Monday, January 31, 2011

USC Continues to Roll!

Nothing is slowing down USC - not NCAA sanctions, not Oregon winning the Pac-10 and playing for the national championship, nothing. The Trojans continue picking up big-time commitments, picking off top-notch recruits from other schools and doing what USC always does as National Signing Day approaches.

Four-star offensive guard Cyrus Hobbi out of Scottsdale (Ariz.) Saguaro picked the Trojans over Arizona State and UCLA on Friday, coming on the heels of USC flipping four-star running back Amir Carlisle and four-star linebacker Anthony Sarao from Stanford. The Trojans might not be done loading up in this class. Four-star linemen Aundrey Walker and Troy Niklas, four-star receiver Junior Pomee, four-star defensive lineman Christian Heyward, three-star cornerback Ryan Henderson and perhaps other big-name prospects are still being pursued.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Movie Review: The A-Team

Let me start by saying I had no expectations going into The A-Team.  I heard it was fun, but terrible at the same time.  And what I got was a pleasant surprise.  Not because the film was good, it was pretty bad.  But it was so well cast that I enjoyed this thing from start to finish.

The good news is that Joe Carnahan doesn't stop.  Not once.  Once this thing starts, it goes and goes... and doesn't let you up for air.  Which is a good thing, because it is so full of holes it would sink.  It's painful afterward because I was wishing they had a good script and a director that wasn't so over-the-top because this thing could have been a lot of fun.  Everyone on the team is great.  How they got Liam Neesan I will never figure out.  But he's great as Hannibal.  Sharlto Copley is spot on as the lunatic Murdock.  And Rampage Jackson is more than serviceable as B.A.  The one that really shines is Bradley Cooper as Faceman.  He dives into the role and is just having fun with it - but not too much.  Patrick Wilson is good as 'Lynch' - the sort of unnamed CIA agent, Jon Hamm has a pretty poor cameo at the end (were they thinking this would generate a sequel?)... and Jessica Biel is so absurd as an Army Captain - but also so ridiculously hot.  So it's easy to forgive them for casting her.

I'm trying not to think too hard about it, because the plot was nonsense - how the team comes together is nonsense, the jumps in time throughout the movie are inconsistent and the direction was so over-the-top.... it's best to have fond memories of characters I grew up loving.

Movie Review: Animal Kingdom

I have been hearing rave reviews for the Australian film Animal Kingdom since it came out and was finally able to catch up with it this week.  The one thing I was most excited for was the performance of Jackie Weaver, who plays the matriarch in a family full of criminals.

I was sort of underwhelmed by the whole thing.  From the story to her performance.  In fact, I don't even think she was the best one in the movie.  What I really dig about the current crop of Australian films is the acting - and that was definitely the strongest aspect of this film.  Everything felt real.  Authentic.  That is probably the best word to describe it.  And what I'm saying is that I enjoyed the movie, but after being so hyped on it - I was expecting more I guess.  That isn't a knock on the film, by any means.  They do a great job, and it is a glimpse into a world I'm sure most of us know nothing about - sort of a suburban Australia, and the criminal element there.

We see this all unfold through the eyes of sullen, distant... completely vacant teen James Frecheville (sorry about that and thanks for the note Man from Oz). The grandson of Jackie Weaver, whose mother died of a heroin overdose and forces him to move into the home shared by his nefarious uncles and grandmother.  But he is the least interesting character in the entire piece, so the whole thing sort of feels vacant.  He's a hollow shell of a human, drifting from one day to the next.  He's got about 30 lines of dialogue in the whole thing - and I'm not sure if that's exact, but it's not an exaggeration.

It was better than The Square (just more interesting overall)... but I can't wait for Red Hill.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Movie Review: Nice Guy Johnny

There are two films that I can specifically point to (and the entire ouevre of Alfred Hitchcock) that caused me to drop out of Villanova and pursue a film career (which led me to Hofstra University and then USC's Peter Stark Producing Program).  The first is Darren Aronofsky's Pi.  The second is Edward Burns' The Brothers McMullen.  It may have been the second that sealed the deal.  Mostly because this was a film about a life I knew so intimately.  Irish Catholics on Long Island (although the film is set in Queens, Burns' himself is from Valley Stream).  It hit home and sent me a message, you can do this too.

He followed it up with an excellent sophomore effort, She's the One.  Then had a great turn in Saving Private Ryan.  His studio acting roles after that were in pretty sub-par movies, but he did choose a film starring opposite DeNiro.  How can you fault him for this?  I can't.  Everyone growing up in NY that is into film even a little has Robert DeNiro as a hero.

Then he made Ash Wednesday and completely miscast his brother role with Elijah Wood.  It wasn't a bad movie, but he ruined it.  He was just miscast.  And his writing/directing efforts since then have continued to stray from what made Ed Burns Ed Burns... until Nice Guy Johnny.

This film is not only a return to Burns' Long Island roots, but a resurgence in his filmmaking.  He went back to the drawing board for this one and even shot it for the same budget he made Brothers McMullen for - $26,000.  It is here, making due with less - that Burns shines.  It is his characters and writing that are the stars, not the actors themselves.  Or the camerawork.  Although the camerawork and lighting are much better than I expected for such a budget.  In fact, it was one of the better digital films I've seen.  He doesn't lose you in his camera movements and places the camera where it doesn't distract.

Burns himself is great as Uncle Terry, a kind of swarmy uncle to Johnny Rizzo, a would-be sports talkshow host.  Matt Bush is okay as Johnny, and you can actually see him getting stronger as an actor as the movie progresses.  There are times when you want to smack him, but I think this is intentional.  Johnny joins his Uncle Terry for a day/night in the Hamptons before a big interview in NYC that Monday.  He is facing a large life dilemma, keep a promise to his fiance to get a 'real' job when he turns 25 or continue following his dream.  It is reminiscent in some ways of Finn's character (although he was older) in Brothers McMullen.  I guess the reason I liked the movie so much is because I could relate directly to this.  I have faced this situation a few times in my life.  Dropping out of school to pursue film. Moving to California to go to grad school.  Focusing a year or so of my life on lacrosse rather than film to pursue that dream.  And continuing to be a mind divided (fighting, film, lacrosse - all vs. money).  It was well-crafted, didn't spoon feed us and was played out rather naturally.

Something that was definitely odd was the height difference between Rizzo and Kerry Bishe's Brooke.  She towers over him, and this makes it all somewhat hard to believe.  But if that is my chief complaint, then I guess it really isn't that bad.

I enjoyed how he didn't have Johnny wind up with the girl right away.  He let the situation play out, rather than giving us a Hollywood twist or plot point - something Burns' is really good at.  Because lets face it - you don't leave your fiance for some hot chick you just met the day before.  But his fiance from the jump is a real bitch.  I wanted to mush her in the face immediately... she could have been toned down just a bit.

All-in-all, this film is definitely worth checking out.  It's faster than a ride out to the Hamptons and a lot more enjoyable.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

2011, just like 2010

We're only 2 weeks into 2011 and my right ear has blown up and gotten cauliflowered. I had to have it drained today.  I will not miss much time for this ear, I hope.  But it is still bothersome.

To top that off, I finally got to the root of my left arm problems.  I've had bad tendonitis for a year now - but have just found out I have a small tear in my left tricep.  Pretty crazy it took a year to figure this out, but I was happy that at least I now know the root of my problem and can hopefully take care of it.

Movie Review: The Disappearance of Alice Creed

Had heard good things about The Disappearance of Alice Creed, and I'm on a Gemma Arterton movie spree... I knew nothing about it besides what I just mentioned.  In fact, I thought it was going to be a horror film.  What I got was a very contained, English thriller about a kidnapping.  The first 20 minutes or so has almost no dialogue - with a very methodical preparation and then execution of the kidnapping.  The actor that plays Vickers (Eddie Marsan) is pretty creepy, which was the intention.  And Gemma gets naked (against her will).  As I'm writing this, I just realized that there are only three actors in the entire film.  The other is played by Martin Compston.  They are all good... and once the film kind of kicks into gear it doesn't really surprise.  It goes down some roads that you would expect for this type of story... There was something that came out of left field (that was in the same vein of odd as Mysteries of Pittsburgh).  Definitely not among the year's best, but a good, small film if you're looking for something a bit darker.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Movie Review: Mysteries of Pittsburgh

Based on a novel by Michael Chabon, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh is the sophomore effort of Rawson Marshall Thurber, coming off the hugely successful Dodgeball (which he got off the Terry Tate Office Linebacker shorts).  Of particular interest because Thurber graduated USC's Peter Stark Producing Program a few years before me, and even came to speak during one of our classes.  He's a talented, well-spoken guy and I'm ashamed to admit it took me until this was on HBO to catch up with it.

When this was announced it has a lot of people scratching their heads, because Thurber could have had his choice of big budget studio comedies - taking a layup that would have further cemented his status as a go-to studio comedy guy (I say all that not knowing the exact circumstances of his situation).  But if you're going to take a risk, I guess Chabon is an interesting choice.

And Thurber puts forth a really well-directed film here. Nick Nolte hasn't been this good in a while, and Mena Suvari was never good - so casting her as the girl we grow to hate is perfect.  And Sienna Miller holds her own, something I did not expect.  For me, she is overexposed with too little to show for it. Everytime I see her photo (usually pale and pasty and naked) see looks like she just woke up - and somehow whenever I see her onscreen she pulls it together and looks incredible.

Playing Art Bechstein, our hero so to speak, is Jon Foster (who also happened to star in my friend's film Stay Alive). I almost didn't recognize him here, as he seems to have lost a lot of weight.  He's the straight man in this film, but even still you can exude some charisma. And I guess this was my problem with the movie - he has none. I'm bored by him, which maybe was the point. He's a decent actor, but the weight of this film is too much to carry on his shoulders. Interestingly, he, nor his character, are credited on IMDB. Seems particularly odd because he's the lead.

The first half of the story got me really engaged, a post-collegiate coming-of-age story - which could have been like every other 'I'm too smart for this shitty existence' film, but just wasn't. About halfway through it takes some odd turns.  I don't want to spoil it for anyone, but what seems like inconsistencies in Art's choices will really baffle you. And possibly creep you out.

Looking forward to Thurber's next film, which I will see well before it hits HBO...

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Movie Review: The Fighter

It is 2011, but The Fighter is currently duking it out with The Social Network for my favorite film of 2010.  That may give you a clue into how I felt about this movie as a whole.  See a previous post as to why I was slacking on going to the theatre.  I also have to see True Grit (and hopefully 127 Hours).

I'm not even sure where to begin - the acting, the authenticity, the direction, the cinematography, the musical choices (and cues) and the majority of the fight scenes. 

The acting.  Christian Bale steals the show as crack-addicted, former pride of Lowell, MA Dicky Eklund.  I'm sure you've heard the praise being heaped upon him, and it is all deserved. He may have even been on crack for the part. If you have been to after hours, you can spot a crackhead. Just as good is Mark Wahlberg, who seems custom made to play Micky Ward; the quiet, in-the-shadow younger half-brother of Dicky. Amy Adams felt like she just came off a street in Lowell... and the cast all-around was pretty spot-on. Melissa Leo was good, although a bit over-the-top as the boy's overprotective manager/mother. 

If I had one complaint it's that they constantly hit us over the head with the 'I knocked down Sugar Ray' lines about Dicky... or the fact that Alice (the mother) loved Dicky more. We got it. 

The movie was more about this fighter's struggle with wanting to continue fighting, and the forces in his life that were pulling him apart - and less about the man himself. Which was fine by me, I'm a huge fight fan. By the end of the film, during his fight with Neery for the championship I was so invested in the characters and story I wanted to jump out of my seat cheering a few times. 

The fight scenes themselves were pretty great. David O. Russell decided to shoot them as they were shot in the 80's for ESPN and HBO - and to great effect. It added to the authenticity.  There were some punch close-ups that were lame, but that is a small, nitpicking complaint.

Overall, this movie rocked and I still can't decide if this was my favorite film of 2010 - or The Social Network.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Movie Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

I wanted to hate this movie.  I really did. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World signifies everything 'hipster' that I despise. I don't like manga or that art style either.

But I couldn't. And I didn't. I actually really liked it.

I think all the credit goes to Edgar Wright.  I am not a huge fan of any of his other films, but he makes this thing not only pop off the screen, but zip along at an incredible pace.  Truly creating a comic book on the screen.

Michael Cera, although he plays the same role in very film, fits Scott Pilgrim perfectly.  In fact, the movie was really well cast.

I'm not going to delve too deep into this one, because you can find a ton of reviews out there raving about this movie.  And I'm sure a ton hating it.  It's definitely worth catching this little gem.

I do want to point out that I think it could have been about 15 minutes shorter.  I've heard this elsewhere, and a few of those people all said - I get it, there were 7 evil ex's in the book - but it's not serving the plot.  And I'd agree.  I think you can actually knock one of them away - and the one I'd do without is Chris Evans - evil ex #2.  He's the only one that doesn't advance the story - and gives exposition we can get anywhere else.

Movie Review: The Kids Are All Right

The Kids are All Right  is exactly what you would expect from Lisa Cholodenko (I was a fan of Laurel Canyon).  A slice of life film with excellent acting, tight directing and a sharp script. There's nothing at all wrong with that. There are people out there who may call it a pointless film, as I've heard with Laurel Canyon. But it is enjoyable and well worth two hours of your life. But don't expect to be challenged in any way or to be surprised with anything that happens.

The real prize here is Mark Ruffalo.  He shows a care-free dude-like attitude, but where most actors could have played this without a soul - Ruffalo gives him many layers (credit to the script and direction as well).  Coming from a female writer/director, you might expect this character to be a one-note flake from start to finish, but he is complex and you find yourself rooting for him (at least I did).  

Annette Bening and Julianne Moore are exceptional as a lesbian couple with the same problems any married couple would face. I don't know how you could pick one over the other for any award consideration... it's sort of a toss-up with who's better.  I liked Moore's character more, but I could see how Bening would be embraced by critics more. She's got a real sharp edge. 

The one actor who seemed out of his league here is Josh Hutcherson, who plays the son Laser. He may be a capable actor, but surrounded by so much talent he stood out.  

A special mention to Yaya DaCosta, who started her career off as a model, but played a hostess and lover of Ruffalo's Paul in the film. Most of the time the ability doesn't match looks, but she's pretty good.  And she's got a unique look too.

Movie Review: Clash of the Titans

Could I follow-up Percy Jackson any other way than with the remake of Clash of the Titans?  I even saw them about two nights apart.  So, no, I couldn't.

They actually have a decent amount in common.  Both are steeped in Greek mythology, with two of the three Gods they focus on being Zeus and Hades.  Both leads are based on Perseus.  Both have the hero having to face Medussa for any chance of success of their mission... and both use Medussa in the same way.

That's about where the similarities end though.  I have to admit, I was excited about Clash of the Titans when it was first announced, then when Louis Leterrier was attached as director, and even more excited when I saw the trailer.  I'm also a Sam Worthington fan.  But did I see this in theaters?  No.  Because word of mouth was so bad I couldn't bring myself to do that.  And because the 3D up-conversion was supposedly horrendous.

The action in the film was good from start to finish, as I would expect with Leterrier directing.  The story strains a little in terms of logic, actually a lot - but the action keeps it moving forward at such a clip that you don't start second guessing things until the movie ends.  For the most part.  Gemma Arterton, who I just raved about in Prince of Persia, looks pretty good here - but not nearly as good as Prince of Persia. She's a pretty decent actress as well.

Where Leterrier went off the rails was in how he depicted the Gods. They have this Twilight like glow. It is lame, takes you out of the film and just plain sucks. It's extremely distracting and unnecessary.

And here are my two biggest complaints about the film. One - Hades comes in, ready to wreak havoc on the world. He's obviously capable of doing what he wants on earth. Why does he empower a rotted soldier to hunt Sam Worthington's Perseus?  Why didn't he just do it himself?  End of Perseus.  End of movie.

Two - they hype the Krakken the entire film as the beast that could kill the Gods themselves.  That once they release this thing it is the end of human life as they know it.  It seems like the cousin of the monster in Cloverfield, not the harbinger of death.  In fact, I'm not sure how many people it actually kills. It should have been on a city crushing bender when Perseus finally tackles it.  Not about to kill some princess we hardly know, nor give a shit about.

I guess these are two pretty huge holes in the plot for me and ultimately ruined any enjoyment I was getting out of the action.  But Worthington holds his own again and if you aren't a Mads Mikkelson fan, you aren't watching enough of his films.

Movie Review: Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Without harping on the movie's title, which has been lambasted elsewhere, I'll get right to it with this one and go after my real target - Christopher Columbus.

What happened to this guy? He wrote and directed some classic films.  Movies like Gremlins and The Goonies and the original Harry Potter.

Although this is a popular young adult book series, it seems like he's slumming it here. I say 'seems' because, to be honest, this film could have been much better in the hands of another director.  Was Columbus phoning this in for a paycheck?  Does he need money that badly?

Percy Jackson and the Olympians has some really fun elements in it. Logan Lerman, who plays Percy, is quite capable.  They have a decent twist in terms of who the lightning thief is and why. As I was watching it, I was angry at some of the logic and then later it all paid off and it had me kicking myself.  I love it when that happens. But it all sort of falls flat and seems like a bunch of scenes randomly strung together.

My girlfriend lasted about 15 minutes before pulling the plug.  But it's not a bad movie because the book's plot is entertaining.  If you're a pre-teen or if you like Greek mythology in a light fantasy setting, this could be up your alley.

Movie Review: Get Him To the Greek

Get Him to the Greek is the type of film is the type of film I see on DVD and kick myself for not seeing when it was out in theaters.  I'd do a roll call for all the films that fit this description, but the list is very long.

Nick Stoller's followup, and quasi-sequel to Forgetting Sarah Marshall (another highly enjoyable film I missed in theaters and have watched a dozen times) may lack the overall narrative of the former film, but is even more enjoyable start to finish.  It begins and then doesn't let up until the end.  Even when it is being sentimental, Stoller and Russell Brand don't ever let it be boring.

It is Brand who really shines here.  I'm not sure how he got his start in the UK, but I know that he was extremely likeable and funny in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and he just kills it here.  I guess he's playing a version of himself, but even so - he's pretty damn good.  His comic timing is spot on, and while he never lets it get sentimental he also doesn't allow it to go to farce - no matter how far the story pushes there.  I'm not sure there are many other actors out there who could have pulled that off.  The film hits some pretty dark places, and this is something I actually really appreciated in the end.

You kind of see where the plot is going, although that's not the point of this movie.  It is accepting that and just going along for the wild ride.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Movie Review: Splice

Although I did not get a chance to see Splice in theaters, I wanted to.  As a fan of Vincenzo Natali's Cube films I thought this sounded interesting... and like Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley.

I'm kind of glad I waited to see this on DVD, because although I thought it was okay - it was just okay.  I would have been disappointed if I had seen it in theaters because my expectations would have been higher. 

It is a fairly small movie in terms of story, something you'd expect from Natali - but as usual, he presents some really interesting scientific and theoretical ideas.  That's sort of where this loses its steam.  Things, from a script and story perspective, start to unravel after they cross the DNA of a human with the animals they've been successful crossing.  It's engaging, but seems to become less and less plausible as it progresses.  And not because a half-human, half-multi-animal creature grows and exists.  But because the actions taken by the two leads seem less and less plausible. 

It ends with a battle scene that seems out of place for this film - almost like he was told he needed more action when there was probably a more intelligent way to end it.  Although it falls off the rails a bit, Splice is a decent filma and Natali does a good job of holding what's left of the train together.

Movie Review: Valhalla Rising

Like a twisted, barbarian version of Terrence Mallick's The Thin Red Line, Valhalla Rising floats through its narrative with a melancholy pace, attempting to put the viewer into the world of Mads Mikkelsen's One Eye - the captured warrior who is forced to fight rival clan's slaves.  But the pace is so leisurely and the narrative so non-existent it puts you into a dream-like state... if that dream was being conducted by Satan.

I'm the last person to be uncomfortable with a film that has almost no dialogue (such as Conan the Barbarian), but Valhalla Rising's plot has almost no driving force... and so we almost beg for more.  The film takes place in stages - Earth, Purgatory and Hell.  It gives you the sense that more things will happen in each, pushing the story further - but you'd be wrong. 

I was a fan of the director's Pusher trilogy and believe he is bound for some pretty cool things - and almost view this film as more of a canvas that he was practicing on.  He did some cool things, and within a tighther, more linear framework would have been exciting.  If you're in the mood for an experimental arthouse barbarian film, this is for you.  It's interesting, for sure... but I don't know if I can mentally handle another trip into this madman's vision of Hell.

Movie Review: Black Swan

With Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky did little to knock himself off the porch as one of my two favorite living directors (with David Fincher).  It was pretty awesome that they both had films come out within months of each other.  I have to give the edge to Fincher in this battle, but only because The Social Network was more epic and timeless in nature.  Black Swan was more intimate, a smaller character study in the breakdown of a human being.  And Aronofsky was working from a far inferior script; laden with over-the-top theatrics from Barbara Hershey and Winona Ryder and what really ticked me off - needless exposition that tells the entire story at the beginning from Vincent Cassell... but what Aronofsky does with that script, the mood he creates, the performances he pulls out of Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman, and the constant nailbiting he induces all make for an amazing movie going experience.  How many other directors could make a movie about the ballet (for someone such as myself) this good? 

Like a typical Aronofsky film, the tension keeps ratcheting up... until we the audience are turned and twisted and left feeling like we just went through a prize fight at the end.  Clint Mansell (as usual) sets such an amazing mood and matches the image on screen beat for beat with his score. 

It all culimates into what is one of the best shots you'll not only see in a film this year, but ever.  I don't want to give it away, but if you know anything about Swan Lake, it happens during the final transformation.  Every element is perfect and the effect is mind-blowing.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Partially Complete Chasing Rabbits Cover

As a reward for my absence, I will share with you the cover for my fourth graphic novel, Chasing Rabbits. The cover is by Pawel Sambor, who did all of the artwork for Harbor Moon.  It is pretty f'in awesome.

Please keep in mind, it is not done yet.  Pawel still has some details, etc... he wants to add - and we are changing the background from purple to more of a texture concrete.  This is more fitting to the story, and the other colors on the cover will really pop.

Book Promotion is Never Ending

Hey all... I haven't been neglecting you.  Part of my absence has to do with the fact I want you all to see the last post (the Harbor Moon retail shop request form).  The other part has been consumed with reaching out to comic book shops throughout the country, Canada and Europe to let them know about the book's upcoming release. 

It entailed sending out about 4000 or so emails and over 200 letters - some with a handful of bookmarks and copies of the request form.  It took a while... but will hopefully be worth it.  I just don't want to ever regret not doing something.  Being lazy.  That's just not who I am.  I still have to follow-up with about 100 reviewers/sites who have yet to get back to me... They just don't know what they're missing.

I have been spending some time trying to watch every movie from 2010 I missed during the year.  Some don't come out on DVD until mid-to-late January, but I'm pretty much all caught up and hope to do my Top 10 list this weekend.  I'm also going to be barraging you all with film reviews.