Saturday, August 31, 2013

Score of the Month - Oblivion (2013) OST by M83

JohnnyTwoToes highly recommends the stunning M83 score of a rather insipid film

After being somewhat disappointed with Oblivion (2013), I will say that for all of Kosinski's lacking as a screenwriter, he is a good director that has a great vision. His films LOOK like a David Lean picture. Every shot is framed. lit and shot glorious fashion. 

Kosinski's significant other ability is picking class music acts to compose scores for his films. Daft Punk shot to the top with a classic score for Kosinki's first film Tron - Legacy. It was such a big hit it spawned a second score for Tron Legacy called Reconfigured. Both are available from Amazon.

He hits it right again with Oblivion whose score was composed by the french electronic synthpop shoegaze band - M83 fronted by Anthony Gonzalez and the American composer Joseph Trapanese (who also worked on Tron Legacy and is now also scoring the animated television series from Walt Disney called Tron Uprising).  For those clueless about M83 though,  Anthony Gonzalez is one of the founding members of this dreampop band named after the "spiral galaxy Messier 83". It has 5 existing members and 4 that are no longer with the group, most notably the other founding member Nicolas Fromageau who left in 2004. 

If I have just use just two words to describe the the score composed for Oblivion, it is "hauntingly mesmerizing" . Almost entirely electronic but a lush and beautiful score that really draws you into the film (too bad the script did not hold me there). The emotional strains of the entire score really help accentuate the memory dilemma of the Hero Jack (Tom Cruise). The score is solid and although some have compared it to being derivative of Tron, I could not disagree more. This score is more sweeping and full and would feel at home in a Tron film whereas Daft Punk's score would seem sparse and ineffective in relation to Oblivion's grandiose nobility. 

Don't get me wrong. I LOVED Daft Punk's score for Tron Legacy. It was a perfect fit. The same can be said for Oblivion. It is a perfect fit. The first track sets up the score with 'Jack's Dream' and particularly with track 14 'Earth 2077' which is effective in presenting a mystery of the future and a man with no past. There is not one track on this album that goes wrong; not one sour note. Even the end credits theme song performed by Norwegian singer and songwriter, Susanne Sundfør is a beautiful piece of musical composition. 

Oblivion is not overdone and the music is not bombastic like some of Hans Zimmer's scores have become. The music is floating and subtle, an yet it will stay with you. I actually bought both versions of the Oblivion score BEFORE I saw the film.  There is the original release of a little over 69 minutes of music for 17 tracks, which is great but if you are a stickler for the complete version like I am then opt for the complete score from iTunes with a little over a 113 minutes of score music with 30 tracks. You can't lose with either version but when in doubt go for the complete version. 

This is one of the year's best scores but I can guarantee you won't see it at Oscar time. Much too simple for the stuffy elites of the Academy. That's too bad. This, like Daft Punk's Tron Legacy, is worthy of that deserving (but elusive) accolade.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Oblivion (2013)

A predictable post-apocalyptic big budget scifi flick

Oblivion (2013) is the second mainstream, big budget film from newcomer director Joseph Kosinski. His first was the relatively appealing "reimagined" sequel to 1982's Tron, with Tron: Legacy(2010). It was a decently re-engineered sequel and had enough imagination of its own to be worth watching. 

Oblivion seems cut from the same cloth only it it recycles too many elements from other, better science fiction films that I came away kind of empty. It is not an awful film and there is a lot I did admire in it, but at the end of the day, we have seen this before and better, elsewhere. 

Tom Cruise following up the overrated Jack Reacher (2012), playing another Jack, a ballsy tech repairman who has remained on Earth after it has been decimated by an alien invasion. "We won the war, but lost the planet," is the cliched explanation we get from Jack. Now the survivors are on Titan, one of Saturn's moons while the 'Tets' harvest and create new drinking water for the remaining humans on Titan. Jack is Tech 49, whose job it is to protect the and fix the drones who scour the earth protecting the Tets from Scavs (faceless Mad Max wannabes) whose sole reason for living is to destroy the Tets. 

Jack lives with his "eyes on" tech and now live in girlfriend, Vika (played by the lovely British actress Andrea Riseborough). They live in a lovely see through penthouse that sits far above the clouds but seems to be precariously based on unstable rocks below. It seems the Scavs could place some powerful explosives on the ground and bring the whole house down. Problems solved. But never mind. Jack seems to have a recurring dream that he is in New York with a woman he thinks he does not know and they are somehow connected, he is just not sure how. 

As we have seen from the previews, Morgan Freeman enters the story, puffing on cigars and waxing about how Jack is the answer to everyone's problems, only stupid Jack does not know what is painfully obvious to everyone, even the viewers. Oblivion does have a lot going for it. The acting is polished and Cruise has yet to give a bad performance in any role. He carries the bulk of this film and for the few scenes he is in, Morgan Freeman is always the consummate professional. The real gem I fell in love with was the Andrea Riseborough who is positively radiant recently seen in Welcome to the Punch (2013). Not only is she sexy but she has a personality that enticing and a figure to match. She is smart, crafty and yet still maintains a vulnerability that makes all the more appealing, and her chemistry with Cruise's Jack is well done. 

The problem I started having with Oblivion is that it starts well and up until the beginning of the final act I was into what was happening on screen, I was interested in the characters, cared about what happened to them and the story seemed to be gaining some steam but then it runs out of steam and the final act of the film fails crushingly dull. 

There are way too many references to other films from other genres that Oblivion seems to borrow from; Total Recall (original version), Planet Of The Apes(1968), a dash of the Matrix are just a few that come to mind. That is a shame since the script by Karl Gajdusek, Michael Arndt (listed inexplicably as Michael deBruyn) and Joseph Kosinski (which based the script from his own graphic novel) seems to have great ideas but nowhere to go with them. 

The visuals of the film are however stunning. Every shot is crisply clear and looks like a David Lean film. The picturesque panoramas are things I could look at for hours. Therein is the problem. We should be focused on the film instead of lingering on the cinematography. I will also send out kudos the score by M83, Anthony Gonzalez and Joseph Trapanese. Kosinski has an ear for great score music composers. He did for Tron Legacy when he hired the French music duo named Daft Punk and he has done it again with M83, Anthony Gonzalez and Joseph Trapanese. It has been called 'Tron-ish' and it does have a feel and a vibe of Daft Punk but it is its own creation and a grand one it is. 

Oblivion is not awful, but it is not great. Maybe being a Tom Cruise film, our expectations are way too high that what it really offers. It has a lot a effective elements that do work but you just can't shake that "been there, seen that" cliched feeling. Oblivion-**1/2 out of 4. JohnnyTwoToes

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Iceman (2012)

JohnnyTwoToes critiques this lurid true biopic of a ruthless Mafia hitman

Mob films have always been popular, not just starting with The Godfather films but all the way back to the original Scarface with Paul Muni playing the title character in 1932. America and the world over (myself included) seems to have a fascination with those who live outside the law. We don't know what it is that does fascinate us but we watch, never the less. This movie is one such story.

The Iceman tells the true story about Richard Kuklinski, a contract killer for the mob who was credited with over 100 kills. The Iceman refers to two traits; his ability to NEVER screw up a job; "Gotta keep up my reputation." When teamed with another killer (Chris Evans) he would put his victims on ice for months then dismember them, and dump them in the river. The idea was that the police could never fully find the time of death, conclusively. 

Now when I saw the previews for this film I must say I was interested (i.e. the fascination of mob films enticed me), however while watching The Iceman, I began to think my fascination must be waning. This film features the very lowest that humanity has to offer. Yes, it is a true story, but do we really need another film 'glorifying' the absolute trash of humanity? okay...I don't wish to get preachy!!

Michael Shannon plays Kuklinski with unyielding brutality that makes him hard to even understand as a character. There is nothing redeeming about him. He has a happy marriage (Winona Ryder looking great, as always) and two beautiful daughters and they are the only things in life he cares about; that and his freedom. 

The film opens with his courtship of Deborah (Ryder) and their lives beginning as a couple. "What do you do for a living?" she asks over coffee. "I dub Disney Movies," is his response. He actually dubs porno films, but it shows how everything in his life is a lie. "Really? Which one is your favorite?" the enamored Deborah quizzes. "Cinderella," Richard says. This starts the whole double life that Richard has with his family. Nothing he ever tells them is the truth and sooner or later his world starts to implode with his family in the cross hairs. 

To familiarize myself with who the Iceman was as a real person I watched some videos on YouTube, and Michael Shannon has his performance perfect. It is almost scary. The real Richard was a lying, heartless, murdering thug with no redeeming qualities. With the exception of his own family, he cared for no one or anyone; even himself. Where does a man go to immerse himself in such darkness? The Iceman does not really delve into this question other than to show him as the sociopath and/or a psychopath. He is sociable enough to get by in everyday life but at his heart is a vicious killer looking for his next "paycheck". 

Still, The Iceman is a riveting but ultimately a one note film about some of the lowest dregs of humanity. Once it gets past setting up Shannon's performance, the rest of the film is filled with double crosses and setups we have seen before. The supporting cast is decent with Ray Liotta and David Schwimmer (yes, THAT David Schwimmer) as boss and underling over Richard, as well as Robert Davi, Stephen Dorff and James Franco who are in the film a few scenes but give it some depth. Chris Evans as Mr. Freeze is a bit of a hoot as a well rounded hit man who is able to kill you a hundred different ways and you would never see it coming. 

The Iceman was directed and co-written by Ariel Vromen along with Morgan Land and they based their script on the book "The Iceman:The True Story Of A Cold Blooded Killer" and the documentary "The Iceman Tapes:Conversations With A Killer" created by James Thebaut. Vromen's 2 previous films he directed have been average at best; Danika with Marisa Tomei was a depressing mess with only Tomei shining as a disturbed mother, and Rx about a group of kids trying to smuggle drugs across the Mexican/United States border that ends in disaster. Both films were not awful but, watched once and you won't ever remember either one. 

In compariosn, The Iceman is a lurid, pulpy piece of film making  not horribly original other than the main character and Shannon's performance and the terrific score by Haim Mazar. I guess in that instance, I would recommend this film on those merits, however this is not for everyone. If you are fascinated by the mob and the lowlifes that populate it (like me, kind of) then this film might appeal to you. But, honestly how many more scum bags can Hollywood turn into heroes before we say, "Enough is enough already?" The Iceman is a mixed bag but I am going to give it a marginal positive review on the film's strong points. Most people will not be disappointed. The Iceman-*** out of 4.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Live Hard or Die Tryin'

You only live once so live it well

Saturday, August 17, 2013

So, How much are you REALLY Worth?

Its (a thousand or) a million dollar question?

This a way off topic but I was asked exactly this a few days ago. Its a million dollar question..okay, a few thousand dollars question? Do YOU really know your NET WORTH? Are you the picture of financial health? Do you REALLY KNOW?

You won't know the answer to that question until you take your 'Financial Snapshot' - of your financial situation, that is. In the financial world, that "financial snapshot" is known as your net worth. It's arrived at by adding the value of everything you own, then subtracting what you owe (or in accounting terms, assets minus liabilities). When you look at the bottom line, you'll quickly see whether you're financially sound. If your net worth is a big, fat positive number, chances are you're in good shape. But if the figure you come up with is barely on the positive side of the ledger - or worse, has a minus sign in front of it - you've got some work ahead of you. 

Its easy! To put together your personal financial snapshot, use a sheet of paper or appropriate computer software and follow these steps: 

First, find your most recent statements for mortgages, credit cards, bank loans, investments and any other assets or liabilities. In one column, list the current market values of all the big ticket liquid items you own - including your house, car, vacation property, furniture, art and collectibles, fine jewelry, and other valuables. Be careful not to overestimate their value. It might make you feel better, but will lead to a less-than-accurate assessment of your finances. Don't bother with small items, since they are usually difficult to convert to cash and are often of little value. 

In the same column, list the cash values of your investments - include bank accounts, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, guaranteed investment certificates, employee shareholder plans, deferred profit sharing plans, real estate investments (apart from your home) and other holdings. Don't forget to include investments held inside your registered retirement savings plan. 

In another column, list all your liabilities - include debts such as mortgages, car and other personal loans, lines of credit, credit card balances, income taxes owing (including future taxes such as those on RRSPs upon death) and other outstanding bills. Add up both columns individually to come up with your total assets and total liabilities. Finally, subtract your liabilities from your assets. The result is your net worth. 

You and your spouse (if you one) can calculate your individual net worth separately, but it is better to view your assets and liabilities together, since this will provide a more accurate picture of your family finances. You may be surprised to discover that you're worth more than you thought. On the other hand, some people will find just the opposite - that if they converted their assets to cash and paid off all debts there would be little or nothing left over. But that's not necessarily a reason to despair. For example, if you're young your net worth may be lower because you've had less time to accumulate assets. You may even have a large mortgage. As you move on in life, however, your wealth should grow. 

There is no hard and fast rule as to what constitutes "acceptable" net worth. The best way to determine whether you're on track is to consult with your financial advisor. He or she can make a quick assessment, and show you how to fine tune your finances if necessary. Now, thank the Websnacker for this handy guide!!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Bullet To The Head (2012)

A 80's style Actioner that would have felt great in the Eighties! 

Bullet To The Head (2012) is the new or should I say, the most recent Sylvester Stallone action picture that you might get to see.  Based on the graphic novel created by Alexis Nolent and illustrator Colin Wilson called "Du plomb dans la tete", it might have played well in the 80's or even in the mid 90's but now, (in spite of a superstar like Stallone for support) it simply feels dated and uninteresting. 

The film stars Stallone as Jimmy Bobo, (it is listed as Jimmy Bonomo on IMDB, but in the film he is called Jimmy Bobo) an enforcer for the mob whose partner is killed while they are in a bar after a hit. Enter Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang from the Fast and The Furious films, most notably) a cop whose partner was killed by the same assassin that took out Bobo's partner. So, in standard 80's style formulaic story telling, the two join forces to avenge their partners deaths. 

The main nemesis of our film's heroes is the refrigerator sized Keegan played by Jason Momoa, last seen as Conan in the 2011 remake. Here Keegan is a huge lumbering oaf that kills at the drop of a hat and does so with glee. Momoa is perfectly cast and shows he has charisma as a villain giving Bobo a run for his money. There are some brief moments of fun in this film, but the script only gives Stallone most of the meat to work with and he does have some funny lines. 

One surprise is Christian Slater who plays a sleazy mob lawyer and is terrific in this film. He is such a sloppy cad that he almost steals the picture. I would have liked to see more of him as he brings the films energy when he is one screen. The interrogation scene with him strapped to a chair is priceless. Maybe they should have given him a larger part and made him a more integral part of the story. 

Bullet To The Head is helmed by ace old school director Walter Hill, who is usually able to craft an action film but gives us interesting characters that we are involved with.  He is after all, a protege of the late, great action director Sam Peckinpah who wrote and directed much better films that are the same lines as BTTH. Most notably, 48 Hours which gave birth to a then unknown Eddie Murphy and Red Heat with Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Belushi - a buddy action cop thriller. Needless to say, both of these films are much better than BTTH.

Excluding the action scenes, BTTH is filled with lame silly dialogues and the acting from Sung Kang is pretty thin. He seems to be adopting the same tempered character as in the Fast and the Furious films, consequently, his character comes out pretty hollow. So, the film's strongest point is solely Stallone, who is now in his 60's but looks at least like he is in his early fifties. He can still do action scenes very well and is believable as you can see in this movie.

Anyway, if the film has another positive point besides Stallone, it is Steve Mazzaro's score. He is a newcomer that up until BTTH had only scored a short film called The Seance. Mazzaro has only worked in a supporting role assisting legends like Hans Zimmer and composing music for some video games. Here, Mazzaro has composed a macho, testosterone laden score (produced by Hans Zimmer) that pulsates with metallic guitars and synth percussion that is in keeping with a Stallone film. I was impressed with his score and would recommend it for your consideration especially if you are into action themed scores.

BTTH (although not entirely awful) certainly could have been a lot more interesting.  The action mayhem and the script penned by Alessandro Camon does offer fleeting moments of enjoyment but good moments does not a movie make! Unless you are a die hard Stallone fanatic, Bullet To The Head ends up being pretty predictable and you won't likely remember this film as one of Stallone's better ones. Bullet To The Head-** out of 4.  JohnnyTwoToes

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Happy Eid Wishes !!

Wishing all readers and fans, a safe, happy and blissful Eid! Let the feasting begin!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Here Comes The Boom (2012)

JohnnyTwoToes likes this cliched but feel good movie 

Here Comes The Boom (2012)  stars Kevin James as a slacker biology teacher who turns to MMA (mixed martial arts!!!) to raise money for his school when budget cuts threaten the after school music program headed up by Henry Winkler.  Yes, a teacher with a heart of REAL gold!

There's also the pretty teacher that James likes played by Salma Hayek, the jerkoff principle played by Greg Germann, and of course an endless montage of training clips set to blood pumping music. We meet the kids in Scott Voss's (Kevin James) class and of course, the nerds are made fun of by the jocks, etc. You get the picture. Does anyone doubt he will win the big climatic fight? No, of course not. That is pretty much the plot of this predictable but feel good film from start to finish with every cliche in the book.

What still won me over for Here Comes The Boom, is the fact that even for all its silly short-comings, its still a sweet, innocent and enjoyable film because it is all heart. To start with, there is an inescapable charm from the characters starting with James as Scott Voss. Voss is a good hearted person who also teaches citizenship classes to help make ends meet, but he agrees to donate almost all of his winnings and extra money (is there such a thing?) towards the school. 

Bas Rutten, who is a former MMA champion in real life, is a student in Voss's citizenship class who reluctantly agrees to teach Voss, at least, how NOT to get killed in the ring. I mean, that would be MY first option. Rutten is a decent man who is struggling to learn about America's governmental system so one of Voss's smarter student agrees too help him learn while Voss is learning MMA. 

As I said HCTB is one big cliche after another. What are the odds that Voss gets the pretty teacher by the film's end? What are the chances that the mean principle and Voss will at least be friendly by the end of the film? The script, written by James, Allan Loeb and Rock Rueben does not try to be anything more than it is and Frank Coraci's direction is evenly paced and lighthearted. The acting is admirable and there are plenty of cute and sincere moments. 

Here Comes The Boom gets no notes for originality, but it is an honest film about helping others and giving something of yourself even when it causes great pain. It wont win any awards but it eventually wins you over and it is a good family film for a night in. Here Comes The Boom-*** out of 4.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Man With The Iron Fists (2012)

A Bad Kung-Fu movie with Hip Hop (mis) influences 

The Man With The Iron Fists (TMWTIF) is a visually impressive but over stuffed, over hyped martial arts film that is way too over the top to be entertaining. 

You will have fun at the striking visual colors and Robert Fitzgerald Diggs,  rapper and main member of the hip hop group Wu-Tang Clan better known by his stage name RZA (pronounced as ˈrɪzə/ riz-ə), does show some flair for directing, but his script co-written with Eli Roth is empty and tiresome.

Set in early nineteenth century China, TMWTIF is about a shipment of gold stolen from the Emperor and hidden in a village (stupidly called Jungle Village) where nothing but Gangsters and Warlords converge to battle it out - Kung-Fu style for who will take possession of the gold. Russell Crowe shows up as sort of a drunken, opium addicted mercenary/ rogue soldier who spends most of his time swilling drink and carousing with the local whores from a brothel run by Lucy Liu. You also get to know there exists a enigmatic blacksmith - our Hero (RZA) and the whorehouse, The Pink Blossom. For extra star and action appeal, you also have David Bautista (WWE Wrestler Batista),  Rick Yune, the Korean star  and Cung Le, martial arts champion and famed Kickboxer! That's it. What else is there we hardly ever see, so the town is virtually non-existent except to facilitate the pointless, extra- slow plot with bizarrely choreographed fights! 

In short, except for a star studded soundtrack and an impressive score by RZA, TMWTIF is a tedious, badly acted and even more badly scripted one note film that needed a better treatment or maybe a better director! Watch it if you want to know what's all the Quentin Tarantino hype's about or safely skip it! The Man With The Iron Fists-** out of 4 - JohnnyTwoToes

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