone, even people he has know his entire life. Some with good reason, too. 

Rockwell totally submerges himself as Moon. It is the only way you could sell a character and a performance like Rockwell as Moon, He is a somewhat grouchy moody man who is always in thought about something. Yet, as despicable actions as he commits, there was still something human about the man so I was invested in the character. Is A Single Shot a great film? No. But it has great performances from Macy, Jason Isaacs as the town thug, Waylon, Joe Anderson (The Crazies) as Obadiah, Waylon's partner in crime, Kelly Reilly is sweet as Moon's wife and Ted Levine makes the most of a smaller role as Cecile, a friend of Moon who offers him a job. Ophelia Lovibond is radiant as Abbie, Cecile's daughter who is quite smitten with Moon, and Jeffery Wright is Simon, who may or may not be Moon's friend. 

The acting is excellent from everyone, however if I had to do anything different I would have cast all of the parts by relative unknowns. Most of the cast playing country folk are British, with the exceptions of Rockwell, Levine and Wright. There is nothing wrong with that but I spent most of the film noticing who the actors were and then relating it to their parts, instead of totally immersing myself in the characters and their dilemmas. Still, David Rosenthal's solid direction and Matthew F. Jones's script based on his novel has enough mystery and character development that I was entertained by the film and cared what happened to the characters. 

A Single Shot is a tough film to watch. It is dark and ominous throughout and Icelandic composer, Atli Orvarsson's score is primarily strings that are screeching signifying the emotional strain the main character is under. Will he do the right thing? How is he going to get out of the predicament he has put himself in? On those terms?

A Single Shot is not for everyone, it is methodical in its pacing which I found engaging but not everyone will agree. The cinematography is deliberately cold and unforgiving as is the landscape of that area. Being from that area of the country and having lived in the kind of location Moon lived in I can say this is an authentic looking film. A Single Shot is an acquired taste but I would recommend it for anyone who likes a film noir thriller. A Single Shot- *** out of 4

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Score of the Month - Book Of Eli (2010) by Atticus Ross

JohnnyTwoToes recommends this intriguing slice of post-apocalyptic electronic ambiance

Atticus Ross burst in to the filmdom scoring with his collaboration with Nine Inch Nails founder Trent Reznor with their Oscar winning score for The Social Network in 2010. But what a lot of people don't know is that also that same year he composed a brilliant score on his own for the Denzel Washington post-apocalypse themed film Book Of Eli.

Book of Eli featured a cliched story of a wandering mysterious man in the desolate future who has a equally mysterious book that has the potential to rebirth and revive humanity if it falls into the right hands. In the wrong hands however, all is lost. Considered a vanity project of Denzel Washington by many and starring the likes of Mila Kunis and Gary Oldman, it still was a good film in its own right - slickly filmed, written and directed by the Hughes brothers (Albert and Allen Hughes), who brought us Menace II Society, From Hell and Dead Presidents, all great films. Ross had earlier scored the Hughes brothers created TV series Touching Evil too and had later graduated to films and with amazing results.

iTunes has released an expanded edition of the Book Of Eli score with 4 additional tracks not found on the original release. The first track is Panoramic which is a lengthy track, thankfully at just over 7 minutes but it sets up the electronic ambient textures of the rest of the score and it is one of the best pieces on the album. Outland and The Journey feature some more soft contemplative ambient music with some soft percussion suggesting Eli's step by step journey and his quieter moments at night when he is camped. Amen, The Convoy and Solara Violated are is a jarringly effective tracks suggesting the arrival of Eli's enemy, Carnegie (Gary Oldman) and what his intentions for The Book are. Ross returns to soothing tones for Safe and Human tracks. The Passenger is also one of the prettiest tracks, with soft vocals under laying Ross's beautiful melody.

Book Of Eli is a solid score from start to finish and the bonus tracks are basically, remixes of tracks not on the original release with the exception of Panoramic which has its own remixed version referred to as Eaten By The Earth's Remix. Whether you like the soft, soothing or the loud, percussive tracks there is enough to please any connoisseur of film scoring. Ross's score for Book Of Eli is exceptional work by a relative newcomer to the film scoring business and for that reason alone, he must be commended!

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