Category Archives: Reviews

World War Z – Film Review

Brad Pitt showed up at the pre-screening I caught (thanks, Slashfilm). NBD.

The definition of a fun, harmless summer blockbuster.

The pre-, mid-, and post-production struggles on “World War Z” were well-documented on every film website known to man. After a draft by J. Michael Straczynski (the underrated “Changeling”) achieved a studio greenlight and received tremendously positive feedback on the internet, Matthew Michael Carnahan (the similarly underrated “Lions for Lambs”) was hired to rewrite. This draft, which was unfinished at the time shooting began, thus causing much footage to be missing, was the basis of the first version of the film. That film had many problems, according to everyone involved. Depending on which outlet of news you read, star/producer Brad Pitt and director Marc Forster may or may not have had major on-set disagreements. But once completed, everyone involved agreed that the third act of the film wasn’t working. So the studio brought in much-maligned Damon Lindelof (“Star Trek Into Darkness”, “Prometheus”, “Lost”), he of the “JJ mafia”, to pitch them a solution. He proposed two. One was a complete reworking of the entire third act, and the studio bought that one (at the considerable cost of very expensive reshoots, almost unheard of for a film of this size) and brought on Drew Goddard (the really underrated “Cabin in the Woods”) to help Lindelof as he got busy with other projects. But none of that I had an issue with. Unfortunately, it was also revealed that several of the scenes shot in Budapest were dropped from the final cut in order to water down the film’s political undertones, and steer it towards a more generally friendly summer blockbuster. Yuck. Just because something’s fun, doesn’t mean it can’t be smart or challenge an audience. Intelligence is not anathema to entertainment, studios. Okay, rant over.

The result is imperfect and doesn’t fulfill its potential, but it’s still quite a bit of fun. We’ll likely never know what the Straczynski draft would have become (some even went so far as to call it “Best Picture material” and compare it to “Children of Men”, with its reportedly political emphasis), but the screenwriting here isn’t bad. There are bold, inventive action and horror setpieces throughout, and while the character development doesn’t really exist, this isn’t a movie about Gerry Lane (Pitt)–though we do get just enough “family time” to care about his outcome–this is a movie about action, zombies and figuring out the root of the big zombie problem.

The film is designed to launch a franchise. I’m not sure if it will. It’ll have to do huge business to do so. But it works fine as a standalone. It’s not must-see, but if you’re into big blockbusters, this is a zombie movie that certainly deserves being seen in a theater.

The highlight of the film is actually Forster’s direction. He keeps the tension consistently high, throwing jump scares in at select times to keep you off-balance. The camera movements and action choreography are designed very effectively to place you in the unique world, maintaining a sense of realism and palpable fear despite the obviously false nature of such a scenario. He has a gift for creating atmosphere, and he gets great performances from his actors, including the kids, despite a script that’s thanklessly procedural in its nature. Pitt’s performance suitably carries the film.

Tech credits are solid all-around, with an added bonus of Matthew Bellamy‘s additional compositions performed by his band Muse. They blend in nicely with Marco Beltrami‘s suitable, subtle and strong score.

If you like good, fun blockbusters, you’ll like this. It’s not gonna win Best Picture, but Best Visual Effects is definitely on the table, and I’d give it at least a nomination for Best Badass Female Character.


Wondrous Bughouse-Youth Lagoon || First Listen Thoughts

The one man band of Trevor Powers in Youth Lagoon sees the release of his new album “Wondrous Bughouse” after the amazing debut album “The Year of Hibernation” come on March 5th. Thanks to NPR we get a preview of the whole album, and needless to say, Powers isn’t playing here.
While I have to admit my first impressions were not matched, I have to be realistic. I expected YL to do something that is pretty much impossible, build on the 1st album and make it better. While the unreal expectations were not met, I came to another conclusion. It’s not that he didn’t meet my expectations, he just changed directions. “Wondrous Bughouse” has new sounds that doesn’t match much of the last album and are wonderful in their own way. Blending a mix of simple pop beats and fluent synths, YL creates an album that can only be expressed with a curious attitude and a quizzical look. The best way I can really describe the songs are: Uplifting-Moody-Mysterious. It really just hits you in different ways depending on what your mood is. NPR quoted Powers saying that he didn’t have any epiphanies or discoveries when making the album but rather just let the music control his busy mind.

“Wondrous Bughouse” has all its little quirks that just made it a blast to listen through all the way. Some parts confused me, others made me smile immediately, but that was just the first impression. I have a feeling this album will work the same magic that the last one did, its lyrics and sounds steadily growing onto me until everything just feels natural to listen to. But at this point, all there is to do is to keep listening and go along for the smooth ride. Overall this album is a great effort by Powers. There is some that is left to be yearned for, but I can’t complain, YL does what he wants and if he’s going to be exploring something new, hell, I don’t care what anyone says, I’ll be tagging along right behind him. Grade if you really want it: A (in this writer’s opinion)
NPR LINK (either just start from the beginning or scroll down and choose what you want to listen to)

http://www.npr.org/2013/02/24/172611335/first-listen-youth-lagoon-wondrous-bughouse?sc=tw&cc=twmp#playlist

Favorite songs off the album (so far):

  • Mute
  • Dropla
  • Third Dystopia
  • Raspberry Cane

Don’t ask what songs they sound like from past albums. They sound different to me as it might to you. Just give it all a shot!


Sam Lachow – Dabbin’ Up a Storm

Hey there guys, good to see you. How you been? Well? Good to hear. We’re gonna do something a little bit different today (100% not different at all if you know anything about me).

For those of you that don’t know much about Sam Lachow he’s a classically hilarious white boy that grew up in the city. Starting his rapping career sometime in middle school Sammy was originally part of a rap group with his high school friends known as Shankbone. Not exactly a regular household name, but you’ll run into the rare Roosevelt or Garfield High graduate that saw Shankbone at some point. Fast-forward a couple of years, Sam Lachow is frequently releasing new music, producing his own beats, directing his own videos, and just killin the local rap game.

This song is a perfect example of why I love Lachow and his crew. Heavy thumping beats? Check. Trippy Stoner Lyrics? Check. Gorilla Suits? Check. The beat is powerful enough that you feel it, but not so overpowering that you stop listening to the lyrics. Lachow’s verse is exactly what I would expect from him with lines about weed, rap, and food (what can I say? it speaks to me). Long-time friends of Sam, Sky Blaow and Ryan Campbell come in for features that just feel like the 3 of them had a blast recording it all together. Wilson Luxurious (perhaps the flyest of the Avenue Music crew) features in the video as well with credit for collaborating on the beat. Coming out of no where (at least to me) is J. Bird with lines about drugs and girls like it’s just no thing. He’s got a nice drawling sound to his voice that says “of course I’m fucked up while recording this.”

Basically, you gotta dig this guy’s sound. Sam has been putting his heart and soul into his music for years and  his songs seem to keep finding their way into my Most Played songs in iTunes (“What a Night” By Shankbone is still my 19th most played). The video is directed and shot by Andrew Imanaka, another young talented artist in Seattle that clearly has some real talent judging by this video.

Hoping for more like this to be coming from Mr. Lachow. Check out his facebook page here (He’s about to start touring the Midwest!)


Introducing-Joshua Baez

Hey you know that feeling you get when you listen to something and within 10 seconds, you just know that you want it downloaded into your music library for safekeeping? Then the next thing you know, it turns into some binge downloading, from one song to another, not even needing to listen to something through the whole way to know that it’s some damn good stuff? Reminiscent of some youtube adventures, this exact thing has just happened to me. I’d like to present y’all with this talented musician from Bellevue (whoop whoop, Washington!) named Joshua Baez.

This guy right here. He is good. Flat out. I don’t even really know what to say about him to be honest. His music is absolutely astounding. He calls his style a mixture of Alternative Rock and Indie Pop, but before we get into that aspect of his music, I really want to shed some light on the “Scores” part of his band camp. I don’t know where he got the inspiration for this or how he made it, but holy hell. I stopped writing this post for a while and I just looped all 7 songs over and over. I cannot describe what it is and why it’s so good, but I can just say it fit my mood exactly. So in a weird way, I guess the only way to describe these tracks are to describe how I was feeling. You know, sitting there and not really doing anything, but staring off into space. Not empty, pointless kind of space but where you’re actually thinking. Listening to it for a while, I knew that I had to look at some porn while I was at it. No not the kind of porn you’re probably thinking of, but some damn good earth porn. Yup, check some out right here if you want (Earth Porn!) It just made me feel like I wanted to pick myself up and place myself directly in those pictures to just sit and gaze for hours. Listening to these tracks just gave me some nostalgic feel, to what memories/feelings? I have no idea of, but it felt good. Just this warm feeling in the pit of my belly, kind of like you know things are going to be alright whatever happens and you can be content. Or you know, since it is winter time, it just gave me this feeling like I wanted to be outside, and the scene would be set perfect if I was chilling underneath a streetlight, snow falling around me and I was just feeling like I was good. As you can probably tell, I’m kind of rambling now, and it might not make sense, but those were the feels I got from these indescribable tracks. I will not single out any track. They are all fantastic. Choose one, play it and just go with the flow. Also, if you’re not in a calm mood or have no intentions to be, skip this for now. This is something to be appreciated and to be taken in completely.

A song written for our very own blogger, Dylan, for his short film “Titles Are Too Mainstream”. Here’s where I can heap on the praise for Joshua’s talent. If you’ve had the chance, you know “Scores” is already damn good, but for his songwriting/singing, he’s not one to pass over either, with this great track in “I Lost You”. Reminiscent of a young Ben Gibbard (Death Cab For Cutie’s lead singer), Joshua’s music just gives off the same feels as those of Gibbard’s. No it’s not because Joshua is from the Seattle area like Gibbard or that he has some damn cool covers of DCFC in the “Covers” section of his bandcamp, but rather because of Joshua’s lyrics and voice. With touches of vibes via lyrics from the D-Cab song “What Sarah Said” in a more upbeat tune, along with the uncanny familiarity of his voice that matches Gibbard’s in many aspects, I couldn’t help but immediately think of Gibbard when listening to this song. I always dig it when artists put little details into songs that aren’t the traditional guitar, bass, or drums etc, like the xylophone (correct me if I’m wrong?) in this track. This really made the song for me as it put that upbeat, hopeful feel into the song.


Here we go. Uke time. Seeing on his Facebook that he was part of a uke-piano duet, I went seeking for a track like that and “Please, Don’t Go Away” fits the bill. I haven’t really touched upon any songs that are uke and piano heavy, but a song that is just both those? wut. I was taken-aback by how much I appreciated the slow pace and chillness of this track. Once again, I’m sorry, I can’t describe the song. But I can give you one of the random thoughts that popped into my head. “Wouldn’t it be nice to just hop on a train and just leave somewhere with a significant other and just be carefree while the train bounces up and down?” + A random gif: 

Pretty weird, I know, but that’s the way my mind works when I can get some good songs to trigger these thoughts.

It only took me a few tracks to realize how chillax all of Joshua’s music is and I really dig that. If he isn’t a chill guy in real life, I’d be shocked. “White Wave”, one of his singles released online from his “Little Bird” album is just perfect. Why? Because for once I don’t have to describe what the song feels like to me because it’s all in the lyrics. Every aspect of this song just seems to fall into place perfectly and it’s awesome to single out different parts of the track and then smack them together again to hear the whole song. Best part of the song for me was the transition into a louder, more forceful sound around the 3 minute mark (you have to hear the transition).

Seeing as it is Christmas now, I think it’s fitting to leave you with Joshua’s little project called “25 Days of Christmas Cheer” where he leaves his own rendition of some good ol’ Christmas tunes. The cool thing about this specific one is that this is the slowest I have ever heard “Jingle Bells” ever sung. It’s distinctive and a bold presentation of the song, and for that, it deserves to be listened to with an open mind and a keen ear that tries to block out the traditional type of sound. It’s pretty damn cool actually, and if you dig it, listen to the rest of his songs all displayed up on his youtube page.

“I’m very passionate about music because I believe that music is a language that everyone speaks. We’ve all felt weak, helpless, alone, but with music, you suddenly don’t feel so alone. I want people to be able to connect with my music, to be able to relate to it. I want them to know that even when life is hard, it will get better. All you have to do is step back and breathe.” -Joshua Baez

Some damn good words there and I wished everyone could know the power that music can have on people. It’s more than just some sounds mashed together, but something magical that can make you feel anything ever. I don’t play any instruments, nor do I have anything to contribute to the music world besides an opinion and an opportunity to perhaps shine some light on some undiscovered music, but that doesn’t matter. We have people like Joshua to create what we cannot express with words sometimes and to feel like we’re not the only ones in this world ya know? His entire bandcamp is gold and it came at a perfect time for me. I downloaded a whole bunch (free music! Errone loves free music, Thanks Joshua!) and I let it just sit and play, which is why this post took so long (I started at 10:30 last night and it’s damn near 5 AM now).

You don’t have to read all my words or take them into account, but I just wanted to let Joshua know that his music has what it takes to make it big (especially on the internet) and thrive, so I’m doing my part to support him. I appreciate your music man and your approach to it is inspiring. Please take the time to visit these important links and follow up on Joshua. He’s good and it doesn’t hurt to let someone know that their efforts are not unnoticed. You can find all his music up on his bandcamp, except for a couple (C’mon Joshua, link ALL your songs to the bandcamp main page like “I Lost You”). Give yourself some time with this stuff, it’s not to be tossed around lightly. Happy Holidays!

Official: http://joshbaezmusic.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/joshbaezofficial
Music: http://joshbaezmusic.bandcamp.com/
Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/joshbaezmusic
Tumblr: http://joshbaezmusic.tumblr.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/joshbaezmusic


Like Passion Pit, if it Were 1983: Breakbot

Hey, remember when I talked about seeing Justice live? Or when I posted about Jamiroquai? You do?!?! Awesome, because this post is loosely related to both of those!

When I saw Justice live at the Paramount this past April another French electro artist opened up for them: Breakbot. Had I heard of him before? No. Was he amazing? I think so. It’s hard to remember to be frank. But that is probably more of an indication that yes, yes he was. After the concert, at some point I hopped on my handy-dandy laptop and scoured the internetz for more Breakbot. And I found this: 

A beautifully groovy song, Baby I’m Yours takes on a distinct 80s personality but still reminds you that it’s modern and most importantly, hip. Aside from this one song though, I couldn’t find a whole lot of other good Breakbot music. There were some 40+ minute long mixes on youtube but none of them really got me tapping my feet if you will. So, lo and behold here a mere 7 months or so later, I found myself googling “Breakbot” to find the song and listen to it (for the 200th time), only to find that he has in fact released a new album.

Absurd levels of excitement

By Your Side is all very similar to “Baby I’m Yours” but in a very non-repetitive way. Everything song has it’s own story to it, but they all revolve around sort of 80s pop meets electro meets romance. Romance is the key theme in this whole album. I can’t attest to it just yet, but I’d bet money that this album would be great to have sex to. Just sayin. As was referenced in the title, it sounds a bit like Passion Pit, with light synths and some mildly modified vocals. 

Here you can see a bit of the difference between the songs. Like I said, each song has a story told through the melody and lyrics. The whole album features some really interesting production and layering of sounds that’s very pleasing to the ear. Overall it’s just a great album that I highly recommend. Each song leaves you with a positive feeling and easily 75% of them make you want to dance in some way (the other 25% would be perfect for slow dancing). Breakbot’s really come out in an impressive way here and I’m incredibly pleased with the results. I’m looking forward to hearing more of his music and hopefully seeing him in tours to come.

Check out Breakbot on facebook
Buy and listen to By Your Side on beatport

 


Anna Karenina – Film Review

I never thought I’d see the day when I saw a film too smart for mainstream critics. This is that day. A visually stunning, intellectually challenging, and altogether beautiful adaptation of Tolstoy’s epic novel.

We all know the story. Or at least we should, because we’re all literate and intelligent, right? So I’ll skip over the plot introduction. Wikipedia it if you need to, then come back. But avoid spoilers.

Alright. You good? Great.

Joe Wright is known for directing visual masterpieces starring Keira Knightley, releasing them to high critical and decent commercial acclaim (see Atonement, Pride & Prejudice). So he’s trying to replicate the formula here–or so it seems. In reality, the director known for sweeping long takes and moving emotional drama has both reinforced and subverted the conventions of his own style with this Tolstoy adaptation.

The visual style deserves some serious discussion. Nearly the entirety of the film takes place on a single stage. That’s not hyperbole–even the outdoor sets are meant to exist on the indoor stage. It’s difficult to explain, so I’ll say you should see it to fully understand it. It’s beautiful to watch, if difficult to comprehend at first. The only scenes that take place outside the stage and are shot on location as such are the scenes that take place in the country. The scenes that take place in the stage are the scenes in upper-crust areas, and the setting is beautifully symbolic. The stage is meant to represent the theatricality of an imperial existence, that each of the members of Russian high society are each players in a complex play that must put on a false persona, whether or not that persona suits them. The cutting and the locations in the scenes in the country are simple and beautiful, but most of all, depicting a wide open and free environment. The freedom, the emphasis on the beauty of the lack of roles despite the lack of supposed high-class culture, allows a sharp contrast to the constraints of high society.

But of course, the film is really about love. That’s what Anna Karenina is in a nutshell, a treatise on love. This is where the film both succeeds immensely and falters slightly. As a treatise on the ideals of love, it absolutely succeeds. In depicting the actual romance, Wright and screenwriter Tom Stoppard (a legend in his own right) choose to skip over some crucial emotional (and plot-related) beats in characters’ relationships and allow the audience to fill in the blanks, which has upset some critics as they perceive the romance that follows to be shallower than necessary. While this might be a valid artistic choice and an efficient time-saver (considering the 2-hour-plus runtime, probably a good thing), it alienates viewers who don’t know the plot and forces them to work harder to achieve emotional impact. While I’m all for placing trust in the audience to put 2+2 together, it would have been nicer to see Count Alexei Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, a long way from Kick-Ass) and titular Anna (Knightley) truly fall for each other. It would invest us in them and their conflicts more.

Although it is entirely possible that that was a deliberate choice. Anna is a character who makes despicable choices for relatable reasons, and the point of a film like this is for the audience to walk out debating Anna’s actions and to determine their own concepts of love, and giving too much weight to her relationship with Vronsky could bias us against Alexei Karenin (a phenomenally subtle Jude Law), her lovely, selfless husband who gets pretty well shafted by Anna’s love for another man. There is another major subplot revolving around an awkward country man named Levin (a delightful Domnhall Gleeson, last seen as Bill Weasley in the Harry Potter films) and an upper-class girl named Kitty (Alicia Vikander) that epitomizes the good side of love in contrast to Anna’s bad side, and the idealistic vs. the realistic, one of the more interesting debates in the film.

“Sensual desire indulged for its own sake is the misuse of something sacred.” – Levin

The technical work is genius. Oscar nominations are likely headed to Seamus McGarvey for cinematography and the costume and production designers. Dario Marianelli delivers an opulent score that might slip under the radar, and Melanie Ann Oliver’s editing certainly deserves praise for thematically building metaphors, not overcutting and building dramatic tension smartly.

It’s nice to see a film like this existing in the modern landscape–a film of such ambition, visual beauty, sensuality and intelligence. Whether it will connect with mainstream audiences or even mainstream critics is yet to be seen. But it’s definitely something that should. Go see it.

4.5/5 stars.


Hitchcock – Film Review

D’awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww

It is a most fortuitous coincidence that I am taking a class on the life and works of Alfred Hitchcock in the year of the release of the first real Hitchcock biopics–HBO’s The Girl being one, and the film I saw last night, Hitchcock, being the other. I haven’t seen The Girl, though the professor of the class (the Alma and Alfred Hitchcock chair, by the way, due to his status as one of the foremost, if not the foremost, Hitchcock scholar in the land) seems to think that it’s awful. But as of last night, I have seen Hitchcock. And it is far, far from awful.

The film covers the making of Hitchcock’s most popular and revolutionary film, Psycho, as the book it was based on (by Stephen Rebello) had done. (Author’s Note: I would recommend you see Psycho before seeing this film. Hitchcock will spoil some of its more inspired twists.) At the start of the film, Hitchcock’s latest effort, North by Northwest, premieres, and it is a rousing success, but the writings of a particularly disdainful critic stick in his mind, and he feels the need to do something new and ambitious to keep himself relevant as he enters into his 60s. So he finds the most pulpy novel in America, buys up all the copies so that no one knows the ending, and sets out to work on a picture no one wants to make–Psycho. He and his wife, Alma Reville, his most important and necessary collaborator, have to finance the picture themselves, in turn risking everything they have–their standing in Hollywood, their house, etc.–leading to one of the more interesting making of stories in the history of cinema.

Anthony Hopkins is obviously solid as the title character, and brings a great deal of nuance to the table, but the film belongs to Helen Mirren, who brings to life the amazing woman behind the man with an appropriate amount of vivacity and reality. She deserves an Oscar nomination, if not a win, for that performance. Because the film centers so much on the main couple, the characters that surround them are reduced to smaller roles, so to flesh them out with considerable presence, great actors are needed. Scarlett Johansson, my future wife what who said that, plays the star Janet Leigh, the always amazing Michael Stuhlbarg plays Hitch’s agent, character actor Danny Huston gets a chance to shine, Toni Collette seems slighted in the small role of Hitch’s secretary, but makes the most of it, Jessica Biel brings a necessary humanity and pettiness to Vera Miles, but the real scene-stealer is James D’Arcy, who IS Anthony Perkins–there’s no better way to say it. He has maybe two or three scenes, but he deserves serious consideration for literally being this other person.

The direction, by Sacha Gervasi, is necessarily tight and smart. One rushed, handheld sequence in particular really brings you into the emotional mentality of the master of suspense. The writing (by John McLaughlin, a long way from his last film, Black Swan) is consistently funny, absolutely beautiful to Hitchcock scholars–the nuances are stellar, though casual moviegoers might not get them–and worthy of consideration for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Technical stuff is superb. Danny Elfman’s score is whimsical and fabulous, bringing in elements of Bernard Herrmann’s classic motifs. Jeff Cronenweth proves he can shoot something other than Fincher darkness with his obviously Hitchcockian cinematography. The period aspects of the film are very well-done and the editing, by Fighter editor Pamela Martin, is tight and un-excessive.

Overall, Hitchcock is a beautiful, cute, funny and smart film that deserves serious Academy attention, with no technical flaws. It’s so obvious everyone on this movie was making it for the art, the passion and the legacy, and not the money. A legitimate labor of love, a rarity in modern Hollywood. Check it out if you love a good love story, a heartwarming story, or even Hitchcock. It’s a surprisingly awesome date movie.

4.5/5 stars.