Monday, May 31, 2010

Friday, May 28, 2010

Let's All Go to the Lobby!

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Disney doles out yet another sandals and swords epic on a wearied audience. Jake Gyllenhaal shuffles through two hours of sand in this video game adaptation. That phrase should be enough to stop you: "video game adaptation." Has that ever really worked? I know critics were skeptical of comic book adaptations for being nothing more than fanboy fluff pieces, but some strong work has risen above the genre. When I think of video game movies, nothing great comes to mind. Any suggestions?

The film is set in Persia, where people speak with British accents. Gyllenhaal plays a man, Dastan, who used to be a street urchin until he was adopted by the king of Persia. Dastan finds a mystic knife that can turn back time for whoever bears the knife. He slowly realizes a plot formulated by his uncle to take over the throne and Dastan sets out to stop him.

The special effects in this film seem to be almost second rate when compared to films which have come out in the last year (Avatar, District 9, Iron Man 2). For a Disney production with so much invested into it, one would think the production value would be just a bit more developed. Gemma Arterton does her best to convince American audiences to care about her, but it will be difficult to disregard her sandals and swords fetish.

The film is rather droll and doesn't really engage the viewer. It's the standard 'hero discovering his destiny' plot, with a little parkour mixed in to dazzle the younger crowd. Alfred Molina was welcomed as comic relief and he really gives a great performance no matter what kind of character he's tasked with embodying (An Education, Spider-Man 2, Boogie Nights, Coffee and Cigarettes). Overall, however, there isn't enough to fully enthrall the viewer: the story lacks depth, the actors don't seem to take their roles seriously, the British accents are unforgivable, and the special effects are lacking. Skip it.

a preview of the new film, "Micmacs" directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Off the Shelf

AUGUST 18, 32 PAGES / FC, $2.99
It’s all been leading up to this: Invincible vs. Thragg, one-on-one! It’s the fight to end all fights, and the fate of the entire universe hangs in the balance. Whatever you do, don’t miss this issue!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What Shapes A Young Brian Spath?!v=q5j03W2xuwA

Monday, May 24, 2010

Friday, May 21, 2010

Let's All Go to the Lobby!

It's been a long time that an SNL skit has morphed into a movie, but the unlikeliest of spoof heroes has turned into the unlikeliest of features as "MacGruber" hits the big screen.

Will Forte co-wrote and stars as the MacGyver-inspired doofus. Flanked by Kristen Wiig and Ryan Phillipe, Forte bumbles and grumbles his way through 90 minutes of sight gags, rudimentary action sequences, and cheap, sophomoric one-liners. Somehow, however, it all seems to work. While the running time is a little long, the jokes are funny and Forte's performance is crisp and really stands out. There are a few cheap laughs, but there are several witty retorts and running puns that elicit a laugh every time.

"MacGruber" is a goofy, action/comedy spoof that hits all the standard action film plot points. Forte delivers a great comedic performance and Val Kilmer sinks into the role as the rotund villain. It's hard for me to comprehend, but believe me when I say it: See it.

The Secret in Their Eyes
As the Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film, I certainly expected quite a bit more from "The Secret in Their Eyes." A flashback thriller centered on the brutal rape and murder of a young woman, Eyes tries to tie in alcoholism, unrequited love, and police/justice system corruption into 127 minutes.

While production of the film is near flawless (led by great cinematography) and the actors perform relatively well, there seems to be something overwrought about the plodding nature of the story. The clues are laid out and the puzzle comes together with relative ease. Evil culprits are shown as smarmy, deceptive creatures who slip into government roles with ease.

"The Secret in Their Eyes" is well produced and well acted, but resonates with a hollowness that I was expecting from an Oscar winner. However, after looking over the director's list of credits, I can see why it unfolded like generic episodic television. Skip it.

There are a couple of films ("Harry Brown," "The Good, the Bad, the Weird")that have hit the St. Louis Landmark circuit recently that I'm interested in seeing; hopefully I can catch either or both before their engagements conclude.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Off the Shelf

For all those "Fringe" fans out there...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wednesday Filler

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What Shapes A Young Brian Spath?!v=XE8XF18Edg0

Monday, May 17, 2010

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Commercial Success

Star Clipper's new commercial!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Let's All Go to the Lobby!

Exit Through the Gift Shop
Graffiti art collides with consumer kitsch in the new 'documentary' c0mmandeered by street art icon Banksy. What starts out as an interesting inspection of the rise of street art from the transition of graffiti turns into a rambling, semi-focused biography that's left me puzzled yet intrigued.

The film begins with Thierry Guetta and his compulsion to film everything that happens in his life. This leads him to shadowing his cousin, Invader, who is a street artist. Through Invader, Guetta meets several other prominent street artists and begins compiling footage that he claims he'll turn into a street art documentary.

What Guetta turns out is an indecipherable mess, so Banksy turns the camera on Guetta as he transforms himself into Mr. Brainwash and prepares to stage his own show in L. A. What transpires over the last 1/3 of the film is either an elaborate ruse or an authentic, ego-fueled hack on display. Guetta goes from documentarian to overnight pop-art sensation and scorns many in his wake. The film creates a great dialogue about graffiti as art, art aristocracy, and consumerism. It's challenging and engaging, interesting and mischievous. See it.

Robin Hood
The latest film from Ridley Scott has already met with much criticism (another Robin Hood, seriously?). After watching this weak rendition and basic "Gladiator" redux, I can only hope that Sherwood Forest remains untouched for another couple decades.

With a running time drawing dangerously close to two-and-a-half hours, there is very little that happens in what is marketed to be the true story of Robin Hood. There are a few action sequences at the beginning of the film (King Richard's return from the Crusades) and the climatic fight scene at the end of the film (the English fending off an invading French fleet). Aside from that, it's two hours of lush meadows and antiquated farming.

Scott helms the picture with an epic scope but bland execution. Generally, I enjoy Russell Crowe, but his performance as Robin Hood was stale and empty. Robin Hood is a mythical character with a moral that transcends time; his story has been adapted into several fun pictures (Disney's take, Prince of Thieves, Men in Tights), but the 2010 version did nothing to either expound or radicalize the mythos. Skip it.

The Square
A adulterous affair spins a web of deceit in Nash Edgerton's thriller. A bag of cash acquired under mysterious circumstances leads to increasingly worse decisions for Ray and Carla, the immoral pair. Ray is a foreman and is setting up kick-backs with a co-worker; kick-backs Ray hopes will serve as the start up money for his and Carla's getaway. Confrontations and accusations quickly make their plan spiral out of control and several lives are shattered in the process.

The pacing of this Australian production is tight and quick. The tension is palpable and the performances all resonate with depth and realism. There are fragments of the plot that don't fully connect and the plot seems rudimentary at times, but the execution makes up for any shortcomings. The end sequence alone, however, creates a somber mood for exiting the theater. See it.

As a great prologue to "The Square," Edgerton's short "The Spider" played in front of the press screening I attended. Hopefully it plays during its theatrical run in St. Louis as well. I've included it below, for your viewing pleasure:

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Off the Shelf

Check out more about the Guardians here.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Have You Seen Me?

Big money, big prizes for whoever correctly identifies this figure!
(hints: produced by Bandai in 1991)

Wednesday Filler

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What Shapes A Young Brian Spath?!v=t6xqamEd8s0

Monday, May 10, 2010

Gerald: Master of Art and Awesomeness

You should be checking Gerald Neuhoff's art blog frequently. He's getting into a solid routine of posting work and that work is AWESOME.

Cool Covers

Friday, May 7, 2010

Let's All Go to the Lobby!

The Secret of Kells
It isn't very often that an Academy Award nominated film flies under the radar of mainstream movie audiences, but that's exactly what 'The Secret of Kells' accomplished, and it has turned into the little movie that could.

The story centers on Brendan, a curious and bright young man. He assists an ailing old man with the completion of the Book of Kells, an illustrated Gospel book. The film weaves in elements of fantasy, religion, and maturation in a way that few films produced today even attempt. A traditional 2-D animation, the film is fluid and graceful, with great color and a vivid imagination. The pace isn't for traditional animated fans and the subject matter turn some folks away, but Kells is an intriguing story that doesn't take the audience for granted - in fact, it expects quite a bit out of it.

While the film was nominated for an Oscar, it was forgotten behind the hysteria of 'Up' (which wasn't even the second best film nominated). This is a great opportunity to catch a film that doesn't follow a generic Hollywood outline. See it.

The most hotly anticipated film of 2010 arrives with a repulsor blast and goes out with a rat-a-tat-tat. Robert Downey, Jr. is back as the man in the iron suit and delivers quips and cocked eyebrows at a rate that makes Scarlett Johansson's delivery look like - well, she can't act, so let's just get that out of the way right now. RDJ, as Tony Stark, is living the high life as the world's favorite superhero - near invincible and almost untouchable. But the high price of fame is taking its toll on Tony - his 'power source' is also poisoning his blood stream at a rate that only makes sense in a movie. Soon, rivals pop up on the scene to challenge both Stark and Iron Man to pry loose the mantle of both American defender and American heart throb.

'Iron Man 2' is a fun film, but a comic book film just the same. It's laced with one-liners that liven up the action, but, as most comic book films are prone to attempt nowadays, it takes a dark turn to prove how serious superhero warfare really is. Iron Man meets his match in Mickey Rourke's Whiplash - the scorned son of a former Howard Stark collaborator. For revenge, Rourke plans to topple Stark and 'make God bleed.' What this results in is an Iron Man 1 redux: armor-suited men slugging it out in darkened cinematography.

This sequel doesn't come close to topping the original. The first film was a breath of fresh air in the comic book film landscape: funny, action packed, and smart. While 'Iron Man 2' may not top the predecessor, it is perfectly serviceable as a continuation of that story. Stark is soaking up the fame Iron Man has thrust him into, while at the same time dealing with the corruption the suit has brought him, in more ways than one. As much as I disliked the rehashing of an armored slugfest (though much better this time around), there were several aspects of the film I thoroughly enjoyed.

The special effects were phenomenal. Not that it was lacking in 'Iron Man,' but the FX team did astounding work on this project. Explosions, super advanced iPhones, and digital interface manipulation are not easy to pull off and it was done so seamlessly. There are sequences in this film (the race track and the climatic fight, among others) that I found myself marveling at the nearly imperceptible difference between real and created. The landscape for digital rendering has been completely altered.

For as bad as Scarlett Johansson is (this film didn't need eye candy and doesn't anyone buy her as an action performer?), Sam Rockwell was infinitely better. He played Stark's industrial competitor with a quirky, convincing smarm balanced with devilish, conniving greed. There was a buzz when he was on screen and the film was decidedly better with his addition.

Through the flaws (Johansson, redundancy, AC/DC soundtrack), 'Iron Man 2' is a good film. It may seem like a bit of a letdown because of how surprisingly awesome the original was, but that isn't meant to discredit the impact this film has. It's fun, exciting, and surprisingly touching. Stark has as much difficulty facing the impending doom brought about by his life support system as he does discovering that his distant, long-dead father actually cared for him. Fan-favorite Iron Man moments are touched upon, including the now-legendary 'Demon in a Bottle' storyline. The introduction of War Machine is welcome and Don Cheadle fills the role serviceably. Rourke is menacing and creepy looking. The two-hour plus running time rolls along smoothly.

As I said, 'Iron Man 2' is a good film and will assuredly rake in money by the whale load at the box office paving the way for a third installment. As this film showed, the Avengers Initiative is still being planned as the groundwork was laid for Iron Man's role on the team, as well as hints at one or two other potential members. The special effects are spectacular and elevate the film above its peers. The performances are solid, even if Samuel L. Jackson is a hambone. Above all, the story does a great job of showing how vulnerable and targeted Tony Stark is - alone in the world with a target all over him. While not a breakthrough sequel, 'Iron Man 2' does a better job than most at continuing a story, fleshing out characters, and further developing a world - which is very important as Iron Man has served as the launching pad for several future Marvel film projects. See it.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Off the Shelf

Daniel Clowes returns, via D&Q, with 'Wilson,' a witty, terse, and entertaining story about the eponymous loner Wilson, his views on life, his relationships, and his shortcomings (though Wilson would never admit to any). Clowes delivers an acerbic satire that is both funny and depressing; he mixes styles of art - from realistic to cartoon and styles in between.

Both approaches - style and substance - work amazingly well. We have at once a caricature of Wilson, a curmudgeonly wisenheimer, and an in-depth portrait of his intellect, compassion, and desires. All the while, Wilson alienates everyone around him and yet he is still able to find love. The story is broken down into one-page, six panel vignettes, each ostensibly disconnected from the next though Clowes weaves a very intricate theme and ominous tone throughout the graphic novel. As the story plays out, Wilson continuously has the last word - and a very catty word at that.

'Wilson' reads like a fresh approach by Clowes, but classic nonetheless. He shows his diversity as an artist and a storyteller, and creates a character that is both reprehensible and endearing at the same time. 'Wilson' is one of Clowes more realistic works, which makes it resonate with more depth and emotion and makes it one of my favorite publications - both of his and so far this year.

One of my most anticipated releases quickly turned into a major disappointments in Marvel's 'Strange Tales.' A consortium of revered indie comic creators contributed eccentric pieces to an anthology series showcasing Marvel properties as you've never seen them before. A who's who roll call of writers and artists provided work that ranged from the good, the bad, and the lame.

Entries by a small handful of creators standout, notably Matt Kindt, Brian Maruca and Jim Rugg, Jason, Paul Hornschemeir, and Stan Sakai. Paul Pope, Jeffrey Brown, James Kochalka, and Dash Shaw turned in fun pieces. The rest of the book, however, is forgettable. A lot of promotion and book space was wasted on Peter Bagge. The layout and flow of the entire book was cumbersome. Most of the creators seemed to be taking jabs at both the characters and the people who read them: simple jokes for simple folks. The pieces that standout are either A) Cute stories told in a fun way or B) Dense, character driven plots that highlight the keystones of certain characters.

The book seems to be tailor-made for a very select audience: readers who straddle the threshold of both superhero and indie comics. Hardcore superhero nerds won't care for the critically favored indie creators meddling with their favorite characters, while the indie fanbase either won't touch a Marvel book (after having been brought up on the material to begin with) or won't dirty their hands on something so 'mainstream.' In both cases, the reader is right to skip this collection.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What Shapes A Young Brian Spath?!v=JxCInOkn6OU

Monday, May 3, 2010