Monday, June 30, 2014

Film Score of the Month - Paranoia (2013) by Junkie XL

JohnnyTwotoes wants us to skip the movie but listen to the music!

Paranoia was another one of the big name (Harrison Ford no less) box office bombs that came, was trashed by critics, made no money and disappeared into DVD land. It was not a great film but I do not despise it as bad as some others did. It received a astounding 5% positive on Rotten Tomatoes, so most will look at that and pass. The film itself was cliched and uninteresting for the most part but one area the film was effective was Junkie XL's ominous techno-ish score. 

Junkie XL (aka Tom Holkenborg), a composer, DJ, producer and multi faceted musician from the Netherlands up until the past year or so had done a few score but nothing as mainstream as he has done with Megamind, Paranoia, Divergent and 300: Rise of An Empire. All with A list casts, he has now graduated into the forefront of film scoring. 

The score to Paranoia is short at only about 35 minutes of score music and an entire scene of scoring is not included in the released product, yet this is still a great listen. The score starts with the soft dreamscapes of 'Lights Across The River' as the hero Adam (Liam Hemsworth) is dreaming of making it big in business with his friends, all of whom work for Nicolas Wyatt (Gary Oldman). Of course, Wyatt is a scumbag and JXL's trance like tones give way to sequenced motifs that tell us the bad happenings are on the way. 

'We Are The Other Half' furthers JXL's use of electronically altered tones and soundscapes peppered with a light piano montage that is quite beautiful. 'Fit In To Get In' is a contemplative piece as Adam's journey through the world of corporate espionage begins to take shape. Adam begins to see that nothing and no one is safe or innocent as heard in the next track aptly titled 'Candid Camera' and this time JXL incorporates some electronic chorus which with a multi layered motif as it crescendos into 'Adam 2.0' when the hero starts to think outside the box. Realizing he is in between a rock and a hard place, Adam makes some moves and decisions that only exacerbate his situation to the point he is visited by some heavy hitters sent by Wyatt in the chase piece 'On Your Knees'. The heavies give Adam an ultimatum and in the next track, 'Hamilton' Adam is paid a visit by the FBI with their own demands. It is another track that builds and builds with added electronic strings, light chorus until Adam sees his only way out.

'Titans Fall' is a booming electronic symphony as the Adam's plans ensnare their thirst for greed and power. 'Remember Who You Are' is an beautiful track and my favorite in the score. It is a touchingly heart felt track with just a soft piano and light strings as Adam beings to realize how much he has changed into everything he swore he would never become. The last minute of this track will bring a lump to your throat. It is that beautiful. I will let you listen to hear just how gorgeous it really is. Which brings us to 'Adam's Theme' which doubles as the end credits theme as well. A solid beat and sampled choral arrangements make this a toe tapper. It is a track I have found myself whistling this tune on several occasions. 

There is an entire piece of score that is heard throughout the final espionage sequence when Adam makes his moves to rescue himself and all he holds dear, that is not included on this score album. Why? I have no idea. Other than that, the film Paranoia is lifted from atrocious to passable action fare purely on the score by Junkie XL. I recommend it as well as JXL's scores for Divergent and 300: Rise of An Empire. If film scores are not your bag, then I recommend some of his non score albums which are pretty addicting. What is next for this hot new composer? Oh, nothing really except putting the final touches on his score for the eagerly awaited reboot of Mad Max: Fury Road. THAT should be something to see AND hear!!!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Menace 2 Society (1993)

A realistic gritty portrayal of harsh gangster life

I have to admit I wasn't a big fan of this movie the first time I saw it. That was many years ago. It was too easy to compare it with Boyz in the Hood (1991). Boyz came out a little before Menace and dealt with very similar content: the gangster lifestyle in South Central Los Angeles. On first viewing I dismissed Menace 2 Society as a rip-off, nothing but another studio attempt to make money off the ghetto culture. 

I was wrong. The comparisons are obvious. Boyz in the Hood was John Singleton's first film, and this was the Hughes Brothers' (Albert Hughes and Allen Hughesfirst. They both are set in LA, and have tragic endings. Alright, they are a lot alike, but each takes a different approach in how they portray the main character. From the opening frame of Boyz (the CU of the stop sign) you know you are watching a film that is trying to give you a message: something to the effect that 'black on black violence has to stop.' 

Menace basically has the same basic message, but the Hughes Brothers use a story instead of preaching. Menace 2 Society also came out shorty after the LA riots of 1992. Neither story incorporates those riots into the narrative, but Menace looks back at the Watt's riots of the late 1960's to set up why things are so fucked. After the fires went out, the drugs moved in, and things have been in a world of shit ever since. 

The story starts with the main character, Kane (Tyrin Turner), and his homie O'Dog (Larenz Tate) buying 40 ouncers in a store owned by Koreans. Anger quickly leads to gunshots. Before he has time to react Kane is an accessory to murder when O'Dog busts a cap in the store owners. Things only go downhill from there. 

Unlike the main character in Boyz, Kane actively pursues the gangster life. He has no problem with pulling the trigger to avenge the murder of his cousin, or beating down the sucka that puts the moves on his girl. He does have a problem with the senseless acts of violence that O' Dog perpetrates on innocents that get in his way. Like he says in the narration, "O'Dog is the American nightmare, a nigga that just doesn't give a fuck, a product of his environment." Kane's only role model is the prison system. It is clear that this gangster can't save himself, because he knows nothing but stealing and dope dealing. How is he supposed to raise a child? 

Menace 2 Society like most other gangster films features a great soundtrack. If you like the gangsta vibe, you'll lap it up. Besides, the music helps set the tone for the story. Too Short even makes a cameo. MC Eiht also has a fairly large role as on OG showing the young homies how to execute revenge. Watch out for Samuel L Jackson, Jada Pinkett and Charles S Dutton

This is a very well done, gritty film about gangster life and  shows how senseless it all is ! Ironically, even after so many years, its still relevant too! Where Singleton went more artsy, the Hughes Brothers (Book of Eli) stayed more true to the game. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

JohnnyTwoToes loves the second installment of The Hobbit trilogy

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is the second film of the second trilogy by Peter Jackson from The Hobbit books and although these films are long, for me they are hardly ever boring. let us not forget that this was the fourth highest-grossing film of 2013 making it the 24th highest-grossing film of all time. It also grossed $209 million worldwide on its opening weekend itself.

This second trilogy is the story of Bilbo Baggins as a titular young man who has come into possession of The Ring of Power which is now starting to effect Bilbo. Every time he uses is it takes him a little longer to regroup his senses. As their quest continues, almost all of the originals are back including Gandalf The Grey who seems to take his leave at the worst possible moments for the group only to return at the best time, as well. 

The second film picks up as our heroes are continuing their journey to reclaim their homeland of Erebo. In doing so they must find a stone called the Arkenstone (No relation to David Arkenstone). The Arkenstone is being held by Smaug, a fire breathing dragon who appetite for carnage is only matched by his love of gold. The voice is provided by Benedict Cumberbatch and his work is terrific, here. 

Since these films are mostly chase pictures with the Orcs and other hideous creatures chasing our heroes there is really not a dull moment. Jackson knows how to frame the action and the choreography is excellent. But these are not just action films. They are well written films, too that are thoughtful, noble and intelligent. Usually the more people you have working on the same scripts the worse the scripts are. Too many cooks in the kitchen, so to speak. Here, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro have written a great script for a film that, aside from the the characters, does not have much to do with the novel series by J. R. R. Tolkien. They have created a new and exciting film that is fresh, inventive and loads of fun. 

I especially like Martin Freeman as Bilbo. He is a fine actor who had some big shoes to fill after Ian Holm played the elder Bilbo in the first Lord of The Rings trilogy. Freeman's Bilbo is strong, smart and brave as he and his friends battle no shortage of villains. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug does introduce a new character named Tauriel played by the lovely Evangeline Lilly and she is as gracefully elegant as she is dangerous.The film has a big build up for the climax that will leave you hanging until December of this year when the third and final chapter is released. 

The original luster may have worn off The Hobbit films, for some but I have enjoyed all of these films and found them to be worth watching even if they are extremely long. Just because we become familiar to the plots and devices of the plots does not mean they lose any of their freshness. Quite the contrary. 

Howard Shore provides another fantastic score as he has done for all of these films and Peter Jackson has been wise to keep Shore coming back. Shore's scores help whisk the viewers off to the world of The Hobbit in grand style and director Jackson has created a beautifully dark and mysterious world. The detail, especially when Smaug is introduced, is phenomenal and simply awe inspiring. The visual feast that is The Hobbit films are equally matched with great writing and flawless acting. With Jackson AND Guillermo del Toro behind the camera I know we are in for a treat. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug- ***1/2 out of 4

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Happy Fathers Day !

Happy Fathers Day Greetings

Two great quote comes to mind - 'A man knows he is growing old because he begins to look like his father' but 'its a wise father that knows his own child'! And here's a funny cartoon that's more relevant of our wired times! Happy Fathers Day!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Kid (2000)

A feel good movie that doesn't really feel good!

Most people find it easier to run from their true selves than to turn inside to seek the certainty of their life. Well imagine that your inner child literally shows up on your doorstep in the form of yourself at the age of ten and that's Disney's The Kid

Considering the Disney association, this Saturn award nominated fantasy comedy directed by National Treasure Director Jon Turteltaub has a dramatic theme that is the clear driving force to this piece. And that is a simple message: "You must conquer you demons or they will chase you for the rest of your life."

Russell Duritz (Bruce Willis) is a forty year old, unmarried, successful image consultant for high priced entertainers and politicians. He is only out for himself and treats anyone he comes in contact with like dirt. He has every material thing he has ever wanted and some power to wield. Still, there is one important thing that has eluded him all his life. That is a healthy inner relationship with himself that could give him the last and most important piece of the puzzle. And so one day, the Kid magically appears.

At their first meeting Russell (Willis) feels like the kid (a splendid Spencer Breslinrepresents some really bad hallucinations that some powerful psychiatric drugs could cure. There is only one problem. The kid is not a hallucination but a person that everyone around him see too. This is where the Disney magic comes in. All twenty minutes of it! Kids seem to find it funny when a kid cries for attention or breaks stuff that in turn makes a grown-up look stupid. 

Russell (Willis) tries at first to conceal the identity of the Kid by ignoring him, but when that doesn't work he starts to introduce him as his nephew. His business assistant Amy (Emily Mortimer) is one of the only normal, sweet and beautiful people in his life but he cant seem to realize her real worth. When she is introduced to the Kid, she instantly falls in love with the innocence that the Kid possesses. This naivety makes Russell try to figure out on his own why the Kid has returned and why he won t leave. In the process he is pointed to one traumatic event that he never dealt with when he was younger. 

This wants to be a feel good movie and to a great extent it actually is. However, you still get a nagging feeling that it could have been a way better. Take for instance the acting of Bruce Willis. Its evident, Willis had lost that comedic flare of his eighties on-screen persona much before and he seems to struggle here and Lily Tomlin, who has some great deliveries, is sadly underutilized.

A kids movie this is not and perhaps the reason why this movie received mixed reviews on release. Some studio freak probably changed this movie to fit that category, because that's what the all mighty dollar said.  Considering this film tackles a very important subject for any adult to ponder, this could have been a great dramedy if the script written by Audrey Wells was handled more correctly. Nonetheless, the loose ends are tied up nicely at the conclusion and, if you can get through the first hour, the next one might even impress you. If a ten year old showed up at my door tomorrow, I definitely tell him to stay away from this Disney movie. Long live Pokemon.

Monday, June 9, 2014

I, Frankenstein (2014)

JohnnyTwoToes reviews 2014's most insipid monster fantasy so far 

You know you are in trouble when you are laughing about five minutes into a film. That was my reaction to I, Frankenstein (2014) - an absolute total and complete waste of celluloid, and remember I had a similar experience a few weeks back with another prize for the pooper scooper, Pompeii. So that is saying something. 

Aaron Eckhart is the title character (that is ADAM Frankenstein to us) who, in modern day London, stumbles across an age old battle between the Gargoyles that adorn buildings across the globe and Demons. Gargoyles are actually angels and demons are.... actually..... demons. Adam is sought after by both clans for a variety of different reasons. NONE of which did I care a hoot about. 

The Demons are led by the nefarious Prince Naberius (Bill Nighy), a slimy sleaze looking to populate his army of empty souls with the essence of a soul-less Adam. Only then will Naberius and his army defeat the Gargoyles. If you are not shaking your head by now then, you might like this film. But, wait I am just getting started. The Gargoyles are led by Queen Leonore (Miranda Otto) and although they are "the good guys" we know that neither team is completely innocent. To perfect the potion that will reanimate Naberius's ghouls is a beautiful scientist, Terra (Yvonne Strahovski) and let me just say she is beautiful. 

Nothing in I, Frankenstein makes any sense and since the dumb film is only 90 minutes they don't waste any time on those pesky little details like two dimensional characters, a sense of real detail to the fantasy world, plot development on how the battle started and how it has been kept secret from the average Janes and Joes of England. Nope, no time for that crap when we gots a whole lotta stuff to tear up. 

There is the whole subplot of the two clans battling for a journal that took the original Dr. Frankenstein YEARS to put together. The journal. that no one can make sense of for hundreds of years, holds the key to the formula that Naberius needs. It takes the lovely Dr. Terra a few scant minutes to figure out what has taken centuries to create and discover in the journal. She is sooooooo smart, yet she can't see what is painfully obvious to EVERYONE watching, that Naberius is a cold, calculating, murderous SOB. She also can't seem to pick a decent place to live, either. Her apartment is a rundown shack that barely has any walls or even drywall. The place is a filthy pig stay that only a poorly written character in a poorly written film would live in. There is no way ANYONE would live there. I thought doctor's made decent money. Ya mean, she can't find a Motel 6 anywhere? 

The battle sequences between the Gargoyles and the Demons are pathetic, as well. The only thing that distinguishes who is getting killed are beams of white light emitted from the Gargoyles and flames that shoot out from slain demons that look like those heartburn commercials for Pepcid AC. The end result Naberius's plan is never FULLY explained. They must be trying to buy up all of the crappy real estate as where their good doctor is living in. 

Aaron Eckhart, who started out in decent, independent films like In The Company of Men, Your Friends and Neighbors and Thank You For Smoking has now started picking parts that will render him to the trash heap of history in Hollywood. With a slew of films that have been lousy, at best, including the disappointing Olympus has Fallen (a sequel is in pre-production called London Has Fallen and NO. I am not making that up) I, Frankenstein is not going to help get his once promising career back on track. His Adam is about as sharp as wet leather and even the lovely Miranda Otto is on auto pilot. Bill Nighy is simply playing the same character he has played in the Underworld films and cashing a check. 

The script and direction by Australian born Stuart Beattie (based on the graphic novel by  Kevin Grevioux) is insultingly bad with lines of dialogue like the laugh inducing, "I thought it was the end. But it was only the beginning." Seriously? This is the best he can come up with? Oh and lest I forget that acting maven, Jai Courtney, who graced us last year about this time with the enragingly bad latest installment of the Die Hard series. He does not fair any better in this film, either. 

The score by German film score duo Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek is a good action score but it plays throughout the film and seems to never end so any dramatic or emotional elements seem to be meaningless. Still, the score is worth purchasing but that is all. If there is a sequel, maybe they can pit hordes of nasty Travelocity Gnomes against an army of the slithering Geico Gekkos. Now THAT I would pay to see, before I sit through this pile of trash, again. I. Frankenstein-* out of 4

Friday, June 6, 2014

No Looking Back (1998)

A Subdued love triangle with Jon Bon Jovi, Edward Burns and Lauren Holly 

This slow burning romantic drama was filmed in Rockaway Beach, New York, but seems nothing like the what you would expect. Nearly everything is grey or brown, looking pretty miserable in winter. Despite the weather, people get around with the car windows down. Just one of the few strange things in this rare hard to find movie I saw for the sole reason of rockstar Jon Bon Jovi

Actor/Director/Writer Edward Burns plays the role of Charlie, the bad guy/good guy 2 in 1 who comes back to town. He's can be the jerk kind asshole figure, who's not very nice to people around him including a handicapped workmate at the garage where he works. We come to know that Charlie was the the ex-boyfriend of Claudia (Lauren Holly in a subtle performance), who he had abandoned some three years earlier when she had got pregnant. Claudia, a waitress now lives with nice guy Michael (Jon Bon Jovi) who's wants marriage and children but Claudia is not so keen. We never find out what Michael does. Just some blue-collar job that pays so little he has to ask Charlie (of all people)to repair his old bomb car in spite of his jealousy and insecurity. Jon Bon Jovi does a great job acting the powerless Michael though. 

The other side story involves Claudia's father. He had apparently ran away too, but it seems to have affected her sister and mother more. The mother hasn't left the house for ages. Her sister is single and so desperate she has a date with a dag. Claudia has a friend who is also single, and seems unable to seduce any men, despite being quite beautiful. 

Before this,  Edward Burns had previously made the She's The One (1996) and The Brothers McMullen(1995) but this little movie feels more like a personal project. Like Burn's many movies, there are many characters that come and go, but in this one he concentrates on just three. It's also notable that he has a female character overshadowing his own role. 

Besides the old love triangle plot, this movie is also about small town dreams and hopes. Claudia has given up all the dreams she had as a teenager, and has now settled for something realistic but dreary. Charlie still has dreams, after failing to achieve any of his before. He wishes to soon leave the suffocating suburb, and wants Claudia to go with him. It might surprise you what she chooses in the end. 

A special mention about the soundtrack! If the story or acting doesn't impress, the music will certainly wow you. There are many great tracks here but its a pity the soundtrack was never released. An okay film with a great soundtrack to watch on a boring day perhaps!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

After Earth (2013)

JohnnyTwoToes reviews what is perhaps M.Night Shyamalan's worst movie ever!

As you watch this poorly made sci-fi adventure, it becomes lucidly clear that M. Night Shyamalan's career is in free fall much like one the many laughable scenes in After Earth. This particular scene involves Jaden Smith hurling himself off a cliff and his special space suit opening up to sprout a web like design that enables the young man to fly and maneuver like a bird! 

Many thought Shyamalan would rebound with this star vehicle for Jaden and pop Will Smith playing (what else) a father and son team on their way to a training post when their space ship crashes on Earth. Earth (as expected in these kind of movies) is uninhabitable that we have destroyed the planet and all that lives there now is a bunch of pissed off animals and assorted creatures that crave human flesh. The distress beacon of the ship (as expected) is in the tail of the ship which we are then told  is a shocking 100 kilometers away! Since papa has broken both his legs, it is up to Kitai (Jaden Smith) to find the distress beacon and activate it calling for help. 

The story is very basic, needlessly cryptic with Scientology references and to add to the mess, cliched to start with. Will Smith (in a casting disaster) is Commander Cypher Raige. He is a seemingly stoic leader who is so fearless he can 'ghost'. We are told that 'Ghosting' is when a man is so fearless that he releases no fear pheromones thus the enemy aliens can not see him. Evidently, the evil aliens can only see the juicy humans because if you show fear, your body releases pheromones that make you an easy meal for the creatures! 

M. Night Shyamalan is a fine director, in my humble opinion. He has directed three standout films EARLY in his career. The Sixth Sign (1999) which gave Bruce Willis a second life in acting in a great and heartbreaking film. He, too had a series of disappointing films until that film made him a A list star. Unbreakable (2000) re-teamed Shyamalan and Willis this time with Samuel Jackson and Robin Wright. Signs (2002) (my personal favorite) solidified Mel Gibson as a leading man in dramas in addition to action films. After that, came The Village (2004) which I hated. I have since softened my dislike for the film and I do actually like the first hour or so. It is vintage Shyamalan; slow tracking shots, quiet and still with very clever lighting adding some real terror. Problem is, Shyamalan reveals too many plot twists and the second half is simply preposterous. After The Village, it went from bad to worse with a string of simply BAD films; Lady In The Water (2006), The Happening (2008) and the truly wretched The Last Airbender in 2010. wtf? 

After Earth is not as bad as The Last Airbender but it is maddeningly dull. Will Smith is truly miscast as Cypher. He is supposed to be fearless and without emotion. He is also very boring to watch, a unsympathetic jerk with NO sense of humor AT ALL. You won't like him, so strike one. Jaden is more interesting to watch only because he is SOOOOO not like his father CAN be. Will Smith can be heroic, brave and funny. Jaden is none of those. His acting in this film is insufferable. So strike two. One character we hate, another that could not act his way out of a wet paper bag (as of yet, anyway). The third strike is that, AGAIN we have a film whose visuals are the lifeblood but the script is tedious and the action is so uninteresting that the whole film becomes a flaccid mess. 

The script, written by Shyamalan and Gary Whitta is without any real emotion and humor. I was surprised to see that it was based on a story by Will Smith. Shockingly, Shyamalan was given 130 MILLION dollars to make After Earth his first film in three years since the debacle of The Last Airbender. You would think the studios (Columbia,mostly) would have looked at his track record the past 10 years and say,"Umm, No." I think there still is greatness in Shyamalan's career, but one can only ask, "What are you doing, man?" My advice is start over and think small like you did with The Sixth Sense. Find a script that is worth taking your time and creating a simple story with characters that are real rather than the crap we have been seeing. Lose the visual feasts for CGI effects, get a real human story and go from there. 

After Earth does have James Newton Howard scoring his eighth film for Shyamalan and his score is a good one; a grandiose orchestral arrangement with some added synthesizers for good measure. Other than that, After Earth is deserving of all the Razzies it was nominated for and the many it won. Lets hope Shyamalan's forthcoming horror comedy Sundowning is at least good. After Earth-* out of 4

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