Friday, September 15, 2006

Summer Movie Wrap Up 2006 and MORE

Do you feel it in the air? The times, they-are-a-changin'. This weekend ushers in a month of pure craziness, and it should be an exciting few weeks.

While business is picking up at work, with the start of the new fall season and a ton of New Media-related news of late (Apple's I-TV, Microsoft's Zune, etc), I'm leaving it all behind come Wednesday when I jet home to CT for a few days of family, food, relaxing, and a hefty dose of hardcore praying, for the holiday of Rosh Hashana. I come back to LA just in time for TOM PETTY next Tuesday, and soon after that it's my 24th birthday. In the meantime, I'm plugging away on my writing, trying to finish up this freakin' driving school, getting excited for the new fall TV premieres, doing a lot of reading, hopefully getting in some basketball, and making time for a few others' b-day celebrations to boot. And then, before you know it it's October, which means one of the most fun times of year in Halloween. This year we actually have a Friday the 13th in October, so something crazy has to happen then, before we attempt to reproduce last year's Page-O-Ween spectacular, and yeah, a trip to the Scary Farm may be in order as well. For many, summer is the time to kick back and have fun ... and I had a good summer, but it was also one where I started a new job (as did many of my friends), and had a lot to think about. So my prediction: Fall 2006 is going to be HUGE!

Okay, so before we plow head-first into the fall, let's look back on the summer that was. Well, at least as it relates to the Summer Movie season.

The Summer of 2006, as a whole, I would have to call underwhelming when it comes to film. While we closed out the Spring with some truly excellent movies, from Thank You For smoking to United 93, this summer saw only a handful of movies that I would categorize as "great." And looking back at LAST summer, we had some positively impactful genre movies like Batman Begins and Star Wars. This summer, the biggest franchise there is, Superman, ultimately proved to be a creative and box office disappointment, and I think that even those who initially praised it have to admit that once the hype died down, it's not a movie that will be looked back on with the same reverence or enthusiasm as Batman Begins, Spiderman, or even the original Richard Donner Superman. Still, I think some of the fan and critical backlash on some of this summer's big movies was misplaced. X-Men 3 was an excellent way to close out the trilogy, and delivered on the superheroics and over the top action that the first two lacked. And of course, Pirates 2 won over MOST of us, but still has some detractors who seemed to be expecting it to be The Last of the Mohicans or something. Oddly, Nacho 2 received a somewhat lukewarm reception, maybe due to burnout with quirky comedies ... but I still found it to be one of the summer's most enjoyable comedies - overall, a better movie than the funny but formulaic Talladega Nights. Kevin Smith really won me over with a return to form in Clerks II - sure, it retread familiar territory, but it was vintage Smith that reminded me why I liked his stuff in the first place. There's a ton of talk about Tom Cruise and MI:3 - but let's forget about Cruise and look at the actual movie ... the fact is that the franchise itself was never that strong to begin with, especially after a very uneven sequel in MI:2. To expect Cruise's starpower to carry an already flailing action series was a bit absurd. Still, MI:3 was a very solid action flick that was a nice way to kick off the summer movie season, despite few people begging for this movie to be made in the first place. Similarly, Crank was a great way to close out the summer - a hilarious balls-to-the-wall action movie that reveled in its absurdity. On the other hand, while I enjoyed Snakes on a Plane, there is only so much praise I can give to a bad movie, even if its self-mocking absurdity is part of the isn't-it-ironic joke. Like I said, Talladega Nights was the best Will Ferell vehicle since Anchorman, though it didn't quite live up to that movie's hilarity. In the quirky and eccentric category, indie fave Terry Zwigoff produced a ver yinteresting but kind of perplexing movie in Art School Confidential, while the ever-prolific Woody Allen had an odd but underrated old-school caper in Scoop. Very few saw Mike Judge's Idiocracy, and even fewer came away knowing exactly what to think of it, but somewhere just below the surface of this studio-shelved rarity was the next Office Space waiting to burst out. Meanwhile, fans of the 80's show were diappointed in Miami Vice, but viewed solely as an action movie dripping with shadowy atmosphere and directorial prowess, I thought it was pretty damn good. Until a few weeks ago, I would have told you that, by far, the best movie of the summer was Pixar's Cars, which to me was perhaps my favorite Pixar movie to date, with an amazingly evocative look at nostalgia and progress and the American Dream - not things you expect to find in a Disney animated movie, but then again, Pixar has always defied expectations. However, as soon as I saw Little Miss Sunshine, I knew that I had seen the best movie of the summer - a triumphant, hilarious, thought-provoking movie that is one for the ages. If you have not yet seen it, check it out - it really is an amazing movie. Still, looking at this list, and comparing it to last year's ... well, last year I was able to comprise a Top 10 Summer Movie list made up entirely of A-level movies. As this year's list goes on, we start to get into a slightly lower tier - still good movies, but not quite that same level as last year, where everything from Batman to Hustle and Flow and even down to Sky High (dammit all) was in the A-range for me. Anyways ...

The Top 10 Movies of Summer 2006:

1.) Little Miss Sunshine - Again, an amazing, hilarious movie that had the entire audience cheering.
2.) Cars - Another superlative effort from Pixar, with standard-setting animation and a script that worked on multiple levels.
3.) Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest - All you could ask for in a big summer movie - tons of fun, plenty of humor, an interesting mythology, imaginative f/x, and great action.
4.) Clerks II - A return to the View Askewniverse that was as funny as I'd hoped, with more heart than I expected.
5.) Nacho Libre - A worthy follow-up to Napoleon Dynamite from Jared Hess, this one had a ton of memorable scenes and the most inherently funny premise in a while.
6.) X-Men 3: The Last Stand - While fanboys whined about it not being a proper adaptation of the Phoenix Saga, this was a damn good superhero movie that I went into with low expecations and came out of having been thoroughly entertained.
7.) Miami Vice - Another one that seemed to inspire mixed reactions, I thought that Michael Mann's latest was suitably kickass, dripping with style and atmosphere - a directorial clinic.
8.) MI:3 / Crank - Two action movies, two different styles, but both ultimately delivered a nice adrenaline rush. From the polished, JJ Abrams-directed MI:3 to the gritty craziness of Crank, both accomplish what they se out to do with a sense of fun and style.
9.) Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby - While it had its faults, this was a very funny movie with a number of quotable lines, helped by some great supporting performances.
10.) Scoop / Art School Confidential - Two oddball comedies that both flew a bit below the radar. One was a return to the comedic caper film for Woody Allen after a serious turn with Match Point, and one was cartoonist Terry Zwigoff's spiritual follow-up to the cult fave Ghost World. Scoop got laughs while having Woody's trademark neurotic ponderings, and Art School mixed humor with psychology to mock the journey of an artist.

Alright, so there's my summer movie wrap-up. Agree? Disagree? Let me hear it, I dare ya'.

Other Stuff:

- I have yet to sink my teeth into it, but I couldn't wait to purchase the new graphic novel from Brian K. Vaughn (Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina), currently one of my favorite writers. Vaughn's latest, The Pride of Baghdad, promises to be something special. It's a sprawling epic based on the real life story of a group of lions who escaped an Iraqi zoo during the initial Allied bombing campaign at the start of the Iraq war. Yep, the main characters here are LIONS. Beautifully illustrated, this one is getting a lot of press and stellar reviews, so I can't wait to dig in.

- Where the $%&! is Ricky Gervais' EXTRAS on DVD?

- Alright, i'm out - have a good weekend and remember - unlike LonelyGirl15, I always KEEP IT REAL.

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

"You Like Money Too?" - UPDATED - Idiocracy, Crank, Chili Peppers, and MORE

Well I'm back for Round 2 on the ol' blog, as I wanted to talk about some other stuff after I took a moment to reflect on the more serious news that came out of this weekend. If you haven't already, check out my previous post and you'll see what I'm referring to.

But, just a few more words on the Crocodile Hunter ... last night as I was going to sleep I noticed that Animal Planet was showing a biographical episode of Steve Irwin's show, and I sat, watching - just totally saddened that this guy was no longer with us. Seeing his young kids, his wife, his friends - all with nothing but the highest praise for the man, is just tragic now in retrospect. There was even a segment where Steve was asked how he'd like to be remembered. I believe the words he used were passionate and enthusiastic. I don't think he'll have any problem with that - and those words only scratch the surface of the life of a real-life adventurer.
Anyways, I had a good weekend, and the extra day off was great. The problem with these long weekends though is that the extra day off creates all this pressure, in a way. It's like, okay, how am I going to use this day off? Catch up on reading? Enjoy the outdoors? Get some writing done? Watch some DVD's? See friends I haven't seen in a while? So yeah it's like you have one day to fit in every little thing you've been trying to find time to do for the last year, and if you're like me you end up spending half the day trying to decide how best to spend your day (and also a good portion of it sleeping ...).

For me September is just nuts, and I feel like I am really going to have to start getting on the ball and planning my next few weeks out or else things will not come together like I want. Here are somethings I have on my agenda for September.

a.) go home to CT for the High Holidays (how long? what airline?)
b.) celebrate my birthday in LA (where? when? who?)
c.) finish my online driving school by October 6th (again? when? whyyyy?)
d.) Tom Petty concert on the 26th - have to plan this out
e.) get writing done
f.) continue to excercise more
g.) work on career goals

Anyways, this weekend was not exactly a paragon of productivity for me. I did get a few necessary things done, and some personal things I'd been meaning to do, but like I said, one extra day is not really a lot to work with. But all this thinking about being productive led me to wonder -- why don't other people have these same issues? Well, they probably:

a.) live with or in close proximity to their parents
b.) have no career goals that require extracurricular work (ie writing)
c.) have minimal religious / cultural obligations / guilt
d.) consume various substances which temporarily offset the need for regular sleep patterns
e.) have no real hobbies, time-consuming pet projects, or commitment to reading / watching TV or movies on a regular basis

So those are my crazy ponderances for today. Man, attempting to live the dream is a lot of work.


Wow, I posted this without even mentioning the highlight of my weekend - seeing the RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS live, in concert!

For the curious (aka all six of you), the concert was great. As I mentioned previously, I've gotten a little weary of how similar-sounding the recent crop of Chili Peppers songs have been, but the band mixed it up with recent hits as well as many of the modern-day classics. Curiously, they played almost nothing from any of their mid to late 90's catalog - nothing at all from One Hot Minute, for example. In any case, the Chili Peppers put on a great, energetic show, as was to be expected. What I didn't quite expect was the sheer ridiculousness of the man called Flea. I mean, wow - ths guy can freakin' shred! Listening to the average, radio-friendly RHCP song, you don't quite realize the true level of mastery that Flea has over his guitar, but it really is amazing - after seeing the man play for two non-stop hours of jumping around like a man possessed and whaling on his axe like a true musical prodigy, I am ready and willing to declare Flea one of if not THE best guitarist of his generation. Flea made this show, and while at first it seemed odd for the band to close with an extended guitar solo by Flea and their bassist, the closing number truly was a sight to behold, with some of the most rocking guitar playing I have ever witnessed, up there with Joe Perry of Aerosmith's aptitude. I also appreciated that each song was extended beyond what we are used to hearing to allow ample time for guitar solos and displays of musical prowess from Flea, who, again, really stole this show. As a whole, the band was great, but I found myself exponentially more captivated by the more hard-rocking songs that really showed off the band's full ability. Our seats, in the upper left of the Forum, were high up but put us in direct sightline of Flea and his insane playing, so it was all good. While the area where the conert was held - the ghetto-fabulous locale known as Inglewood, was mired by horrendous traffic and general sketchiness, the Forum itself proved an excellent venue, and the Chili Peppers brought the funk like only they can. Due to the aforementioned traffic from hell, we missed part of opening act Mars Volta. Volta seemed pretty cool to me - a grittier version of Rush with a funky edge, but their sound seemed a little bit off and they never really built up much momentum during their set, never really involving the crowd. But it was a great time overall, and the Chili Peppers, as I said, put on an energetic, fun show made all the more memorable thanks to the guitar hero known as Flea. Next - bring on Tom Petty and the Strokes!!!

So, what else?

Saw a pair of movies this weekend that I'd like to make mention of:


Okay - this was not a perfect movie, not the next Office Space, and not Mike Judge's best work. But how much of that was due to it being inherently flawed, and how much was due to studio interference, rushd production schedules, lack of budget, and just a lot of tampering -- sadly, we may never know. But this movie is good enough and funny enough and novel enough that I would easily encourage any fan of Mike Judge, nay, any fan of good comedy, to rush out and see it while you can, IF you can. I say if because I don't think I've EVER heard of a movie being released with this kind of treatment. No advertising, no marketing, no PR. I'm not even sure if the title "Idiocracy" is even official or just a placeholder. In any case, it is, like other bits of Mike Judge's work, a comedy that gets its laughs from numerous instances of moronic behavior, unbelivable acts of stupidity, and good old fashioned dirty jokes. But like Beavis and Butthead, there is clearly an intelligence and wry social commentary behind a lot of what you see on screen. In fact, with its commercial parodies, imbecilic main characters, and theme of stupidity, this is Judge's most Beavis and Butthead-like work since that show went off the air.

A basic plot outline for thos not in the know: Luke Wilson is a statistically average guy who gets frozen in an army experiment, along with a prostitute played by Maya Rudolph. The two wake 500 years in the future, where humanity has devolved to the point where garbage flows on the streets, people can barely read, and Luke Wilson - in a kind of reverse A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court - finds himself improbably the smartest man on earth.

What we end up with though, is a movie that would probably have been better suited to some kind of animated, short-form series a ala Beavis and Butthead. It has some hilarious ideas, some gut-bustingly funny characters, and some pretty biting satire, unafraid of who or what it is offending (a possible reason for the movie getting shelved?). In an age where movies are being increasingly proliferated with advertising, it's unbelievably refreshing to see a movie mercilessly mock corporate America, from Starbucks (classic), to Fuddruckers, Costco, Carl's Jr, and most notably FOX News. I love it - I can't remember the last time a movie so freely bit the hand that feeds.

Also, as I mentioned, some of the characters are great. A crazy, over-the-top pro-wrestler as President of the United States? Hilarious, and, scarily, not that far-fetched. His cabinet of braindead idiots is great as well, as is Dax Shepard as a scene-stealing nimrod who befriends Luke Wilson. Dax plays the guy as being one milimeter removed from being mentally retarded, and the results are usually pretty hilarious. Rudolph is okay as the prostitute who comes along for the ride, but her character seems kind of pointless and isn't given much good material. Luke Wilson, as per usual, is great as the happy-go-lucky everyman (not too far removed from Fry in Futurama), but again, isn't given all that much to work with in terms of establishing his character. He is, literally, an average Joe.

So like I was saying, this movie feels very uneven, and the heavy-handed narration is occasionally funny but mostly just odd - and reeks of a last-minute fix in order to hastily connect many of the scenes. The plot seems to jump all over the place, and keeps veering back and forth between its various plotlines and characters, with little focus or purpose. By the end of the movie, the plot has lost a ton of momentum and everything starts to feel contrived and half-hazardly done. But despite it's somewhat hit and miss nature, there are a ton of laughs, instantly quotable lines, and pretty dead-on bits of satire to be found here. This is a movie that should have been cleaned up, more tightly edited, and promoted like hell by FOX as the next movie from the creator of Office Space. It is more than deserving of that.

So while it's far from perfect, I would still urge you to check out Idiocracy if it's playing near you. It is the work of one of the funniest creative minds out there, Mike Judge, and his comedic sharpness shines through despite a production that was obviously plagued with a lot of turmoil and studio interferance. I'm very curious to hear the full story on what happened here, but for now I'm glad I saw this one while I had the chance.

And by the way: kudos to Idiocracy for finally making the Fuddruckers-related joke we've all wanted to but never did.

My Grade: B

And so after seeing Idiocracy, my friends and I decided to make it a double feature. Next up was ...

CRANK Review:

A perfect midnight movie, Crank was, in a way, everything that Snakes On A Plane wanted to be. Crank was badass, funny, self-mocking, completely over-the-top, action-packed, and a true B-movie that manages to be really friggin' entertaining.

I've been a fan of Jason Statham for a while now, and he once again carries this movie like few other action stars could. Statham plays the part of Chev Chelios (what a classic action hero name, so cheesy!), a guy who's been poisoned by a rival crime-boss with a "Beijing Coctail," a serum that will kill him the minute he fails to keep up his body's level of adrenaline. As Dwight Yoakum intones to Chevy: "You stop, you die."

And with that we are given a perfect setup for a nonstop rollercoaster ride. Shot in a style that evokes a combination of Danny Boyle and Grand Theft Auto, Crank is a pretty visceral race from star to finish. But what really makes it unique is the completely crazy, politically-incorrect to-the-core sense of humor that this movie has. As he gets in a fight with a bunch of African-American gang members, Statham bellows "Who wants some whote meat?!?!" When he meets up with his dimwitted girlfriend, played to great comedic effect by Amy Smart, Chevy instantly has to put up with all of the classic "dumb-blonde" stereotypes. Smart is oblivious to just baout everthing going on, but when Statham decides to, um, have his way with her in the middle of a crowded public aquare to keep up his adrenaline - oh man, pure hilarity ensues.

I've gotta say - Crank has some of the craziest scenes, conceptually, that I've ever seen in an action movie. But the whole thing has that new-wave, hyper-reality, mind-bending thing going on, so it all somehow works.

You won't gain any new insights into life or anything from this movie - it's not going to win any Oscars (at least I don't think ...), but damn, it sure is one hell of a ride. Crank is a fittingly kickass, no-holds-barred, just completely over-the-top action movie that has a sick, twisted sense of humor to boot.

My Grade: B+

Okay, that about sums up this weekend at the movies. What else?

- PRISON BREAK last night had a lot of fun moments, but overall it felt pretty rushed compared to last week's tightly-plotted installment. A few moments had me confused (how important was the backpack? How did it get stolen? What was going on with Dr. Tancredi - why wasn't she on trial?), and the continuity seemed to be played fairly fast and loose (they didn't even bother to attempt an explanation for how Michael and Lincoln escaped the car explosion, what was up with that Shales guy?). I also disliked them going back to the idea that Michael has an entire escape plan mapped out within his tattoos - I wish they'd just drop that and focus more on his ability to think on the fly - I mean they are now adding new tattoos on a weekly basis? Still, a lot of great scenes from Bellick, Fernando, etc, and some good action and intensity. But they ahven't sold me yet on some of the plot points, both big and small, that are becoming a factor in the new season. My Grade: B

COMICS Round-Up:

Just a quick note on the world of comics -- this past week was a great one to be a Superman fan. In their superlative series All-Star Superman, writer Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quietly turned in yet another five-star issue. This one, focusing on a bumbling Clark Kent as he interviews an imprisoned Lex Luthor, was just an amazingly illustrated, brilliantly penned self-contained story. Amazing - each new issue of All-Star continues to rank as an instant classic. Meanwhile, on Action Comics, Kurt Busiek, Fabian Nicieza, and artist Pete Woods continue a serial that is pretty much a classic -"reestablish why Superman is the greatest of all heroes" tales, in which an intergalactic auction house bgins collecting metahumans to sell them on the alien version of E-Bay. The tale is fun science fiction, classic superheorics, and vintage Superman all in one - Busiek continues to show how well he grasps Superman with each new issue he writes. Good readin'. All-Star Superman: A, Action Comics: A -

Alright - I'm out for now. In honor of the departed Croc Hunter I say a hearty "CRIKEY!" to all and again, I hope that we can all look at tragedy like this and feel lucky for what we have. Have a good week, everyone - remember, it's a short one!