Monday, August 30, 2010

The NJNM Podcast: Ep. 7 - The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth


In this week's episode, Ben, Pat, and Tyler discuss a couple of Jim Henson's 1980's fantasy films: The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth.





Sunday, August 22, 2010

The NJNM Podcast: Ep. 6 - Ned Kelly (Guest: Vince Mancini from Filmdrunk.com)



Ben, Pat, and Tyler are joined by Vince Mancini from Filmdrunk.com to discuss Gregor Jordan's 2004 film Ned Kelly.



Sunday, August 15, 2010

The NJNM Podcast: Ep. 5 - Fright Night (Guest: Mazer from GeekTyrant.com)



In this week's episode, Pat and Ben are joined by Free Reyes (aka Mazer) from GeekTyrant.com as they discuss Tom Holland's 1985's horror comedy Fright Night.





Introduction
Media Consumed
Pat
"Man vs. Wild" - 1:50

Free
"Kings" - 4:05

Ben
FarCry 2 - 6:45

Review
Fright Night - 11:45

Wrap-Up
Next Week: Ned Kelly - 39:10
Listener Feedback - 39:18
Where You Can Find Us - 44:00

Friday, August 13, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead) has done the improbable: converted Bryan Lee O'Malley's insightful, satirical, emotional, and award-winning series of six graphic novels into a film with a runtime of under two hours. That's not the improbable part - it's that, even having read all of the books, the film feels totally complete and still manages to capture the modern zeitgeist of the under-30 crowd with an ease I've never seen before. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is a modern classic, an ode to the video game crowd and all of the self-centered slacker protagonists out there, presenting audiences with a visually astounding piece of cinema that may not make the most at the box office this weekend, but will surely be considered a cinematic milestone for years to come.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Co-writer/Director: Edgar Wright
Starring: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ellen Wong, Jason Schwartzman, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, Brandon Routh


22-year-old Scott Pilgrim (Cera) is dating Knives Chau (Wong), a high school girl. He plays bass for Sex Bob-omb, his band named after enemies in the Mario video game series. But when Scott meets the literal girl of his dreams, Ramona Flowers (Winstead), everything changes for him. After ditching Knives, Scott must defeat Ramona's seven evil exes in order to continue dating her. Through a series of video-game influenced fights mixed with dialogue that completely gets the notions of love and relationships among modern 20-somethings, the film charges forward with breakneck speed and dazzling (yes, dazzling) visuals that are some of the most entertaining I've ever seen. This is a brutally inadequate plot summary, but I won't take away from the film by detailing the plot any further.


The casting here is outstanding. I've said before that other movies have been "perfectly cast," but this one tops every one in recent memory. Each actor absolutely disappears into his/her role: granted, not a tough task considering the casting director managed to miraculously find actors and actresses who both physically resemble their graphic novel counterpoints (to scary degrees, sometimes - Aubrey Plaza, I'm looking at you) and effortlessly assume aspects of their character's personalities. Cera, the actor with whom I had the most concern before I saw the film, certainly used his stereotypical mumbling awkward shtick at times - but he also plowed through this film with such a convincingly physical performance that it should effectively shatter the popular notion that he plays the same character in every movie.


My favorite Cera moment comes in the first fight scene - a character challenges Scott in front of a huge crowd, and Scott instantly starts using martial arts. It's implied that Scott doesn't even know that he has these abilities, since everyone [including his sister Stacy (played by Anna Kendrick)] reacts in a shocked and confused manner when the fight breaks out. But then everyone just blindly accepts the fact that Scott can fight (very well, actually), and no one ever mentions it again. That's the kind of movie this is: one in which the Universal logo appears in 8-bit form, characters occasionally break into song, conjure up dueling dragons, get hurled through walls only to jump back up again, and bad guys burst into thousands of coins while video game scores pop up on screen.


I think this is one of the most perfect film adaptations of all time. Wright and co-writer Michael Bacall were able to incorporate O'Malley's original source material into the final film (sometimes word for word, as this awesome fan-created trailer shows), but - and here's the important part - they weren't afraid to divulge from the graphic novels. We hear cries from the internet on a daily basis demanding that writers and directors respect the source material for cinematic adaptations, and I understand that need to protect what's special about the property; it's the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality. But no one wants to see a literal direct translation from comic (or novel, etc.) to film with no differences at all, do they? Even if you do, it's impossible - the nature of the various mediums don't allow for literal translations.

But sometimes filmmakers aim to try to recreate the source material anyway, even though it's almost always detrimental to the movie. Ask Zack Snyder: Watchmen was a brilliant graphic novel, but didn't reach its true potential as a film that could stand on its own because it was too concerned with not letting down ardent fans of the source material. Here, Wright and Bacall keep the absolute essence of the Scott Pilgrim tale and have no qualms adding or subtracting plot points when necessary to enhance the cinematic story. That's what I mean by "perfect adaptation" - not a literal translation, but instead a complete and utter understanding of what made the original story great, coupled with skillful writing and the boldness to step out from the shadow of O'Malley's creation and add their own elements.

(Gratuitous Mary Elizabeth Winstead picture.)

Wright brings his signature brand of insanity behind the camera, and creates one of the most visually intriguing films I've ever seen. No other movie comes close to the look of this film. It plays like a comic book, transitioning crazily through panels and split screens, with anime-inspired highlights during dramatic moments and Wright's patented whip pans and tilts serving as a perfect match for the style and humor of the film. I can't imagine this movie directed by anyone else, and Wright has secured a spot on my favorite filmmakers list with this film (he's three for three now, in my opinion). The editing is incredible (it should be nominated for an Academy Award, but probably won't), and the pacing is unrelenting, at one point taking us through multiple places during the course of a single sentence.

Music has massive importance in this film, providing another bridge to connect to younger audiences. The fictional Sex Bob-omb's music was performed by Beck, and Broken Social Scene doubled for an opposing group during Battle of the Bands sequences. But the best song of the film belongs to Metric, a real band subbing in for The Clash at Demonhead (Scott's ex is the lead singer of this band in the movie). (Check out the entire soundtrack, now streaming on Spinner.com.) Not only is the band music important in order to convince us that we're listening to a "real" band on screen, but the notion of music itself is a big part of the Scott Pilgrim universe. As the camera floats through clubs and parties, you'll hear background characters talking about how a certain band's "first album is so much better than their first album" or, after watching a band play live, someone say "you should see them play live." All of these little asides are O'Malley's, Bacall's, and Wright's way of commenting on hipster culture - an interesting thing to point out, since most people seem to associate this film with hipsters and the movie clearly rails against the most annoying subset of them.


Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is an achievement on technical and stylistic levels, a personal movie that comfortably locks down its place as a modern classic for my generation and ensuring cult classic status as soon as the current hype wears off. I'd go as far as to say that future filmmakers will cite this film as inspiration much like the current generation cites the original Star Wars. This one's a game changer, friends, and it's a flawless victory. Until next time...

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Expendables

Since the first day the ridiculous cast was announced for The Expendables, action movie lovers everywhere have been anticipating the release of Stallone's magnum opus of manliness. This movie almost seems like required viewing for a certain segment of the population, and if you count yourself among this group, nothing in this review will change your mind. But for the rest of you, I must admit (with a heavy heart): The Expendables is a waste of impressive casting, a spent bullet casing of a movie that leaves you scratching your head and asking, "this is what everyone was waiting for?"

The Expendables
Co-writer/Director: Sylvester Stallone
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Steve Austin, Eric Roberts, Mickey Rourke, Randy Couture, Terry Crews


I had high hopes for this film - too high, as it turns out. With audacious character names like Barney Ross (Stallone), Lee Christmas (Statham), Tool (Rourke), Yin Yang (Li), Gunner Jensen (Lundgren), Paine (Austin), and - I sh*t you not - Hale Caesar (Crews) and Toll Road (Couture), I figured this movie had to be so self-aware that it had to be a parody of the genre. While The Expendables is definitely a throw back to the brawny action films of the 80's and 90's, there is absolutely nothing else going on under the surface. I enjoyed Stallone's previous film, 2008's Rambo, because - while being shockingly violent - it also had a message behind it. Stallone used his iconic character to comment on the atrocities in Burma, and while you could enjoy the movie without that reminder, it gave the film a little extra for us to chew on. And if you'll forgive the continuation of the analogy, The Expendables doesn't provide any meat this time around - just spice, in the form of excessive explosions.


Look, of course I love explosions on film. I'm a guy. But I like my action movies one of two ways: either Bourne-style, with a legitimate storyline that makes me think, or Tony Jaa-style, in which there is only the illusion of a plot, allowing Jaa to transition from one action sequence directly to the next. This film teeters toward the latter, but unfortunately relies too much on exposition that no one cares about (Mikey Rourke's mirror scene, anyone?) and sacrifices fun in the process. The tone is so somber for most of the movie that we can't even celebrate victories with the characters; as soon as a scene ends, the leads - especially Statham's character - go right back to moping around, feeling sorry for themselves because they can't hang onto their women (mercenary soldiers are never home, you see).


The writing is absolutely atrocious. Like the ludicrous names of the characters, I hoped it was done on purpose to provide a sort of commentary/parody of the genre. But after the first fifteen minutes, I couldn't remember all of the horrendous lines of dialogue anymore because there were so many flying off the screen. The unsettling truth set in very early: this wasn't on purpose at all. Stallone and co-writer David Callaham actually thought this would be a good movie. After hearing the cast talk about this movie at Comic-Con, I truly thought we were in for something special. But with one of the worst scripts I've seen realized in the past five years, The Expendables couldn't even sustain my interest for its mercifully short 103 minute run time. After a point, you can only take so many cliched plot twists, reveals, and explosions.


Ah, the explosions. In the final scene, so many buildings and cars explode that on multiple occasions I thought they had blown up everything at the island compound. Turns out I was wrong - every time that thought crosses your head, something else blows up. This probably sounds awesome to some people (Trust me, I was one of you!), but at a certain point - right about this time in the movie, actually - I just didn't care what was happening to these characters. There's no sense of peril for any of them, even though they're getting shot at from every angle and inexplicably survive at every turn. One character even asks, "How did two professionals pass through security, kill forty-one men, and leave?" How, indeed. Generally speaking, I'm totally OK with these kinds of movies - I really enjoyed The A-Team earlier this summer - but this one wasn't even fun. The one-liners were embarrassingly bad (many falling flat in the theater, leaving half of my audience turning to each other with quizzical looks on our faces), and the action scenes were almost as uninspired, relying on Greengrass-style shaky cam instead of the classical 80's and 90's style that we wanted to see.


As expected, the acting was borderline dismal throughout the entire film. Randy Couture's delivery was as wooden as you'd expect from a mixed martial arts star, and you get major points (salute) if you're able to comprehend every word from the slurred Lundgren or the weathered Stallone (double points if you catch his dialogue when he's mumbling with a cigar in his mouth). General Garza is played abysmally by David Zayas (Angel Batista of "Dexter"), and Jet Li was only there to be made fun of for being short. Yes, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger show up in a cameo. Let's just say Arnie's had way too much time off - aside from the fact that his character doesn't even need to be in this scene, he was dreadful, and Willis wasn't much better. There are some jokes thrown in during this scene, but again, they all fall flat and induce eye-rolling instead of legitimate laughs. Half of this film is spent laughing at it instead of laughing with it.


None of this is to say I hated the movie. There are some bright moments scattered throughout, certain explosions or fights choreographed in a way that make it quasi-interesting for those looking for hints of new ideas. There are two that I can think of, and Statham is involved with both of them. I could mention specific scenes, but I'm sure most of you will end up seeing the film for yourselves anyway, so I won't spoil anything. I'd probably do the same thing if I were you. This is the kind of movie that, in theory, only comes around once in a lifetime and demands to be seen on the big screen. (I say "in theory" because there are already rumblings of a sequel.) The Expendables is not the savior of modern action films that I yearned for: instead, it's a straightforward, big, dumb action movie and if that's what you're looking for, you'll be pleased. I was just hoping for a bit more from the talent involved. Until next time...

Monday, August 9, 2010

The NJNM Podcast: Ep. 4 - Excalibur (Guest: Venkman from GeekTyrant.com)



Tyler, Pat, and Ben are joined by Joey Paur (aka Dr. Venkman from GeekTyrant.com) to discuss John Boorman's 1981 film Excalibur. Is it the definitive take on the King Arthur legend, or not worth your time? Listen in to find out.



Introduction
Media Consumed

Pat
"Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations - The Way It Began" - 2:10
"Man vs. Wild" - 3:45

Joey
Season 4 of "Mad Men" - 4:10
"Ice Road Truckers" - 4:55
"Man vs. Food" - 6:35

Ben
Season 4 of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" - 7:30

Review
Excalibur - 9:30
Tyler joins! - 33:15


Wrap-Up
Where You Can Find Us - 44:05
Next Week: Fright Night - 47:00
Listener Feedback - 47:35

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Other Guys

When Adam McKay and Will Ferrell release a film, it's pretty clear what the audience can expect. But I am always pleasantly surprised with how high their movies rise above gimmicky plot descriptions and provide something a bit more than simply what's on the surface. Ferrell himself has become something of a joke over the past few years, alternatively starring in muck like Semi-Pro, head-scratchers like Land of the Lost, and throwing the occasional dramatic curveball in the mix with a film like Stranger Than Fiction. But it's his work with McKay that has already come to shape comedy in this millennium, with Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, and - most importantly - Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy becoming instant classics in the process. Now, The Other Guys can confidently be added to that list - not as a blemish on an otherwise-impressive track record, but as another exuberant entry into their body of work.

The Other Guys
Director: Adam McKay
Starring: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Eva Mendes, Michael Keaton


In the wake of two New York City supercops (Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson), Detectives Allen Gamble (Ferrell) and Terry Hoitz (Wahlberg) are "the other guys": desk cops who do all of the paperwork while the supercops take all the fame and glory. Gamble is content with his position, but Hoitz - a former up-and-comer who can't live down a certain traumatic event in his past - yearns for the opportunity to take to the streets and be a "real" police officer. When the deskcop duo take matters into their own hands, things begin to heat up very quickly.

Like Edgar Wright's Hot Fuzz before it, The Other Guys examines the psyche of a few regular guys in a profession constantly romanticized by the media. (How many police procedurals are on television these days?) The film comments on that idolization directly through the performances of Jackson and Johnson, who embrace their power-hungry nature while dodging questions about causing twelve million dollars in city property damage to nab a bad guy committing a crime considered a misdemeanor in some states. What if Lethal Weapon's Riggs and Murtaugh let their status go to their heads?, the movie asks.


I don't have many problems with this movie, but I'll raise my issues with it now. The inconsistency of the world slightly bothered me. Early on, the insane action moves of Jackson and Johnson seem to set us in a world where anything can happen, where cars always land right-side-up and where the good guys can never get hurt. Within the first few minutes of the film, that notion is shattered (in comedic fashion, of course), and the world seems to revert to a "real" place, where gravity exists in its proper form and everything functions as it should.

I would have been fine if this shift in tone was the only one to occur in the movie, but McKay and co-writer Chris Henchy decided to add another shift near the end of the film, in which slow motion gun battles look really cool but the reality they spent the entire movie crafting is destroyed. There's even a sequence (seen in the trailers) in which Ferrell and Wahlberg react "realistically" to an exploding building, calling out action filmmakers everywhere for the whole "Cool Guys Don't Look At Explosions" trend. But I can't take these criticisms seriously when the film itself breaks its own rules so blatantly. Hot Fuzz avoids this problem and has a much more fun conclusion because it doesn't spend so much time establishing their world as a "real" place, so we can enjoy watching things get exponentially more ridiculous as that film progresses. With The Other Guys, the conclusion didn't play as well for me because it just didn't make sense with what had come before.

That I haven't yet mentioned how funny the film is should be a testament to its quality. Comedy, as we all know, is extremely subjective. I can't possibly tell you if you're going to think this movie is funny (I won't pretend to be able to read your mind), but I can tell you that I thought it was incredibly comical. The first two thirds of this film had me cracking up - a highlight includes a speech regarding a lion in the ocean - even if the humor in the final act suffered a bit in favor of wrapping up plot points. Wahlberg and Ferrell have a natural chemistry that is hard to capture on the big screen, but just as I picture the Channel 4 News Team from Anchorman working together for years before the events of that film, I can easily see Allen and Terry before we catch up to them when The Other Guys begins. The laughs are consistent throughout the film, a refreshing change from Get Him To The Greek and Hot Tub Time Machine (the other two mainstream comedies I've seen this year), and are enough for me to say The Other Guys is easily the funniest movie I've seen this year.


I've already hinted that this film works on multiple levels, and there is far more going on here than can be gleaned from the premise alone. One particular aspect I'd like to bring up is the relationship between Ferrell's Allen Gamble and his wife Sheila, played by Eva Mendes (who was effective and humorous). Allen constantly downplays Sheila's beauty, and at some points gets downright mean, talking about how bad she looks as they sit around the dinner table with Wahlberg's Terry Hoitz. These scenes are played for comedy and are actually very funny (because, obviously, Eva Mendes is gorgeous), but a lesser movie would have left it at that and moved on. The Other Guys once again elevates above similar movies in the genre because it actually addresses this aspect head on: late in the film, Allen apologizes to Sheila for his behavior and admits that he talks down to her because he's afraid if he acknowledges her beauty, she'd leave him. This glimmer of seriousness gives us a glimpse into some actual truth - I'm sure this type of relationship (and the reasoning behind it) is happening on a daily basis in the real world. By directly engaging this part of the film instead of breezing over it, the film earned more respect from me and provides us with something more to chew on than simply the comedy it provides.


I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the performances of the other supporting actors. Michael Keaton, an underrated and highly underused actor, was highly entertaining as the TLC-quoting police captain. Steve Coogan (who appeared very briefly in Hot Fuzz, actually) was adequate as the villain, but didn't break any new ground. Rob Riggle, Damon Wayans Jr., Ray Stevenson, Andy Buckley, Rob Huebel, and personal UCB favorite Ben Schwartz all appeared briefly and added to the impressive supporting cast. Even director Adam McKay made a cameo appearance as Dirty Mike, a character you won't soon forget if you've seen the film.

The Other Guys is a great comedy, and easily one of Will Ferrell's best films in the past five years. The comedy and drama work well, and there's enough story to separate the film from its gimmicky Ferrell contemporaries. The movie is also a pretty fantastic addition to the buddy cop genre, touching on the standard conventions but never delving into eye-rolling territory by consenting to them. If you're looking for laughs, I think this is the best 2010 has to offer. Until next time...

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The NJNM Podcast: Ep. 3 - Hollywood Homicide



In this week's episode, Pat, Tyler, and Ben discuss Ron Shelton's 2003 film, Hollywood Homicide.



Media Consumed
Tyler
Season 1 of "Rizzoli & Isles" - 1:30

Pat
"Mad Men" - 4:32
"Entourage" - 5:36

Ben
"Lie to Me" - 8:23

Review
Hollywood Homicide - 14:58

Wrap-Up
Next Week: Excalibur - 40:21
Where You Can Find Us - 41:55