Monday, June 30, 2008

Wall-E is a Must See!

This weekend was a bit of a family retreat to the hinterlands of upstate New York. But we wouldn't let a little thing like a 40 min drive keep us from the movie theater to see Pixar's latest and greatest, Wall-e.

And so without further ado...the top five reasons you should charge up your solar cell and run (don't walk) to go see Wall-e!

#5. The best robot-character ever.

Ben Burtt, gave sound to the Star Wars saga and a voice to one of the most beloved robotic characters in history, R2-D2. He performs the same service for the one and only Wall-e to much greater effect. I know that says a lot, especially from me an unabashed Star Wars fan. But Wall-e's character is riveting, his emotions complex, and his gestures distinct, sure he has more to work with than little R2-D2, but he also owns the screen alone for about 40 min. Which brings me to...

#4. Kids pay attention

Anyone that read an early review knows that the beginning of the film is unlike anything you've seen in recent film making (with the exception of Cast Away), essentially one character dominates the screen for nearly 40 min without the aid of more than one word. My initial fear, knowing this heading in was people, especially young children in the audience might get bored. Let me tell you it doesn't happen. From minute one, the Pixar team pulls out all of their tricks from every Pixar short playbook to keep these kids riveted. Every beep and boop, every stumble, every gaze at the stars, kids and adults alike are spellbound.

#3. Its an adventure.

I won't reveal the plot to you. But this movie kicks in to gear with action sequences that should make Indy 4 jealous. Zooming along the dusty earth, dodging blaster bolts, zipping through space, crowds hurling. Lets just say, you don't want for action from one.

#2. Its a love story.

Wall-e is a lonely guy. I'm not revealing anything the trailer doesn't reveal to tell you that he falls madly in love with another robot. Their romance and their chemistry on screen is the stuff hollywood stars beg for. We are pushing for them from moment one, and despite their metallic bodies and lack of a functioning english vocabulary, we understand them. Their passion is at the heart of this story, and we feel it with them.

#1. Its social commentary on a grand scale.

Wrapped in a package that little children will find attractive is a deep social commentary on our consumer culture, what it does to the planet and to us as we eat and drink more and more, and buy more and more and do less and less. From minute one we see what comes from the damage we are bringing about to the planet. A huge corporation called Buy N' Large is all around care-taker and as people become more and more vegetized to their floating screens as they zoom around in floating chairs, the need for government becomes less and less, BNL takes care of everything. Its a stunning indictment on our potential future. Pixar took a huge risk to create a movie that actually makes be quiet and think and feel and laugh for two hours, luckily they have the chops to pull it off.

The Man, the Myth, the Legend: Mr. Morgan Freeman

In light of the releases of Wanted and The Dark Knight (movie reviews on the way!), let us pay homage to a Hollywood sage, the voice from the heavens, Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman. He was a Moor (Robin Hood Prince of Thieves), a mob boss (Lucky Number Slevin), a cancer patient (The Bucket List), a weapons specialist (Batman Begins), a boxing trainer (Million Dollar Baby), the President (Deep Impact) and the Alpha and the Omega (Bruce Almighty). Shame on Phil Alden Robinson for killing Freeman off in Sum of All Fears, but kudos to Edward Zwick for casting him in Glory, a film released in what is arguably the most successful year of Freeman's career (1989, the year of Glory, Driving Miss Daisy, and Lean on Me). Morgan Freeman could take over the world in lieu of his many cinematic conquests, a reign that poignantly began with his role as 'Man on the Street' in 1964's Pawnbroker. Without further ado, five films that fortified Morgan Freeman's career.

5. Driving Miss Daisy

The film that earned Freeman his first Academy Award nomination in a leading role. Throughout the course of his career, Freeman has been noted for the chemistry he develops with his on-screen colleagues, his performance with Jessica Tandy being no exception to his vaunted repertoire. Despite not winning the Oscar (that pesky Daniel Day-Lewis, starring in My Left Foot, is a fine actor in his own right), Freeman would go on to be nominated for two more Oscars beyond 1990 (Shawshank Redemption and Million Dollar Baby, the latter of which he won as a 'we finally have to give this guy credit' distinction of pity).

4. March of the Penguins

Face it: in biology class, penguin migration would have been the last topic you'd wish to write about, outside of glacial shift patterns and polar bear mating behavior. Morgan Freeman, lending his sonorous voice to the documentary March of the Penguins, took a topic that was seemingly lackluster and breathed life into it through first-class narration. As far as I am concerned, all major book publishing houses should collaborate on crafting a multi-billion dollar deal that allows Morgan Freeman to voice every book-on-tape ever, and yet to be, produced. Hands down, Freeman's voice is the most iconic in Hollywood (sorry, James Earl Jones). Even so (perhaps it wasn't written into his script), when it comes to Penguins, Freeman tended to glaze over moments in which a young penguin gets sacked by an albatross or a mother becomes porpoise fodder, instead allowing nature to run its awe-inspiring course. Hell, even Spielberg recruited Freeman's voice for a 30-second clip in War of the Worlds; now that's drawing power!

3. Seven
As one of the most spellbinding psychological thrillers of this era, Seven combined the accolades of Brad Pitt, Freeman, and Kevin Spacey, an ensemble cast that chilled countless fans of American cinema as they played out David Fincher's masterwork. As Detective William Somerset, a cop on the verge of retirement, Freeman portrayed a crime specialist with one last case left to lead, one that he'd regret signing up for. Freeman masterfully shows Pitt (David Mills) the ropes throughout the pursuit of a serial killer (Kevin Spacey's John Doe) obsessed with the seven deadly sins, only to watch all that he does for Mills come tumbling down. The anguish in Freeman's voice as the sins of Envy and Wrath are revealed to Mills and Somerset is absolutely haunting, leading one to believe that Freeman, just as he always has, fully embraced his role. In addition to Freeman's portrayal, Kevin Spacey's performance was Oscar-worthy, even in spite of appearing in the film for a mere twenty-five minutes.

2. Lean on Me
This film is a must-see for educators everywhere, as it shows that, even in the most dire of circumstances, an educator can rise above to instruct, lead, and inspire. As Eastside High's Principal Joe Clark, Freeman rid a Patterson, New Jersey high school of miscreants of all sorts, calling on even the not-so ably-minded to pass a mandatory state assessment. Freeman's passion and vigor jump off the screen through each and every scene of 1989's Lean on Me, one of a trio of films that surfaced in Freeman's most successful year in Hollywood. Clark got kids to quit drugs and rallied his staff to extend beyond the normal duties of an educator, harboring a renaissance at Eastside High. If Morgan Freeman were my principal, Lord only knows I'd rush to work on a daily basis, just to see what he would do next. Although unorthodox and outright bizarre from time to time, Clark constantly pulled out all the stops. Needless to say, Freeman's role was one for his career and the ages.

1. Shawshank Redemption
The film by which the TNT network based the phrase "TNT Knows Drama," Shawshank Redemption, at first a Stephen King short story, is one of the greatest films of all time, one that stands as the movie by which Freeman and Tim Robbins may define their careers. By coining the phrase, "Get busy livin' or get busy dyin'," Morgan Freeman's Ellis 'Red' Redding was Shawshank's moral barometer, gauging each and every inmate that left and entered the prison's walls with impartial judgment and compassionate eyes.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Film Review: Wanted

The term 'suspension of disbelief' was coined for a movie like Wanted, an adrenaline rush of a film that was highly entertaining, but rife with ludicrous visual effects normally associated with a graphic novel recreation (which Wanted just so happens to be: director Timur Bekmambetov's loose rendition of Mark Millar's comic book of the same name). Unless you are willing to toss your disbelief to the wayside, this will be a film you will not enjoy. Bekmambetov clearly pays homage to the work of the Wachowski Brothers, they of The Matrix fame, seeing as the vast majority of Wanted's visuals rely on stop-time motion to account for protagonist Wesley Gordon's insane ability to channel his 'anxiety' for the sake of mowing down targets with pinpoint precision. Wanted has the makings of a premier action film: a peon rises to hero status, explosions and gun claps pulse about the moviehouse from one jaw-dropping scene to the next, there is no romantic subplot to speak of, villains are killed in ways unimaginable, and the dialogue is uber-racy. What more could you want for the price of admission?

5. James McAvoy
James McAvoy (Wesley Gibson) was to Wanted as Gerard Butler was to 300: a rising, unknown Scottish thespian from Glasgow who can star in a major Hollywood production. McAvoy, a young talent starring opposite Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman, absolutely stole the show with some of the film's best dialogue and the ability to believably wield a gun and partake in various stunts a la Harrison Ford in the Indy series. His performance alone is worth the price of admission (and is far more substantial than Keanu Reeves's portrayal of Neo in The Matrix. Also, McAvoy has signed on to play Bilbo Baggins in Guillermo del Toro's The Hobbit, due out in December 2001. Score!).

4. Minor Characters and Catalysts
Some of the smaller roles in the film (the vast majority of the assassin league "The Fraternity") were cookie-cutter representations of rehashed action film personas. The smack-talking, machete-wielding Butcher with Latino flair (despite being played by an eastern European actor). The brooding Gunsmith with little to no dialogue (played by hip hop legend Common). The Repairman with no premise but to pound Wesley Gibson into submission. Each of them was incredibly bland and did little to convey the Fraternity's prowess as cold-blooded killers. The only small roles I cared about, super-assassin Cross (Thomas Kreschmann, who poignantly played Jewish sympathizer Wilm Hosenfeld in The Pianist) and munitions specialist Pekwarsky (Terence Stamp), were barely on screen long enough to build a character arc. And all I wanted was more from each of them; in short, their lack of screen-time was utterly disappointing. Then again, there is always the possibility of a sequel, a trend Hollywood will surely continue with Wanted's inevitable success.

3. Tongue-in-Cheek Narration
Many a great film (i.e. Casino, Memento, Goodfellas, 21, etc.) has been brilliantly accentuated by insightfully delightful narration; Wanted is no exception. Wesley Gibson's voice over was hilarious and did plenty to keep the plot moving, but was not so apparent that it took away from the juicy special effects and imagery. Wesley's core behavior and personality (from non-entity to swash-buckling hero) was well-conceived via the power of narration.

2. Action Film Homage or Rip-Off?
Fans of the Star Wars and Matrix series will groan over the amount of times Wanted blatantly rips off key scenes and ideas from the works of Lucas and the Wachowski's. The mythology of Star Wars and the premise of The Matrix (a nobody supplanted in a dead-end job is salvaged and rises to the top) is packaged into a film that barely measures up to the aforementioned pieces that came before it. Without giving too much of the plot away, I will say this: Wanted does very little to deem itself original the way a film like The Empire Strikes Back and the original Matrix did.

1. Action, Action, We Want Action!
Much like Michael Bay's Transformers, the Bourne series, the Italian Job, and the Transporter series, Wanted delivers potent action-packed sequences and serves as a hybrid of each of these outstanding films. Curving bullets, train-hopping, and high-octane car chases were actually quite amazing if one can look past the sheer farcicality of it all. Then again, the climactic train sequence in the Alps was pure nonsense, even by Wanted's standards. I blurted out, "That's absolutely ridiculous!" less throughout the course of Indiana Jones's latest than I did throughout Wanted, and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull had ludicrous moments aplenty (is a floating boat-car really that indestructible?). Even so, every moviegoer purchasing a ticket to witness this film already knows what to expect: an edge-of-your-seat affair laced with some 'gimme a break' moments. All in all, Wanted was a worthwhile moviegoing experience--even better when you consider the treat of a Defiance trailer during the previews.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Concealed Weapons: Anatomical Armories in Film!

When we say these people are packing, we mean it quite literally. One hopes these individuals procured the proper licensees to carry these weapons, because they are physically attached to their bodies making it somewhat hard to remove. These five characters would not fare well in a routine stop in an episode of COPS, as it would likely end with their being tazed or pepper sprayed for carrying a weapon which they refused to yield. While the following characters are odd, disgusting, and biologically incorrect, they show us what can happen when directors, producers, and hallucinogens mix. Shout out goes to Mega Man (who doesn't qualify) for his arm blaster, which can also be found in the game Dead Rising.

5. Rose McGowan (Deathproof)

Quentin Tarentino gets love twice on this list for his characters that involve sidearms as part of their anatomy. While Sex Machine is far more disturbing, Rose McGowan's assault rifle leg is just preposterous. I will be the first to say that Tarentino is a genius when it comes to film making, but perhaps he has been drinking a bit too much of his own Kool-Aid lately. It's like the George Lucas Jar-Jar Binks phenomenon, otherwise known as the what can happen to a film maker when people around him can no longer say, "I don't think that's a good idea". The machine gun leg look has been described as "sexy" and "provocative" by some on the Internet. The only person who finds this look sexy is Paul McCarntney, so in the future can you leave this ridiculousness out of your films? Thanks Quentin.

4. Captain Hook (Hook)

Captain Hook is the Original Gangsta when it comes to concealed weapons. The Captain was so B.A, that he made no attempt to even conceal that bad boy. In fact, he flashed it continuously to remind people of where he was going to stick it if they got out of line. I wonder what Hook's temperment was like prior to losing his hand to that crocodile. He must have been jovial, because many of the pirates whom surround him are quite nice actually. I can't imagine them rolling with a grumpy bastard like that, lest they give him a pass for, I don't know, let's say, losing a hand to a crocodile. Seriously dude, you need to see a shrink because all those rage issues will not go away on their own.

3. Sex Machine (From Dusk Till Dawn)

While the "penis gun" also made an appearance in Robert Rodriguez's film Desperado, we only get to see how it works in the vampire film From Dusk Till Dawn. In fact, the entire character centers around his "piece" which can come into action at a moments notice. What does he load that thing with Viagra? You think he's nasty in human form, wait till you see him as a vampire.

2. Edward Scissorhands

While Johnny Depp's Ginzu sharp phalanges were never intended as weapons, they sure can mess a brotha up. Did you see what he did to Anthony Michael Hall? Homeboy got wrecked! Why the hell did Vincent Price give him scissor hands in the first place? That's seriously demented! What utility could there be in lacking an prehensile thumb? While director Tim Burton shows some of the practical uses like cutting hair, making landscape architecture, and ice carving, Edward remains as useless as teats on a bull. Also, why is Price the only person on earth that can make hands out of wax (or whatever) to put on that boy? I'm sure there's some Harvard or Yale scholar that can whip up some robotic hands. After all, they did it for Luke in Star Wars when his joint got chopped off by Vader.

1. Bruce Campbell (Army of Darkness)

Nothing can compare with Bruce Campbell's Husqvarna arm attachment, which he wields with perfection. Campbell slices through undead hoards like a hot knife through butter. Albeit, the use of his chainsaw as an arm seems quite plausible when coupled with time travel to the Middle Ages and an army of undead who spring to life after a reading from the Necronomicon. Bruce Campbell may be the only person I know who is actually stoked to lose his hand and replace it with a power-tool. This film combines the best elements of Scarface and Dawn of the Dead, without once taking itself seriously. If you have never had the pleasure of viewing Army of Darkness I recommend a group of friends and some alcohol to enhance the viewing experience.

Viva la Moustache!

Just as Timbaland aided Justin Timberlake in 'Bringin' Sexy Back,' Jason Giambi (as a recent PTI segment would suggest) is bringing the 'stache back with a vengeance. Ever since the Yankee slugger grew his flavor saver, he has enjoyed a torrid month of June, hitting .350 and putting the Bronx Bombers on the winning track. Steroids, you say? Nay! Giambino's upper lip scruff emanates a power-hitting aura akin to the likes of Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey, Jr., Thurman Munson, Wade Boggs, and Keith Hernandez, ballplayers with one thing in common: a prominent moustache. Although Giambi has resuscitated the trend, the art of constructing the perfect mustache has spanned the ages, from world leaders to celebrities and musicians of yesteryear. The V-List now presents "The Moustache Montage," a visual splendor to behold.

Our World Leaders

From the standpoint of Hitler and Stalin, the moustache signified evil attempts at global domination. But look at how happy Teddy is rocking his full-grown, white speckled rendition. Although cruel with his methods, how did a nation take a ruler like Hitler seriously with his ink-splotch 'stache?

The NBA is 'Stache-tastic!

Two Hall of Famers here have nicknames associated with their moustaches: Clyde and the Round Mound of Rebound. Adam Morrison, on the other hand, has little NBA career to speak of, but we know him by the pre-pubescent 'stache that continues to haunt Gonzaga fans to this day.

Moustache Donning = Literary Genius

William Shakespeare, he of the pencil-thin moustache, may have begun the literary trend of wearing facial hair, but the likes of Hemingway, Hughes, and Twain (marvel at his masterpiece!) have refined it through the 20th century and beyond. Bonus points for sporting moustaches of great variety here.

Great 'Staches in Baseball History

Jason Giambi is small-time when measured against these MLB moustache heroes. Sandwiched between two Oakland A's greats is the indignant Rafael Palmeiro, whose Viagra and steroid use are dwarfed by his illustrious mouth brow. The Oakland A's could field a squad of Hall of Famers for all the moustache card carriers they have amassed: Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Dave Stewart, Mark McGwire, and the man who will not be topped: the handlebar maestro Rollie Fingers. Bonus points to Eckersley who often combined his pushbroom with a full-blown mullet.

Real Men of Genius

The V-List presents: Real American Heroes. Today we salute you, Mr. Nose Neighbor Wearer. Whether you were attempting to fly with the birds, develop ground-breaking theory, or make people laugh without the sound of your voice, you made a mark on history by first making a mark above your upper lip. Yes, that dazzling moustache of yours goes beyond anything of substance you have contributed to society, for its the facial hair we remember (that, and the fact that your mastermind did in fact sack a proud nation). So open up an ice cold Bud Light oh scruffy patron of facial hair and continue to accentuate that cookie duster of yours with a black derby hat, a fly suit, or gravity-defying hair that makes Phil Specter seemingly uninventive.

Celebrity 'Staches

Landing iconic roles like Bandit Darville, Lando Calrissian, and Magnum P.I. was no problem with the suave presentation of moustaches to die for. You want thick? Selleck and Reynolds know how to bring it thick, alright.

WWF Super 'Stache Stardom

Facial hair in the WWF was as prominent as body slams and championship belts. Everywhere you looked in the 1980's, an opponent bringing you down to the mat more than likely did so via the power of the 'stache, brother. OH YEAAAAAH.

Small Screen 'Stache Wearing Studs

Borat on the small screen? Don't forget: Sasha Baren Cohen first caught our attention on Da Ali G Show on HBO, must like what Paul Teutul did on Orange County Choppers and Josh Holloway did on LOST. Kudos to Paul Sr. for his rockin' pair of mutton chops.

'Staches of the Musical Realm

For whatever reason, John Lennon refused to be privy to the moustache revolution, which says a lot about his individuality. Freddie Mercury and Carlos Santana, on the other hand, wore their respective 'staches like the rock gods they are. Officially pimp!

Comedic Genius

In order for one to join the fraternity of comedic genius, one must grow out the ol' mustacchio, as Eddie Murphy, Dave Chappelle, Richard Pryor, and George Carlin would attest. The late Pryor and Carlin were the models of comic consistency; at the heart of such balance is facial hair, facial hair, facial hair. Carlin allowed his to materialize into his trademark beard, while Pryor grew one that Ulysses S. Grant would be mighty proud of. Despite their pencil thin 'staches, Chappelle and Murphy brought it hard with rivetting stand-up routines that packed a potent punch. Moustaches and edgy comedy? Respect!
Miscellaneous Moustaches

These guys have that lip-ticklin' thing down to a tee!

'Staches Invading our Historical, Popular, Culinary, and Beer Drinking Culture

Penning lyrics to '80's classics like Maneater, concocting the perfect chip or beer creation, drinking milkshakes, treating 'diabetis,' and starting revolutions Che style all comes at the expense of letting that prickly lil' lip caterpillar grow. We salute you, masters of the moustache!