Friday, March 28, 2008

The Gang Is All In Bruges

Random Song 1: Jordin Sparks - No Air (ft. Chris Brown) (buy)
Random Song 2: Fuck Buttons - Okay, Let's Talk About Magic (buy)
Random Song 3: The Submarines - Modern Inventions (buy)

In Bruges
So you have just botched a job and need to get out of town, where do you go? Bruges of course! That is the premise to “In Bruges”, an odd yet charming film about two hitmen (Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson) sent to Bruges with orders to lay low. Once there, both men quickly come to different views on whether Bruges is heaven or hell. Yet as the orders come straight from the boss (Ralph Fiennes) himself, they must endure all that the Bruges has to offer. It is at this point when the film detours from most conventional gangster films. The film is as much a love letter to Bruges and its population, as it a film about redemption and honour.

This contrast is evident in the overall tone and pacing of the film. The first half of the film is more about the sights and people within Bruges. You really get the since that you are on vacation with Farrell and Gleeson. The conversations the guys have with each other, and the locals, feels authentic. The second half of the film is devoted to the ramifications of the job they botched in London. The witty fast-paced banter really shines brightest in the second half. Ralph Fiennes gets some truly great lines here.

Speaking of Fiennes, his performance reminded me a lot of Ben Kingsley’s character in “Sexy Beast”. While not as strong as Kingsley, Fiennes still does a decent job with what he was given. Brendan Gleeson is absolutely wonderful in his role. He perfectly conveyed both the joy of seeing Bruges, and the sorrow of the tough choices that he will ultimately have to make. Oddly enough, Farrell’s performance was the one that took a while for me to warm up to. At first, I felt Farrell didn’t seem right for the type of character he was playing. Yet as the film went on I must say he won me over.

The only real issue I had with them film was the fact that it tried too hard at times to be as “anti-politically correct” as possible. Many of off-colour remarks seemed to be thrown in for shock value more than anything. Not to mention a big discussion about a potential race war that does nothing to advance the plot. Writer/director Martin McDonagh could have tightened up the script a bit more. Overall “In Bruges” may not be everyone’s ideal destination, but for me it was a pleasant trip.

(Warning: Trailer Contains Strong Language)

Random Song 4: Gnarls Barkley - Blind Mary (buy)
Random Song 5: The Raconteurs - You Don't Understand Me (buy)
Random Song 6: Madonna - 4 Minutes (ft. Justin Timberlake and Timbaland) (Myspace)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Funny Games Are Rarely Amusing

Random Song 1: Yael Naim - Far Far (buy)
Random Song 2: Rhymefest - All That I've Got (ft. Ghostface Killah) (Myspace)

Funny Games
Excluding his last film "Cache", which I loved, every other Michael Haneke film I have watched ("The Piano Teacher", "The Time of the Wolf") has burned horrific images into my head that I have been unsuccessful at erasing. Yet I continue to subject myself to the abuse. Why? I'm not sure really, maybe it’s just the curiosity to see what madness Haneke will think of next. Maybe its because I know he is one of the few directors to constantly evoke some fierce reaction out of me.

"Funny Games" seems to take this voyeuristic curiosity to heart. Although I am not sure that this a good thing. The film is almost, so I am told, a shot for shot remake of his 1997 film of the same name. I have not seen the original, so I can only go by what is in the latest version. The remake stars Naomi Watts and Tim Roth as a couple who, with young son in tow, go to their lush vacation home for a week. Once there they meet two overly polite young men (Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet) who are apparently visiting their neighbors. Things quickly turn south and the couple is held hostage in there home. They are forced to endure hours of physical and psychological torture.

It is at this point were the film tries to achieve two things at once. On one hand “Funny Games” is a tense thriller reminiscent of the 1971 Dustin Hoffman film “Straw Dogs”. On the other, Haneke wants the film to be a scathing commentary on how America is obsessed with violence in cinema. As a straight thriller, the film hits all the right notes and keeps you hooked for the first half. The acting is top notch. Watts is outstanding as the terrorized mother who must find the inner strength, Roth plays the role of the spineless husband perfectly, and Pitt and Corbet are creepy enough to make their characters somewhat unpredictable. I should also mention that Devon Gearhart brings some of the best suspense to the film as Roth and Watt’s son.

As a social commentary, the film falters greatly. There is a point in the second half of the film, were Haneke plays with what the audience wants to see versus what he wants, that ruins the whole pacing afterwards. Haneke also incorporates devices, such as Michael Pitt breaking the forth wall to talk directly to the audience, to get his point across. The problem is, Haneke’s point is really nothing more than “shame on you for watching” and ”this is the stuff you like, isn’t it?” It is one thing to write an essay and deconstruct the topic of violence in cinema. It is another to make a disturbing piece of art, ask people to see it, and then wag your finger to those who came to see what you have made. If you really think about it, the majority of Haneke’s audience/fans are not the same people who made films like “Hostel” and “Saw” huge successes. To be honest, I find Haneke’s films far more violent and disturbing than the “Saw” and “Hostel” films combine. The only difference is that some of the violence in Haneke’s film is off-screen. As a result, the mental images he conjures up are far more frightening.

Random Song 3: Destroyer - Dark Leaves From A Thread (buy)
Random Song 4: Mott the Hoople - All the Young Dudes (buy)
Bonus: Estelle - American Boy (ft. Kanye West) (Myspace)

Thursday, March 06, 2008

My Weapon Of Choice

Random Song 1: Gnarls Barkley - Run (buy)
Random Song 2: The White Stripes - My Fault For Being Famous (ft. Beck) (buy)

Cadence Weapon: Afterparty Babies (buy)

Afterparty Babies marks the sophomore release from rapper Cadence Weapon (a.k.a. Rollie Pemberton). An unabashed “party” album, Cadence Weapon’s prime objective is to get the cool kids dancing. Cadence skillfully expands on a lot of the themes and sounds that made his debut, “Breaking Kayfabe”, so enjoyable. “Afterparty Babies” is far more accessible than its predecessor. This is not to say that Cadence Weapon has “sold out”. On the contrary, he is more grounded than ever. His trademark electronic/video game style beats are still prominent. Only this time around, Cadence focuses his sharp lyrics on a topic that many of us can relate to: the obsessions with popular culture. Whether he is talking about celebrity worship, body art, the trappings of the music industry, the age of text messaging, referencing shows like “Heroes”, or sampling films such as Kindergarden Cop, there is a lot to identify with on the album. Oddly enough, Cadence Weapon is fully aware of his part in the fashion obsessed “hipster crowd” that he talks about. This contradiction actually helps to bring even more layers to this already rich album. In a perfect world, songs such as the old-school “Real Estate”, “In Search of the Youth Crew”, “The New Face of Fashion”, and “Getting Dumb” would be in heavy rotation on the radio right now. Regardless, it is only a matter of time before more people start to take notice of Cadence Weapon's talents.

Cadence Weapon - Do I Miss My Friends? (buy)
Cadence Weapon – Real Estate (buy) [performed on MTV Live last week].

Here is MTV Live’s interview Cadence Weapon:

Random Song 3: Snoop Dogg - Sensual Seductions (Wideboy Bassline Remix) (Myspace)
Random Song 4: Jefferson Airplane - White Rabbit (buy)

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Rose, You Would Be A Fool To Jump For This Gold

This weekend I got tickets to the Kanye West “Glow in the Dark Tour” in May. The concert features Kanye West, Rihanna, Lupe Fiasco and N.E.R.D. Personally I am looking forward to seeing Lupe Fiasco the most. Not taking anything away from the other artists, I know Kanye and Rihanna will put on a good show, but Lupe has been on my “to see” list for some time know.

Speaking of hip-hop, be sure to check out Rhymefest’s “Man in the Mirror” mix tape. The mix tape finds Rhymefest and Mark Ronson joining forces to make a Michael Jackson tribute album. Yes, I know it sounds odd but trust me the mix tape is well worth checking out. Rhymefest’s flow is as tight as ever, and the Michael Jackson samples are both inventive and hilarious. The mixtape will keep “festheads” like myself content until his sophomore album drops this spring/summer.

Random Song 1: Rhymefest - Foolin' Around (ft. Dres) (MySpace)
Random Song 2: Rhymefest - Man In the Mirror (Myspace)


As odd as this may sound, I think Jumper would have worked better as an hour-long weekly TV series (ala Quantum Leap). The concept is interesting enough that in the hands of a decent writer (say Joss Whedon, Tim Kring, the people who work on Battlestar Galactica, etc.) it could make a decent show.

As a movie, there is not really much to recommend. The special effects are good enough to keep your attention. Yet everything else in this film is awful. The plot holes in this film are ridiculous. We are lead to believe that Jumpers can withstand obscene amounts of electricity, but still can't beat the drunken frat boy at the bar in a one-on-one fight? Also Bilson hasn't seen her friend (whom many believed to be dead) in 8 years, yet she hopes on a plane to Rome with Hayden mere hours after seeing him? It seems that logical thinking was the only thing jumping in this picture. The dialogue was laughable bad, and the acting was fairly wooden. This is especially apparent on the part of Rachel Bilson. Corpses have shown more expression and range than Bilson. I know we are supposed to root for the hero saving the girl, but honestly, I was hoping she would accidentally fall into one of the wormholes or something.

Random Song 3: Destroyer - Libby's First Sunrise (buy)
Random Song 4: Vampire Weekend - The Kids Don't Stand A Chance (buy)

La Vie En Rose

La Vie En Rose follows the exact same formula that countless other films about musicians have followed. We see the rough childhood, the battle with substance abuse, the raw talent that will propel the main character to fame, love lost, etc. Yet the one important thing that the film fails to do is ignite your curiosity to learn more about Edith. There was nothing in the film that really brings home her relevance in history. Nothing that makes you want to run out and read more about her life; download her recordings etc.

I think part of the problem comes down to writer/director Olivier Dahan's script. Despite jumping back and forth through time, Dahan's story seems to rehash the same points over and over. While barely touching on some of the more interesting plot threads. An example is when Dahan highlights Piaf’s as a mother. This point is hinted at early on but only introduced in the last 15 minutes of the film.

Marion Cotillard is the only real bright spot to this by the numbers biopic. She does a great job of portraying Edith over the course of twenty-four years. Cotillard's performance helps to keep the film interesting. I only wish that Dahan's script and direction were as exciting.

Random Song 5: Mark Ronson - Toxic (ft. Tiggers) (buy)
Random Song 6: Bon Jovi vs. Eminem vs. Timbaland - Mockingbird Prayer (courtesy of Icky)

Fool's Gold

I will go on record by saying I will be extremely shocked if Fool’s Gold does not receive several nominations at the end of the year. This film has "Razzie Awards" written all over it. This film is the leading candidate in my book for worst film of the year.

Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson (remember when they actually took film seriously? Yep, I miss those days too) had some chemistry in "How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days." A film I found mildly entertaining at best. That chemistry is non-existent in this movie. In Fool’s Gold, McConaughey and Hudson play a recently divorced couple that must join forces to find treasury buried at sea. Needless to say: comedic (and I use that term loosely) mishaps occur during their adventure; McConaughey goes topless in every other scene; the supporting cast (which includes Donald Sutherland, Ewen Bremner and Ray Winstone! ) all contemplate firing their agents; at the end, the audience shed tears of joy that the wretched film is finally over…okay that was just me.