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
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