Saturday, December 27, 2014

Ride Along (2014)

JohnnyTwoToes cant find any redeeming qualities in this insipid buddy cop comedy!

Ride Along was a hit with viewers and for the life of me I don't see why. It has its few, scant moments and the two leads, Ice Cube and Kevin Hart are engaging chemistry but Ride Along is so inept and run of the mill it ends up being a mess of a movie. 

Kevin Hart is Ben, a security guard at the local high school who dreams of being an Atlanta police officer. He is living with Angela (Tika Sumpter) and is getting ready to propose to her. Enter James Payton (Ice Cube) , an Atlanta police officer who happens to be Angela's brother and her only family. "Prove you are worthy to be with her," James tells Ben. "How?" Ben asks. "Ride Along," James quips with a smile on his face, and here is our movie.     
Ride Along has an unusually simple but interesting premise and there could have been tons of material to make it exciting and original, but sadly this film is a tired retread of tired retreads. There is not ONE thing that happens in Ride Along that you won't see coming. NOT ONE. This is unbelievable since the film has four...that's heard me...FOUR scriptwriters and there is not one original moment in Ride Along. How does THAT happen? Did the filmmakers think they were going to coast on man chemistry alone between the lead pair ? 

Hart is no doubt a likable and funny star. He reminds me of what I saw in Eddie Murphy when he busted on through with Beverly Hills Cop. Undeniably, Hart and Ice Cube are both solid in this film. I have always maintained Ice Cube is a good actor and he does well in Ride Along, too. But the rest of the cast, although they are competent enough, their characters are so one dimensional that they only slow an already insipid plot. But when you have such electrifying performers like John Leguizamo, Bruce McGill, Bryan Callen and a rather miscasted Laurence Fishburne, why waste them on a cheap dime store plot? Of course, the lead cop is always investigating a case that has him at odds with his CO and Ride Along, in predictable fashion, is no different. Something about running guns or illegal passports....I could not have cared less. Trust me, you won't care, either. 

Tim Story who has worked with both Hart and Ice Cube on other films fails MISERABLY with Ride Along. Story who was responsible for garbage like the Fantastic Four films also directed vibrantly funny and observant films like Barbershop (with Ice Cube) and Think Like A Man (with Kevin Hart). So he knows what is needed to make a funny film with an eye and an ear on how people talk to each other. With Ride Along, he makes a witless, pointless romp, derivative of better films like Lethal Weapon with about half of the smarts and almost zero of humor. The climax of the film seems to be directly lifted from Analyze This only Ride Along's version is not funny and seems to drag on FOREVER. 

I really wanted to like Ride Along. Its two leads have lots to say and do but nothing works despite their presence and a few brief.....BRIEF smiles that might cross your lips. Ride Along is just dumb and uninteresting from start to finish. Since it WAS a hit at the box office romping over $153 million against a budget of $25 million, there is a sequel planned for release in 2016. I hope and pray to God, they do a better job in that film. Bring back Hart and Ice Cube but, next time around, give them something to do! Do I even need to say this is one of the year's most disappointing films? Ride Along-* out of 4

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Happy Christmas, Hanukkah & Kwanzaa !

Wishing all of you Lotsa Joy & Happy Holidays! 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Hairspray (1988)

The most accessible movie John Waters ever made!

Cult filmmaker John Waters makes a cameo appearance in Hairspray and you would ask why not? Unlike his usual X rated films that were the bane of the censors, Hairspray is so clinically safe, even a grandmother could have appeared in it. Even Sonny Bono could (and does). Even the 300-pound transvestite Divine...but don't worry, Waters makes a PG-13 film here, certainly a characteristic departure from his many past efforts, one of which was famously filmed in "Odorama” which could only be truly appreciated with the aid of a scratch-and-sniff card. 

Divine made five other films with his high-school friend John Waters: Mondo Trasho (1969), Multiple Maniacs (1971), Pink Flamingos (1973), Female Trouble (1974), and Polyester (1981) but this much deserved and critically acclaimed breakthrough comedy sadly contains Divine's last performance. He died on March 7, 1988 just 3 weeks after this movie's release. 

Hairspray was the last film for Divine (real name: Harris Glenn Milstead), who stars as a lovable mom whose daughter, the ebullient Ricki Lake, lands a spot as a dancer on the local “Corny Collins Show" in early '60s Baltimore. Waters evidently has a special reverence for his hometown, and in the early '60s, Baltimore was not only popular for its dance obsession but also unmistakably a place where a girl's popularity was directly proportional to the height of her bouffant hairdo. This bright, bouncy early '60s look at dance crazes, racial tensions and integrationist sympathies is a pure delight, from Ricki Lake's memorable debut performance as a chubby teen who breaks all the boundaries, to Divine as her surly but sweet mom. 

Besides the never disappointing Divine, Ricki Lake is a stand out. Waters casts the hefty teen as Tracy Turnblad, the rotund daughter of the even more rotund Divine. She is a nonconforming 60s teen with an idiosyncratic attitude who impulsively wants to compete in a dance show. It's not so much the dance as the attitude and it shows when she’s about doing the Madison, a dance step that eventually wins her a coveted job as a dancer on the "Corny Col¬lins Show". Apart from the lead two, watch out for the strong supporting cast including Pia Zadora, Jerry Stiller (as Divine's husband), and Debbie Harry

Hairspray was a moderate success on release and a dramatic departure of Waters’ usual style. However, it is now considered both a sleeper hit on video and an undeniable John Waters cult classic even fetching Waters’ a Grand Jury prize at Sundance and Empire magazine calling it one of the 500 greatest movies of all time. Still, if the acting of Divine and Ricki lake doesn't impress you; the music, songs, candy colors and dances are all heaven and make it a must watch. A true John Waters treat like no other.

Note – If you like Divine as I do, you must watch Lust In The Dust (1984), a freakish western satire directed by Paul (Eating Raoul) Bartel, and Trouble in Mind (1985), where Divine actually plays a guy, alongside Kris Kristofferson, Genevieve Bujold, and Keith Carradine. Ricki Lake fans should checkout Cookie, directed by Susan Seidelman and co-starring Emily Lloyd and Peter Falk, Working Girl with Harrison Ford, and german director Uli Edel's Last Exit to Brooklyn co starring Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Filth (2013)

JohnnyTwoToes highly recommends this underrated & twisted downward spiral

Made over a year earlier, but not getting a release until April of 2014, Filth was completely missed by the mainstream audience in America sadly releasing in just 5 theaters. This perhaps explain why in spite of a stellar performance by James McAvoy, crisp direction by Jon S. Baird and rave reviews by both critics and the public, it still did not get the attention it deserved across the US. 

Based on a best selling novel by Scottish crime writer Irvine Welsh (Trainspotting) , Filth is the story of a Scottish police investigator who is assigned to investigate the death of a Japanese student beaten to death by a gang. That is all I can say without divulging too much and since I am recommending this movie, I can say this is one of the best films of the year. 

James McAvoy is the lead character, DI (Detective Inspector) Bruce Robertson, a loathsome man if ever there was one. A corrupt, alcoholic, drug addict who is sleeping with wives of his fellow officers, bucking for the prized promotion that he thinks will make his life all the better. "The games are always being played and usually, nobody plays the games better than me. Same rules apply." is his narrated mantra and his justification for his vile behavior. 

McAvoy is at ease here playing the bipolar lead who is excellent at the games as he pits on officer against the other in clever fashion while sinking into a cauldron of booze, women and drugs. He is a backstabber, a liar and unapologetic for any of his transgressions and McAvoy makes Robertson so viciously reprehensible that you would wonder how anybody could still root for him. But I did. McAvoy is THAT good. He is able to take this character and STILL make you root for him to get his life in order. This is no small feat. You get to see that there is still good in Robertson but he tries to stamp it back down. It only makes it worse for him. 

McAvoy's performance is Oscar worthy, but since not many have even HEARD of this film let alone seen it, this would be long shot. Too bad. His performance is the best of his career, probably the most difficult to play, as well. He has done some incredible work with Danny Boyle's Trance, also a great film and of course the young Professor Xavier in the X-Men franchise. But Filth is all McAvoy. 

Credit also goes to director Jon S. Baird for creating a cinematic visual treat to go along with McAvoy's screen shredding performance. The visuals pop off the screen as Robertson's mental state starts to unravel. The script, also by Baird is savagely funny and there is never a dull moment here. Sharp, engaging and intelligent, it never dumbs any of the material down for the viewer. Baird's direction is masterful too and unflinching. He never stops pushing the envelope and neither does McAvoy. 

The supporting cast is terrific as well. With Imogen Poots as his only female competition for his promotion and the best candidate; she is smart, sexy and classy. Jim Broadbent is having fun as Robertson's therapist, too. Brian McCardie, Emun Elliot, Gary Lewis, Eddie Marsan and the ever wonderful Jamie Bell round out an outstanding cast that is excellent, as well. Clint Mansell provides another graceful score that punctuates Robertson's battle with himself. 

Filth might have come and gone quickly, not received ANY attention, but don't let that dissuade you from seeing it. Filth is a wild and funny ride and worth tracking down. It is witty, hilarious, sad, filled with surprises and one of the best film's of the year. It is NOT a film for kids, however. Adults only, I'm afraid. Robertson would want it that way, "Same rules apply." Filth-**** out of 4

Friday, December 12, 2014

Hum - Downward is Heavenward (1998)

Undeniably one of the most underrated alt rock albums of the '90s

Hum, were a critically acclaimed Illinois based alternative rock band of the '90s  who had their 15 minutes of fame with their "Stars" hit single and Downward is Heavenward, their fourth and last album released in 1998 was expected to sell more than its 1995 predecessor -  You’d Prefer an Astronaut which quietly sold over 250,000 thousand copies on release mostly on account of the Stars hit track.

Unlike what was commercially projected, this album fared poorly but was appreciated by both fans and critics so much that its still ranked amongst one of the best alternative rock albums of the 90s. 

Evidently, the band’s fourth effort was a dramatic step forward and finds Hum here at the peak of their songwriting and musicianship. Hum’s music has been described as hardcore, psychedelia, and almost everything in between. The musical references here are numerous and diverse, including outfits such as Helmet, My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth, and even a touch of R.E.M. (just listen to the melodies on "Ms. Lazarus" or "Comin’ Home" for proof of this). 

It would be unfair to label Hum as a hardcore band just because they have some heavy handed guitar lines here and there. Hum also has a soft side, a pop side, a shoe-gazer side, and a psychedelic side that each appear from time to time on this album. Despite the ferocious guitar lines on many of the songs on Downward is Heavenward, lead singer Matt Talbott never really sounds angry. He actually sounds a bit introspective and reserved. The odd pairing works, though, making Hum more interesting than many of the hardcore bands playing similar music of those days. This is a slice of genuine 90s alt rock that you all msut listen to.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Beastie Boys : The Sounds of Science (1999)

Greatest hits, B-sides and Rarities from the Hip Hop Rap Rock Superstars! 

Most fans and critics would agree that few rap bands shaped the course of music in the '90s as much as the hip hoppers Beastie Boys. In the '80s, the  radical Beasties Boys trio comprising of Michael "Mike D" Diamond, Adam "MCA" Yauch and Adam "Ad-Rock" Horovitz  introduced rap to white high school kids when their Licensed to Ill broke down the barriers between rap and rock. Then, on the critically acclaimed follow-up, Paul's Boutique, the trio took sampling and rap song structure to brand new heights. Since then, the band fashioned a rap style that drew its inspiration from a multitude of musical genres - a distinctive sound that was comfortable borrowing riffs from just about any source, whether it be Cannonball Adderly, Zamfir, or even AC/DC. 

On their greatest hits compilation The Sounds of Science, the Beastie Boys packaged most of their  biggest hits along with a few new tracks and some rarities. Though it did well commercially, by trying to appeal to both die-hard and casual fans, the group ended up satisfying neither party. Casual fans didn't give a flip about hearing the insipid "Country Mike" material, while die-hard fans really didn't want to hear "Fight for Your Right" again. It's also a safe bet that only a small portion of the band's followers actually enjoyed their excursions into hardcore punk. The band would have been better off releasing The Sounds of Science as two separate CDs – one with the rarities and new tracks and one with the hits. 

As a collection of hits, the only noticeably absent tune was "No Sleep 'til Brooklyn." Perhaps the band was still bothered by the drug references in that song. As a collection of rarities, it's a shame that neither "Rock Hard" or "Spam" were included on The Sounds of Science. These songs had popped up on bootlegs for a while, and I'm sure many fans would loved to have clean recordings of these songs. Instead, they got a cover of Benny & the Jets that features a vocal by Biz Markie. It's funny the first time, annoying after that. 

From the start, the Beastie Boys knew they could never make a definitive "Greatest Hits" album. This is mainly due to the fact that their fans held widely varied opinions about which songs were/are actually the group's best. Some claim that Licensed to Ill is the band's best record, others argue that it's their worst. Knowing this, the band decided to let their fans even make their own custom CDs too. 

Whatever your reason, this anthology (in spite of all its inconsistencies) is a must for any fan of the 90s especially the hip hop genre that this uncustomary rap rock band truly redefined. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Witchboard (1986)

Cheesy demonic 80s horror with freudian undertones 

You'd better know this typical horror slasher was made in the 80s by the Night of the Demons Director Kevin S. Tenney and has a cult following among 80s Horror fans. This review however is different - it talks a lot about the rather stupid plot, has plenty of spoilers  and a rather unusual Freudian commentary that's either gonna amuse or irritate you. 

Ok, so here it goes. Our Heroine Linda (the Whitesnake videos babe Tawny Kitaen), who has enormous hair, is caught in a love triangle between her current boyfriend Jim (Todd Allen) who looks a little like Dennis Quaid and ex-beau Brandon (Stephen Nichols), a sensitive 80s man who believes in spirits, cries a lot, and wears his shirts unbuttoned to the navel. 

One day, Brandon breaks out a ouija board at a party to converse with the departed, but the boorish Jim makes sarcastic comments about it until nobody can tolerate him. Jim considers becoming a believer when an aggravated spirit drops a slab of drywall on his Eddie-Van-Halen-alike construction worker buddy, but when his girlfriend takes to swearing he really starts to wonder what the fuck is going on. Brandon thinks the spirit is that of a ten-year-old boy named David but later on it appears David's time-sharing the ouija board with Malfeitor, a mass murderer. This madman is using Linda as a "portal." Linda becomes addicted to the ouija board and ends up succumbing to "progressive entrapment" she quits going to school and neglects her personal hygiene. 

Meanwhile, an irritating psychic is skewered on a sundial. Jim and Brandon are struck with barrels and fall into a lake. Linda locks herself in a room and sways back and forth violently. Finally Jim decides he's had enough of this and corners the possessed Linda. They fight for a while until a detective who always wanted to be a magician comes in wielding a gun and is promptly killed. Then it turns out Jim, not Linda, is the "portal" - unless Malfeitor is lying  so Jim shoots the ouija board and this fixes the problem. 

Okay, so the ouija board is the portal. Wait, who's the portal again? So the movie's a tad confusing, but it's good b-movie fun. There's a nice meta-fictive moment when Jim - exasperated with Brandon's don't-you-think-I-know-how-crazy-this-sounds insistence that Linda's on the road to demonic possession - says sarcastically, "so what you're telling me is that I'm married to Linda Blair". But it seems to me equal parts slasher movie and possession story since the offending entity here is a mad killer and not a demon of some sort. It's even a Reefer Madness-type angle, since much of the film is clumsily concerned with the pitfalls of obsessiveness and addiction. 

One can also argue that Jim's emotional coldness is "closed" and that Linda's excessive warmth and compassion is "open," and through the ordeal they endure they are, respectively, "opened up" and "closed off" to a "compromise point" - Jim becomes more sensitive, Linda more assertive although you can make a sound argument that Witchboard's writing is a little too scattered to convey this point seamlessly. Linda might be "open" but in a more Freudian sense she's pretty "closed" - chaste to a fault, she starts the movie in virginal white, refuses to have sex with Jim when he pisses her off, and doesn't cuss. Maybe this is because Witchboard combines the slasher and occult/possession stories. 

In slashers, the Final Girl is "closed" (chaste, rational, observant, proactive rather than reactive), which enables her to avoid being "penetrated" (i.e., punctured) by the killer. In possession stories, the possessee tends to be more "open" (intuitive, in tune with the spiritual realm, empathic, what have you), which makes her more vulnerable to other-worldly "penetration" (i.e., possession) and makes sure there's a story to be told. Although Jim is pretty clearly "opened," then, what Linda represents is far less clear since she has to bear the contradiction when the movie chooses to combine two horror sub-genres that are largely at odds with one another. 

Seeing is believing this classic horror 80s gem. Watch it and let us know what you think.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Rush (2013)

JohnnyTwoToes loves the rush and so will you!

Add caption
I have never been a big car racing fan, but after viewing Ron Howard's Rush, I need to take a gander at it because this adrenaline fueled Formula One film is amazing from start to finish. 

Rush tells the true story of the intense rivalry in the mid 1970's between Formula 1 drivers James Hunt, the British superstar and Niki Lauda from Austria. Hunt with his brash playboy good looks, had talent for driving to match his personality. Niki Lauda was far more serious and his personality was as smooth as sandpaper. Lauda certainly did not make many friends, at first. Lauda had an intelligence for even creating his own car to make it lighter, faster and meaner. Hunt was not a dummy but spent most of his time off the track boozing and carousing with the females. They were from different backgrounds but one thing they had in common was their love to race and stare death in the face. 

Rush is a technical masterpiece. The racing sequences seem to be as real as anything I have ever seen on film. Director Howard has tight shots of pistons pumping, helmet cams, tires smoking going at speeds that would make us reach for the barf bag. But writer Peter Morgan and Howard have dug deep into the psyche of the two drivers. Lauda, from a wealthy business family angered he did not come into the family business, takes a loan out, finds a crew with an okay car and a sponsor who needs a driver and some cash. He works his way up to Formula 1 racing and succeeds. Hunt is in full self destruction mode with booze, drugs and women but when it comes to racing he does not know the words 'slow down'. Hunt is fully aware of himself as a person and a driver and makes no apologies for it, but when Lauda arrives, Hunt knows he had better get his game face on. 

Daniel Bruhl plays Lauda, whom they ineffectually refer to as 'The Rat' because of his unlikable personality and his overbite, but Lauda is publicly unaffected. Privately, he stews about it. "Happiness is the enemy," He tells his new bride, Marlene (Alexandra Maria Lara). "Once you have found happiness, you lose". Credit Morgan's script bristles with heart, intelligence and knowledge of the racing world but how men react to each other in competition, even at their darkest hour. 

The acting is first rate with both Bruhl as Lauda and Chris Hemsworth as Hunt delivering stellar performances. Their characters have real depth and we care about what happens to them, despite their flaws as people. They don't like each other but have a mutual respect for one another. They sustain each other on and off the track both professionally and personally. The supporting cast is equally effective with Olivia Wilde as Hunt's wife who quickly tires of his shenanigans and Alexandra Maria Lara who shines as Niki Lauda's wife. She seems to understand him the best and loves him anyway, even when times are their worst. Pierfrancesco Favino is great as legendary driver, Clay Regazzoni, Lauda's teammate. They don't like each other much either, but they do grow to become friends, anyway and Hans Zimmer's score is first rate, worth purchasing. It sounds different than his previous scores which seemed to repeat themselves. This score by Zimmer is fresh and exciting and keeps us invested in the action and the characters. 

Ron Howard (who is directing Hemsworth in the upcoming Moby Dick film, Hearts of The Sea) shows us why he is one of Hollywood's finest directors. Rush is exhilarating, intelligent and bold fun from start to finish and why this did not get more Academy attention last year is beyond me. Yes, Rush is THAT good. Rush-**** out of 4

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Pacific Heights 1990 Film Score - Hans Zimmer

JohnnyTwoToes recalls one of the early 90s' most notable film scores

1990's Tenant from Hell Thriller Pacific Heights is not one that most people remember as a 90s' classic. This underrated mystery starring Michael Keaton, Melanie Griffith, Mathew Modine & directed by the Oscar winning John Schlesinger (Midnight Cowboy) only received a lukewarm reception from critics and audiences when it was released. 

This film however marked the debut of Michael Keaton into the foray of 'the villain' realm as up until this point he had played likable buffoons and all around good guys and German-born Composer Hans Zimmer moving into new musical territory. 

Zimmer scored a slew of big films in the late 80's and early 1990 and garnered a lot of attention including Oscar nominations with scores for Rainman, Black Rain (two of my personal favorites), Driving Miss Daisy, Bird On A Wire and Days of Thunder. Pacific Heights was an under-the-radar film and the score that was released is in four movements from Varese Sarabande. 

As the film is structured, so is the score. Movement one starts with a mysterious crescendo of chords and that blossom into a bouncy piece featuring saxophonist Gene Cipriano and vocalist Carmen Twilley. Uses of the Zimmer staple percussion, an added mandolin played by Jim Matheos and lovely piano work by Mike Lang (who has worked with John Carpenter on some of his scores) make the first movement a fitting start; creepy and unnerving. Walt Fowler adds some nourish tones with his muted trumpet for the end of Movement One into Movement Two and throughout, while Chuck Domanico has some cool bass sprinkled in as well. Movement Two starts with Lang's soft piano as the music gives way to Zimmer's more acoustical side with some woodwinds and some additional horns conducted by Shirley Walker

Pacific Heights continues to combine all of these elements throughout the entire album. It is constructed as a film only here, it is without the visuals. Zimmer shows his diverse side in Movement Three with a nod to the far east with the introduction to the film's wise character, Toshio Watanabe played by the always reliable Mako, who is the first one to really suspect Mr. Hayes is trouble. Zimmer really cuts it loose for Movements Three and Four as the heroes really begin to uncover what Hayes is all about. The score does not follow a specific pattern but, therein is its charm. As in the film, the score slows up to allow us to soak up the beautiful and quiet moments but Zimmer, who can do action as well as anyone can, knows when to ramp up the action. 

In Movement Four Zimmer's score has a theme, so to speak, of determination for our heroes, as they uncover more plans of the evil Hayes. When Zimmer punches it, the score is frightful and chilling and one of his better scores. It is a nice mix of electronics mostly with some orchestral arrangements and the other players, here really compliment this score and enhance a familiar but effective film.

If you want piece of 90's film scores with elements of power electronics and modern classical, this is the original motion picture soundtrack that you must be listening to. Besides, Hans Zimmer currently in the limelight  again for his Interstellar score never disappoints.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Godzilla (2014)

JohnnyTwoToes recommends this flawed but entertaining reboot!

Godzilla has had probably more sequels, prequels, reboots than just about any franchise in film history. Let's just say it has had more tweaks, adjustments and face lifts than Donatella Versace. Some have been campy, some trashy, some trashy fun but none as visually awe inspiring than Gareth Edwards latest 2014 incarnation, Godzilla

This time, the film takes off with quite a bang as a nuclear scientist (Bryan Cranston) arrives at his workplace, a Japanese nuclear power plant, that has spawned a power plant meltdown. What has caused this? No one knows, but it is such a disaster that Cranston's character spends the next fifteen years trying to find out what REALLY caused the meltdown. His son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) has moved on with his life, into San Francisco with his wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and their young son. Needless to say, all hell is about to break loose with worldwide implications. 

Gareth Edwards who had only directed the independent film, Monsters, has been charged with a tall task (no pun intended). Reviving a franchise whose recent track record has met with limited success. Mostly because the films focused more on the monsters than on the people that are affected by them. The monsters are pretty standard characters. They are huge, lumbering and oafish. They are loud, screech a lot and generally are awoken not in the best of moods. 

Edwards has done something as a director that makes this Godzilla a film worth viewing. He focuses on the characters more than the monsters. I mean, we all pretty much know what to expect from the monsters. The human elements of this Godzilla are worth watching. Kind of, anyway. Cranston will put the hooks into you but he is surprisingly not in the film for very long. The remainder of this Godzilla focuses on Ford, his wife and they are really not anywhere as intoxicating as Cranston's character. Ken Watanabe is a scientist who has been studying this for many years and he spends most of his screen time looking like a deer in the headlights. He does what the character requires and sells his character, but nothing that is memorable. Which brings me to Taylor-Johnson and Olsen. They, again, do what is required to sell their characters but they come across as so uninteresting that I had a hard time fearing for their safety as characters. They are a little too bland for my tastes, but what sells this Godzilla is the visual feast that Edwards has created. There is no shortage of eye popping visuals and the personal stories, although they are underwritten with homogenized characters, are ENOUGH to sell the action. 

The action here is tremendously staged and the cinematography by Seamus McGarvey is worthy of an Oscar nod. Yes, it is that good. I have heard people complaining about the score by Alexandre Desplat which I found to be curious. It is a fine score and worth purchasing. Will he be remembered for this score in particular? Probably not, but it is an excellent score with a full orchestra that has been peppered with a sparse but effective compilation of electronics. 

This edition of Godzilla is not 100% great especially Godzilla's screentime but it is worth viewing and most people will agree that, this time around Edwards has created a bleak world where our own devices can kill or create our greatest enemies. This is the best Godzilla they have ever created and the look of the film is tremendous, I just wish the script by Max Borenstein was a little more meaty and that the lead characters had some more angles to them. The acting is efficient enough so you can believe the story on face value but in the sequel (yes, there is a sequel and Edwards, for the moment, is returning as director) I would like to see some more dimensions to the characters. I mean, if they want us to believe in the story and invest our time and money into this then make it worth our while, too. 

Still, I don't want to downplay this film too much. Godzilla knows what it is and has a fun way of telling us. It does not take itself too seriously, so we can sit back and enjoy ourselves. The sequel is coming, for the moment, tentatively in 2018. Godzilla-*** out of 4

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Beck - Midnite Vultures (1999)

A memorable mix of funk rock, R&B with an alt rock twang

In spite of a Grammy award for the Best Alternative Music AlbumBek David Campbell aka Beck's 1998 release Mutations, was little more than a side project, apparently finished in 14 days – an album to keep the fans content while he was busy working on the proper follow-up to the critically adored Odelay (1996). So, on his 1999 seventh album effort, Midnite Vultures, Beck took his musical playfulness and experimentation to a whole new realm. 

Midnite Vultures is a cut-and-paste alt rock blend of 70s funk, 80s hip-hop, 70s R&B and 80s dance music. If Rick James and Kraftwerk had made an album that was produced by the Beastie Boys and engineered by Prince, the result would have sounded a lot like this. For an album that's mostly about sex, Midnite Vultures oozes sexiness all throughout. Just as Beck takes a unique approach to his music, on this album he takes a unique view of sex and what is considered sexy. 

At various times, Beck is both admiring and parodying the likes of Prince, Rick James, and Barry White. Just look at the album's horns-and-bass opener, "Sexx Laws" The chorus finds Beck singing "I want to defy/ The logic of all sex laws/ Let the handcuffs slip off your wrists/ I'll let you be my chaperone/ At the halfway home." On "Nicotine and Gravy," Beck's narrator tells a potential conquest that he'll "leave graffiti where you've never been kissed." The song bounces and oozes along on a drum and bass groove until it gets to the snake-charming synth break in the middle. Never before has the line "Her left eye is lazy" sounded more seductive. "Mixed Bizness" is the best funk number on Midnite Vultures, and finds Beck singing that he'll "make all the lesbians scream." 

"Get Real Paid," a warped little '80s techno number, features the line "Thursday night, I think I'm pregnant again" followed by the line "Touch my ass if you're qualified." Needless to say, we're not dealing with your basic "Oooh baby I want you so bad" lyrics here. The rolling, twangy "Peaches and Cream" is one of the wilder sexcapades on Midnite Vultures, as Beck sings "You look good in that sweater/ And that aluminum crutch/ I'm gonna let you down easy/ I've got the delicate touch." Other lyrics include "We're on the good ship menage a trois" and "You make a garbage man scream.

Beck's most blatant parody of the sex music genre is the hilarious "Debra,". It's the wickedly funny story of a guy who picks up a girl at JC Penney and takes her for a ride in his Hyundai, all sung in the most sincere Prince-like falsetto. Simply brilliant. 

For most artists, albums like Mellow Gold (1994) and Odelay would be considered as creative highpoints. But for Beck, after listening to this 'album of the year' Grammy nominated album, it appears that those albums were just the beginning, he exceeds even your highest expectations.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Utah Saints - Two (2000)

Vintage Slice of Techno from the late 90s

Here’s another dance album from the early 2000's from another electronic techno British duo who took a while to make their sophomore CD. The Utah Saints, however, took an extra long time – almost 8 years from 1992 to be precise to release their second album - incidentally titled Two in 2000 and their third album even after 14 years is still in the works!! 

Those of you who have now probably crossed middle age might remember the last self -titled Utah Saints debut album. It’s the one that spawned the club rave hit “Something Good” thanks to a well-placed Kate Bush sample. Kate Bush is nowhere to be found on Two, but Michael Stipe of R.E.M. fame appears on two tracks (“Sun” and “Punk Club”). His contribution sounds like little more than a rambling answering machine message that the band then cut up and turned into a vocal track. Chuck D of Public Enemy fame also appears on Two, providing a little muscle to the pounding beats of the appropriately titled “Power to the Beats.” 

On Two, the Utah Saints duo Jez Willis and Tim Garbutt sound like a electronica techno band that’s been around for a long, long time but hasn’t stopped recording. There are tracks here that represent all phases of the last 2 decades of electronic music. You can hear the influence of everyone from Fatboy Slim to the Crystal Method to the Propellerheads to Daft Punk on this disc, which actually sounds more like a mediocre techno outfit’s “Greatest Hits” compilation than one band’s current release. Still, this is an authentic vintage slice of the late 90s music that every techno fan must listen to! 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Entertaining Big-Budget Superhero flick, JohnnyTwoToes gives you the details

Captain America - The Winter Soldier is a rousing adventure flick with loads of great action scenes and Chris Evans in top form really coming into his own as an actor. Seen in a good film earlier this year, Snowpiercer and the Marvel films, Evans has an All American quality which is quite winning and it comes through on screen. I was not a fan of his, based on his earlier films which were mostly garbage, but I have become a fan and here he is the star and is having a great time. You can tell, too and that makes Captain America such a fun time. 

Sure the plot is ridiculous (global domination, anyone?) but it exists solely as a set piece for very extravagant action in which there are fights in elevators, on planes, trains and automobiles, oh me, oh my. Scarlett Johansson reprises her role as Natasha Romanoff A.K.A. The Black Widow as does Coby Smulders as Maria Hill, last seen in The Avengers. Samuel L. Jackson returns as Nick Fury and a pleasing addition of Robert Redford (Yes, THAT Robert Redford) as Alexander Pierce. Anthony Mackie is terrific as the latest edition hero named Falcon or otherwise as Sam Wilson. 

I liked the first Captain America and REALLY loved this second film. It is wall to wall action but there are characters that have depth to them and are multi-dimensional so the action means something. We care what happens to them, quite simply. Directing duo Anthony and Joe Russo have made this film even more exciting and interesting than its predecessor and script writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have written an intelligent script that deals with the trappings of ultimate power and how the future could be shaped by those who wield that power; good or evil. It is an intelligent script but has a lot of humor, too, to keep you smiling. 

Not to be disappointed for film score fans, Henry Jackman's score is equally robust and elevates the action effectively and you will hardly know that this film is a good, solid two hours and sixteen minutes long with at least two additional scenes during the end credits. I truly thought seeing Robert Redford, who is in his mid 70's, in a Marvel comic book film was a complete joy for me. He is a fine actor and everyone in this film does a fine job of selling this plot, no matter how many times we see a global domination plot used. Here, it is fresh, exciting, fun from start to finish and worth viewing on DVD besides the film score is also a good buy. Captain America The Winter Soldier-****

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

JohnnyTwoToes reviews one of the best biographies in recent times 

Saving Mr. Banks tells the true story of two weeks in 1961 when Walt Disney and Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers met in Beverly Hills to discuss the rights to Ms. Travers wonderful book. Now there have been a number of liberties taken by director John Lee Hancock and screenwriters Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith BUT the gist of the story is true. In actual reality, when Pamela (P.L. Travers) came to Los Angeles to meet with Mr. Disney, the Sherman Brothers song team and scriptwriter, Don DaGradi, she had already signed over the rights but was still hammering out the details of the script. When Saving Mr. Banks opens, she has yet to sign anything over. Her dwindling residuals from all of her books have put her into a tough position so that she HAS to do something. The rest of the film is how it happened. 

Most of Saving Mr. Banks is primarily based on eyewitness account, and personal correspondence between Travers and Disney via phone or letters. Her driver, Ralph (Paul Giamatti) is fictional, as Travers had several different drivers while she was in America, but one man named Bill Dover, a storyboard editor, was her assigned primary companion while she was in California. Having covered these details, I can simply say Saving Mr. Banks is a total delight. 

Emma Thompson as the prickly P. L. Travers, has the right amount of negative passion that we can understand her concerns. Thompson'a performance is Oscar worthy (although Saving Mr. Banks was nominated for Best Score, ONLY) as she precariously balances herself between a nervous breakdown and trying to make a film she can live with. Her life is seen as flashbacks with her loving father and a mother who loves her, but knows or at least suspects Pamela loves her dad more. Her father was Travers Goff, a banker with a penchant for booze and a man whose head is in the clouds; a dreamer. 

Colin Farrell is Travers at a young age. Handsome and very doting on his girls, he is a consummate screw up who is always being let go for any number of reasons. Farrell's work here, is the best of his career and to me, that is saying something. He is a fine and underused actor. Which brings me to Tom Hanks ( in real life Hanks is a distant relative to Walt Disney) as Mr. Walt Disney. So many people have said that, upon seeing this film, he was a liar and a bully. I don't know what film they watched, but I saw a kind generous business man who wanted to bring a classic book to the big screen. Ms. Travers had problems with just about EVERY detail that Disney wanted to include in the film, "No animation, no color red", were two of the most stringent demands that Ms. Travers had. "That dreadful Dick Van Dyke will not do", Pamela spits out upon her first sit down with the Sherman Brothers and DaGradi. "But he is a classic', the three chime in. Pamela laughs, "No, don't be ridiculous. Olivier is a classic. Guiness is a classic. Mr. Van Dyke is MOST CERTAINLY NOT a classic. He won't do at all." Walt is concerned but he feels he is charming enough to convince Pamela otherwise. Hanks shows why he is at the top of the Hollywood elites in acting. His performance is real and sincere down to Mr. Disney's mannerisms and how he even stood in a room. Hanks is simply wonderful; kind and genuine. 

The supporting cast of Bradley Whitford as Don DaGradi, B.J. Novak and Jason Scwartzman as the Sherman Brothers, Ruth Wilson as Travers' long suffering wife, Paul Giamatti, Rachel Griffiths (as Aunt Ellie who was the inspiration of the character, Mary Poppins) and Kathy Baker as Mr. Disney's associate are all terrific and enhance this film even more. Director Hancock and the script writing team have made a film filled with good cheer (despite some of the tragic elements that shaped Pamela's life) and a lot of heart. The film deals with life, loss and how it affects us through our childhood and even into our adult years and it does it with poignant grace. It will make you laugh and cry and you will never watch Mary Poppins with the same eyes when you see Saving Mr. Banks. The fact that Saving Mr. Banks was not nominated for anything EXCEPT Thomas Newman's tremendous score (and it did not even win that) is mind blowing. How could they not see this was one of the best films of 2013? It is! There were ludicrous statements made that Hanks had already been nominated enough but that apparently did not stop them from nominating Meryl Streep for the 18th time. 

For whatever the reason, Saving Mr. Banks is a delicious treat for the entire family and it will run the gambit with your emotions, but you will love every minute of it. This is a truly great film. Saving Mr. Banks-**** out of 4

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Sixteen Deluxe - Emits Showers of Sparks (1998)

Bouncy alternative rock from the 90s

This Austin, Texas based band made their debut in 1995 with Backfeed Magnetbabe. That album earned the band an indie following and a reputation for noisy, loud, psychedelic pop-punk. On Sixteen Deluxe’s major label debut, however, much of that indie noise was replaced by major label sheen. That’s usually a recipe for a lackluster album and although indie purists will find it hard to believe, there are still certain indie acts who actually improved after making the jump to a major label (the Pixies and Beck for starters).  But Sixteen Deluxe bucked the odds and turned Emits Showers of Sparks into a showcase for their songwriting and musical talents. 

The first single from Emits Showers of Sparks is "Purple", a bouncing, lively track centered on the lyric "I don’t know anything at all." Vocalist/guitarist Carrie Clark sings the line in a detached manner, giving the impression that the lyric is meant to be sarcastic. Clark can also display a real connection with her lyrics, however, as she does on the beautiful "Let it Go." This track can best be described as the great ballad that Chrissie Hynde always wanted to write. "Let it Go" has a bit of a Mazzy Star vibe to it, but Clark seems to have a personal attachment to the song’s lyrics. 

On "Burning Leaves," Clark duets with guitarist Chris Smith. On the tracks which feature both of them singing, Clark and Smith play the roles of X’s Exene Cervenka and John Doe. Smith even sounds a bit like Doe from time to time, especially on the distinctive "No Shock (In Bubble)." Smith’s voice works well on some tracks, like "Wrist Rocket," but not on "Honey" (the album's one true clunker). 

The centerpiece on Emits Showers of Sparks is the epic "Mexico Train." This song finds Sixteen Deluxe in full indie mode, and it’s a real show-stopper. The lyric "With hugs and kisses/ And an occasional lick/ Apologies still on your breath" should give you some indication of the song’s direction. 

At times, Sixteen Deluxe come across like My Bloody Valentine with a serious Pretenders fixation. And while the band does sometimes flirt with guitar noise on this album, the focus remains on the songs’ melodies, rhythms, and strong hooks. Unlike the band’s debut effort that in spite of its raw energy did need a little attention, the songs on Emits Showers of Sparks however will grab you on the first listen. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Pink Floyd - The Final Cut (1983)

Rewinding the progressive rockers last album to feature Roger Waters

On my desk sits a copy of Pink Floyd's The Final Cut, a seminal concept album I haven't cracked since high school, when it was one of my all-time favorites. Needless to say, what I love and what I hate have changed a lot since then. In light of those changes - and for the edification of you, dear reader - I will now re-listen to The Final Cut for the first time in  more than a decade, commenting as I go, devoid of prejudice, trying to see whether or not it still stands up. 

0:19 - The Final Cut, I should note, was intended as a kind of spiritual sequel to Pink Floyd's classic double-album monument to overindulgence The Wall. On the All Music Guide, the ubiquitous Stephen Thomas Erlewine has this to say about it: "The Final Cut alienates all but the dedicated listener…it's damn near impenetrable in many respects...Distinctive, to be sure, but not easy to love and, depending on your view, not even that easy to admire." Bullshit! Erlewine obviously doesn't remember what it was like to be a teenager, because, as I recall, there was no album that more perfectly captured my sense of weltschmerz and all-encompassing egoistic pain and melodrama than The Final Cut. I loved Roger Waters' wounded-child yelping! I loved the aggressive, frightening dynamics! I loved the soothing instrumental textures! I learned how to bang out almost all of the album's 12 tracks on acoustic guitar. 

2:31 - "Oh Maggie, Maggie what did we do?", sings Waters near the end of "The Post-War Dream." Wondering who "Maggie" was in my pre-political ignorance, I always assumed her to be this kind of eternal rock archetype - the Maggie of "Maggie's Farm," by Bob Dylan, of "Maggie Mae" by the Beatles, of "Maggie May" by Rod Stewart - matriarchal and sad-eyed, a source of shelter and solace for cheeseball rockers the world over. Not knowing any better, this was how I interpreted Waters' "Maggie" in The Final Cut, as a meta-Maggie of sorts, appealed to with fervent and childish earnestness. This seemed, to me, inexpressibly touching - like praying to rock and roll to save you from real life. Which is an idea to which most every teenager can relate. 

3:02 - I now know that the weird spacey effect on the rhythm guitar in "Your Possible Pasts" is called "flanging," a word (and process) invented by George Martin, who, during his long tenure as the Beatles' producer, oversaw a tape operator named Norman Smith. Smith, in turn, went on to produce Pink Floyd's first album Piper at the Gates of Dawn, an album whose Syd Barrett-helmed psychedelic madness couldn't possibly be further removed from The Final Cut's Roger Waters-dominated manic bathos. Just an aside. 

4:03 - "Do you remember me? How we used to be? Do you think we should be closer?" This line kicks off what may be the classic Final Cut sadistically dynamic explosion, and shortly after it we get the album's first Searing David Gilmour Solo, that element of Pink Floyd which forever types them as a "classic rock" band. Personally, I was never much into Gilmour's wankery, though I acknowledge that he's a more substantial and emotional wanker than most. Back in those days, as band roles go, I was always more into the soul-baring songwriter than the wanking lead guitarist, probably because I was such a damn pussy. 

14:44 - "The Gunner's Dream" was probably my favorite song on this album back then. But, for one reason or another, the surging strings, the throat-shredding screams, the pitiful lines like "no one kills the children anymore" and "take his frail hand and hold on to the dream" aren't really having any effect on me this time around. Even worse, I'd forgotten entirely that this song is deeply marred by the skronking nuisance of a Bad Saxophone Solo. Traumatized, I must have blocked it out of my memory until now. 

16:55 - Now "Paranoid Eyes," on the other hand - beautiful! Sure, the lyrics are a little bit over-the-top, but the delicate, sensitive backing is gorgeous! 

17:42 - Oops. Said gorgeous backing was just compromised more than a little by a rattling vibraslap excessively panned - Foghat style - from the corner of one ear to the other and back again. I'm starting to realize that one problem with Pink Floyd in the twilight years of their Waters period is that the lush, effects-intensive "wet" sound they'd developed on Dark Side of the Moon and perfected on parts of The Wall soon devolved to the point where every single tearjerking line Waters uttered was accompanied by a wacky sound effect. He'd sing "phone" and a distant phone would ring; he'd sing "TV" and a distant 50's TV voice would chime in; he'd sing "half-empty bottle of Yoo-Hoo falling off a three-story Manhattan balcony onto the back of an ant walking south-west in mid-winter" and…you get the picture. The bad part of this is that, after awhile, it gets hard to tell the difference between latter-day Pink Floyd and classic-era Spike Jones. 

20:55 - Aah, "Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert," with its infamous exploding bomb sound-effect - still deafening after all these years. What's more interesting to these contemporary ears is Waters' little litany: "Brezhnev took Afghanistan, Begin took Beirut, Galtieri took the Union Jack," which segues into more talk of the doings of Eternal Rock Music Maggie. Just goes to show the past isn't past, as the sentiment "Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert" is still alive and well as I write this, and, come to think of it, Waters' bomb sound effect wasn't all that funny during this most recent hearing. 

21:48 - "The Fletcher Memorial Home" is the only song from The Final Cut that Capitol Records saw fit to include on Echoes: The Best of Pink Floyd, whose assemblers had the unenviable task of trying to make the band that recorded both the playful and wacked-out "Bike" and the bland and radio-ready "Learning to Fly" seem somehow coherent. I wonder if they chose "The Fletcher Memorial Home" because of its Searing David Gilmour Solo, its relatively normal dynamics, or some other factor, because I can think of far better Final cuts to include on a best-of.
"Southhampton Dock," for example, is one of the most enduring and powerful songs on this record: simple, epigrammatic, and heartbreaking. Far from the crushing obviousness of this album at its worst, this gem contains wonderfully oblique and evocative lines like "no one spoke and no one smiled; there were too many spaces in the line" and "still the dark stain spreads between their shoulderblades." Lovely.

Meanwhile, the album's title track is a dead-ringer for an outtake from The Wall; the song overshoots all the strictures of taste and discretion and sails into the sun, incandescent and majestically melodramatic, ecstatically high on its own surging wave of world-obliterating pain. Any critical "distance" I could have from this admittedly bathetic song is wiped out by its force and its urgency. Let somebody else criticize it - I don't have the heart.

32:53 - I was never quite sure if "Not Now John" - which shamelessly comes on to disco where The Wall's "Another Brick in the Wall" just shyly flirted with it - is good or not. With its black-girl chorus that intersperses "ooh-laa"s and "shoop shoop"s with cries of "fuck all that!", it seemed like, whether the song succeeded or failed, you still had to hand it to Rogers. Listening to the requisite Searing Gilmour Solo (the album's third) this time around, I'm less inclined to be charitable and I think it's just kind of silly. Especially when it falls apart into distant and chaotic Waters yelping. 

40:24 - In the end, though, you've got to give Waters credit for the consistency of his vision. He concludes this album with the conclusion of the world; the breezy soft-rock account of nuclear holocaust that is "Two Suns in the Sunset" makes a brilliant, horrifically downbeat ending to this horrifically downbeat record. As an added bonus, we get some more beautifully grim Rogers imagery - "like the moment when the brakes lock…you stretch the frozen moments with your fear." 

40:30 - But, on the down side, Rogers has to go and mar this unassuming song with some more studio-recorded sound effects, this time of children screaming. Oh, yeah, and then there's another Bad Saxophone Solo. Yuck. 

43:01 - In the end, though, as that solo fades out, I'm realizing that The Final Cut is both better and worse than I remembered it. It's dated. I'm different. It's kind of ridiculous, just like I was kind of ridiculous. Still, though, it has managed, in 43 minutes and 10 seconds, to reach back through time and into my chest, find those dusty old heartstrings and, for old time's sake, give them a good hard tug. Will Robinson Sheff

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...