January 29, 2013

Retroview: Trancers (1985)

A Retroview Review. 
Luke here, traveling back to the year 1985 via his futuristic past-viewer (read: netflix), to discover that things in the past may not be what they appear to be...
Before seeing Trancers, I was only peripherally aware of Charles Band and Empire Pictures or Full Moon Productions/Entertainment/Studios/Features/Pictures, having unwittingly seen, or at least seen around, the most famous of the movies both (all?) of these companies have unceremoniously pumped out. Super quick history: Sitting somewhere slightly above Troma-quality, since 1973, big hits associated with Band have been Puppetmaster, Re-Animator, The Dungeonmaster, Troll, and TerrorVision. I'm certainly leaving off someone's favorite Brad-Brand movie, but after a quick perusal of his list, that's about it. Well, those and today's feature: Trancers. These movies are lovingly crafted B-horror and B-Sci-fi, destined to be introduced by our man Vincent Price on a midnight movie program. Trancers is no different. Not the most serendipitous movie ever made, but darn close.

January 28, 2013

SLM Mixtape #42: we rob banks

Where There's A Will - The Great Lost Blind Boys Album
I'm Drunk And Real High - Ada Richards
Blue Yodel No. 1 (T For Texas) - Jimmie Rodgers
The Cat's Whiskers - Patt Patterson & His Champion Pep Riders
What's That Tastes Like Gravy? (King David's Jug Band) - Stovepipe No.1 & David Crockett
(When I'm Gone) Don't Talk About Me (Unissued) - The Delmore Brothers
Exploiting - The Caresser
Only Foreigners - The Growler

January 22, 2013

Retroview: Last Year at Marienbad (1961)

A Retroview Review. 

Luke here with a kind of by-the-books review of a French New Wave movie that is, apparently, confusing for a large portion of the critics out there.

French New Wave movies are, at times, unforgiving. If you're not into it, then they're not really there to hold your hand and guide you through. Despite the criticism and praise, FNW still isn't going to be for everyone, and that is totally okay. Sometimes ambling, repetitive movies that lack conventional structure and a naturally flowing narrative are annoying. If you're not a fan, Last Year at Marienbad isn't going to change your mind. I would say it is a good movie, and I was tickled by it, but there was a reason I didn't invite more than a few people over to watch it. I can only recommend it if you're interested in FNW, or if you want to dive head first. There are spoilers in this, but I'll mark them out. Here we go!

January 21, 2013

SLM Mixtape #41: okay. okay I'm ready

Blue Mountains - Diamond Rugs
Art of Almost - Wilco
Shameless - Man Man
Primitive Girl - M. Ward
You & Me - Sara Watkins
She Was Out in the Water - One Little Plane
Orifice Origami - Reptar
I Wish I Was Someone Better - Blood Red Shoes

January 15, 2013

Retroview: Gigantic (2008), Cold Souls (2009), and Bored to Death (2009-present)

A Retroview Review. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Luke here, with a post late for Wednesday, the reason for which explained after the review.

This review is actually double late, the second reason being that I watched Poltergeist for the first time in years last night. This evening I watched Gigantic, Cold Souls, and I finished season 1of Bored to Death, all fine pieces, but under the shadow of Poltergeist, few movies could withstand the pressure. Because I have little that I could add to the conversation concerning Poltergeist's pure and unbridled awesomeness, I'm going to do a short review of the three pieces mentioned above, none of which blew me away, or that I could highly recommend, but each of which I enjoyed at least a little. Here it is:


Gigantic has an adorable cast in what felt like decidedly quirky predicaments. Zooey Deschanel plays Harriet, love interest of main character Brian (Paul Dano), and daughter of Al (John Goodman). Brian, 28, single, works at a mattress store, and aspires to adopt a Chinese child. Harriet does part time work in a TV studio, but mostly just avoids doing anything with her life. They meet, fall for each other, the idea of things working out freaks them out, and things fall apart. Also Zach Galifianakis has a cameo as a bum who beats up Brian every once in a while.

The characters themselves are a little trite, each time they reveal a quirky characteristic it seems like they're just grabbing another sand bag to their back, needlessly weighing them down. The best being each of the main character's fathers (Brian's unnamed father being played by Edward Asner). Paul and Zooey honestly felt a little bored with the characters, but when they are around their respective parents, the chemistry there is simply heartwarming. Al is boisterous and outspoken, but not outright rude. Brian's father is absentminded, though aware of the need for a close family. By the end of the movie, I was not as invested in the relationship between Brian and Harriet as I was with their relationships with their parents. Funny parts here and there, but mostly just a rehash of tropes that have kind of become all too prevalent.

Cold Souls:

A lot of movies have the main moral that "being yourself and loving yourself for who you are" is always the best policy. Few movies have approached this topic in such an abstract way that Cold Souls has. Eternal Sunshine on the Spotless Mind would be a fair comparison, though Cold Souls is more dialogue driven, and with less visual metaphor. If done well enough, I don't notice, or, at least, I don't really mind said moral hovering over the production. While noticeable, I did not find the handling of the moral to be ham-fisted, though I wasn't entirely tricked into not noticing it.

Paul Giamatti, played by Paul Giamatti, has his soul extracted in search of an easier way to get through the day. He hears about Soul Extraction. I think the only unspoiler thing I can say is that he opts for the procedure, the effects of which make up the entire drama of the movie. It is a clever, bizarre concept which I instantly found attractive. The movie twists and turns about every 15 minutes, taking the story to a place previously unimaginable each time, though, thankfully, in seemingly negligible increments. For me, the climax comes about halfway through the movie, where certain events converge in a serendipitous way that had me laughing and falling for the character. But then the rest of the movie kept coming, and the twists and turns, while interesting and smartly minor, started to feel a little tedious. It did get to the point where, like a running joke, it came back around to being funny that the movie kept upping the ante, just a little bit. Cold Souls won't make any new Giamatti fans, but I think it stays true to what old fans may expect.

Bored to Death:

I was initially interested in Bored to Death for the same reasons I imagine anyone else who watches the show is: the cast. A polarizing trio if anything, I can safely say I enjoy each of the actors in just about anything they are in. Jonathan (Jason Schwartzman) is a struggling author, Ray (Zach Galifianakis) his comic book creating best friend, and George (Ted Danson), Magazine publisher who hires Jonathan to write on occasion. Jonathan's girlfriend breaks up with him, and in a fit of loneliness, he puts an add on Craislist advertizing his skills an an amateur, unlicensed Private Detective.

As ripe as that plot sounds, and as bizarre as this cast may seem, the show kind of just plugs along. The episodes focus around Jonathan's acquiring of a case and handling his relationships with Ray and George, whom have smaller roles than I think I expected. The funny parts are frequent enough to keep me coming back, but not enjoyable enough that I think I could really, wholeheartedly, recommend it to other people.


So yeah, I wish I had something I felt more passionately about to talk about, but the only option there was Poltergeist, and there's really nothing I can say about that movie that hasn't been said 100 times: It's quite possibly one of the best movies ever made. Heck, here's the trailer:

---Luke Hunter James-Erickson

oh, P.S. This review is mostly late because I've found myself in a rare position. I went to a premier of 4 short movies made by a Colorado based production company. My plan was to review them all and have the review up by yesterday. As I watched, the plan changed to review the best one. After getting home, I grappled with whether or not I should write about the movies at all. Because my voice is not an influential one on any grand scale, my criticisms would seem petty and mean, and I didn't really want to dedicate time to writing about movies I didn't enjoy, especially if that would mean sitting around, snidely coming up with "witty" ways to emphasize this. I just yesterday decided not to write the piece, which is why this one is late. I think, in the end, I'm happy I reviewed these three bigger pieces as opposed to talking about the other movies.

January 14, 2013

SLM Mixtape # 40: I Hope All The Suspects Are This Much Fun

Vikram Vikram  -  Raaja, Gansesh, Hamsalekha
Mendel [I Don't Know] - Omar Souleyman
Boe Boe - Alaev Family
Un Soir Chez Norris - Pierre Cavalli
Do Your Thing - Trinidad & Tobago Steel All Stars
Wily Kataso (Live Eclipse) - Amadou And Mariam
On The Roof of Kedar Lodge - Psycho Baba
Tähtien Rauha  - Kollaa Kestaa

January 11, 2013

The New "42" Trailer Proves, Once Again, That Basesball Should Only Exist In Movies

Seriously, did you see that?  Because that looks about a billion times more entertaining than any baseball game has ever been.  I've got a Moneyball Retroview Review in the works, and it presents a similar theory, so keep an eye out for that...

January 10, 2013

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: A Review. / Or: The Hobbit: We've Been Here Before.

Hey everyone, Luke here with a longread concerning Peter Jackson's newest movie, The Hobbit.

Background: The Similarities 
In 1955, C.S. Lewis released a book named The Magician's Nephew, a prequel to his wildly popular The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Written, at first, due to a friend inquiring as to how some of the foreign elements in TLTWTW found their way into this magical world. It took him five years to complete it, all the while working on the other entries in his series, and it's said it was the hardest book for him to complete. I hate this book.

From 1999 to 2005, George Lucas released three prequels to his wildly popular Star Wars series. I don't really need to go into any detail on the release and reaction of these movies. I think it almost goes without saying that I hate these movies.

The core of my hatred of these stories is roughly the same. Instead of standing on their own two feet, the entire purpose of them is to point at the successful entries in the series and remind you of how good they were. The stories are weak, ridiculous, and annoying. It is as though they only exist to answer questions that are honestly better left unanswered.

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the first person through the wardrobe, Lucy, is introduced to the magical nature of Narnia when she finds a lamp-post, bright as day, flickering in the heart of an otherwise uncivilized wood. In The Magician's Nephew, Jadis, The White Witch, main antagonist for both books, breaks a rod off a lamp-post while in England, which ends up dropping to the ground once she arrives at the newly minted Narnia. The fresh magic of Narnia treats the rod as though it were an acorn, and up sprouts a lamp-post-tree-thing. And there you have it, lamp-post in the forest.

The Star Wars example is less complex. In Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, the big reveal is that Darth Vader is, in fact, Luke Skywalker's father. But if you were to watch the prequels first, specifically Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, you'd already know that, so when the reveal comes two episodes later, the effect is lost.

These bits of information, and all the other things "revealed" in the prequels would not be so terrible if the stories were meant to be enjoyed in the order in which they were released.  But with re-releases of the Narnia series putting The Magician's Nephew first, and Episode I being where human nature tells us to start, these "revealing" moments in the prequels ruining the later stories for future audiences is unavoidable.

Because of this, these prequels not only ruin the magic of the existing works, but how they fail to do anything other than needlessly fill in answers to questions no one really needed answered.

This is how I feel about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. And the saddest thing of all is that this was completely avoidable.

The Review: An All Too Expected Journey
In 1997, the unlikely director that was Peter Jackson won the rights to film The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.  Bright eyed and bushy tailed, with no expectations and little public knowledge of the project, he went to work crafting what had the potential to be the biggest movie event in the history of movies.  As much as I like The Frighteners, at this point Jackson hadn't really done much to warrant public interest.  With modern film making techniques already tried and true, he was working within a medium that had long before abandoned its gimmicky reputation (I know, I know, it seems weird referencing the fact that when "movies" came out like 100 years ago people thought they were silly, but this comes into play later in the review).

Circumstance would have it that when the first movie was released, just a few short months after the greatest tragedy in recent American history, America was ready for something deep and real and adventurous and triumphant, something with an unknowable, faceless evil and a plucky few standing up to face it.  Now, I like to think the Harry Potter series also banked off this, but there was never a better time for a series like The Lord of the Rings to start.

And then 10 years passed.  Jackson put out a few movies, none of which particularly good, and, as fate would have it, the director's chair for the prequel to his wildly popular series was again open (seriously, if you don't know about the hell this movie went through to make it to the screen, just glance at the wiki page dedicated purely to its development).  Against what seemed to be his own better judgement, as he previously went on record claiming he didn't want to be the one do it because he wouldn't want it to have to be held up to his original trilogy, he took back his throne at the helm of another journey to Middle Earth.

Of the many things wrong with this movie, all the jokes falling flat, the needlessly gimmicky utilization of 3D technology, and the piss poor pacing, the thing ruffling my feathers most is how the final product feels not only inadequate, but purposeless. They took a stand alone story, which was by all rights the inspiration for the biggest story written in modern English, and made a referential, derivative, unintentional parody.

Throughout the movie, there are winks and nudges abound, as though the audience keeps forgetting that this whole thing leads up to LOTR.  It was degrading being pandered to instead of being told a story.  I found myself checking my watch 30 minutes in, then again 20 minutes later, noting that I'd just witnessed the longest dinner party scene filmed in the last 10 years since the "opening" of Melancholia, which clocked in at around 40 minutes.  And that was a movie about melancholia, not an Adventure movie.

Almost as bad as simply being a painfully obvious stretched out appetizer course for LOTR, there wasn't even an ounce of tension for any amount of time.  Nothing ever felt like it was on the line. Admittedly, this may have been because I know that at least Gandalf and Bilbo make it out, and I vaguely remember from the book that there not being any dwarf deaths, but it was most likely the dispassionate or otherwise unbelievable performances from every character before, during, and after the blatantly masturbatory battle scenes.

Additionally, it was downright tragic to see Martin Freeman aka Bilbo Baggins aka John Watson directed so poorly that he constantly looked befuddled and confused as to why he was even there.  It was as though, between takes, he asked whether or not what he was doing was working, and Peter Jackson just said "yeah whatever."  That man can act.  If you need any convincing of that, watch even 10 minutes of any episode of the BBC Sherlock series.  Actually, just watch that because it's rad.

As for the visuals, while technically stunning, I just don't feel like directors and cinematographers know what to do with 3D technology, so they just have things shoot out at the screen, as though we need to be reminded that we're watching a 3D movie.  It ought to be used as a way to give depth, not as a stupid supplement for an amusement park ride. I think people will look back at these new early days of reinvented 3D movies and ask themselves why so many movie have things "Comin' At Ya!"  When there aren't thing flying toward you, removing tension and the viewer from the movie itself, I do have to say it did look good.  I couldn't compare it to movies not shown in 48fps, because I just don't have a memory that works that way, but I can say it did at least look pretty.

In The End: The Desolation of Gimmicks
So what happened?  Where did they go wrong?  We'll never really know, but it couldn't have helped that the cast and crew were cycling in and out over a period of too many years, that Peter Jackson had an immense amount of pressure because of his stunning previous Middle Earth films, and that they were working with not one but two gimmicky filming techniques which are neither tried nor true.  Now, I'm not saying Jackson should be faulted for attempting something new.  I like innovation as much as the next person.  It's just that this film highlights what it's like when a new technique is introduced.  It's risky.  I like risky movies.  I do not like pointless movies.

Did it need to be three films?  Absolutely not.  I haven't seen the others yet, but if this is any example, I don't feel like I need to in order to make that call.  Every scene is stretched to the very limit of endurability before transitioning.  Jackson himself said the reason the series was going to be three films instead of two is simply that they had filmed so much material that, hey, why not?

It sounds like what happened here was the same thing that happened with the Star Wars prequels.  George Lucas, when he made the first Star Wars movies wasn't really a nobody, having American Graffiti under his belt, but he still didn't have an aaaaawful lot of clout, much like pre-LOTR Jackson.  They both needed producers and editors and studio heads and other reasonable people around them to get them to focus on what mattered, and, through collaboration, brilliant movies were made.  When Lucas went and made the SW-prequels, he was given free reign.  And we all know what happened there.  I fear that's what has happened here with the Hobbit movies.  It's as discouraging as the only other option I see, which is simply that, instead of green lighting a movie or a series of movies that really worked, they just went ahead with it for the money.

All that said, I think if you're interested in it at all, you should see it.  But maybe wait until you can watch it at home with all of your friends, much like how a viewing of The Expendables II would go.  It's just such a disappointment that you'll need the the intoxicating effects of companionship to trudge along in this anything but Unexpected Journey.

---Luke Hunter James-Erickson

Afterthought: Back Here Again
I think there should be one and only one rule to follow when it comes to movie adaptations:  Make a good movie.  All the rest is superfluous.  Sub-rule: Ignore the fans.  There will always been a percentage of fans who will see your movie regardless of anything, simply because they're fans.  Conversely, there will always be fans who will not see your movie for anything, because they think you'll mess it up.

The thing is, the people you want to come and see the movie aren't fans, they're the every day folk, who want to see a good movie. You want them because they outnumber the fans by a margin of eleventy billion (approx.). They don't care if you "got it right." They just care if it rocks. So make it rock, Hollywood, Make It Rock.

I also feel compelled to mention how JRR Tolkien fits into all of this, more so than by providing the base material.

When JRR Tolkein wrote and published the original The Hobbit, there were a variety of differences. After releasing the original Lord of the Rings books, Tolkien wanted to revise The Hobbit so certain things made more sense. His publishers nixed the idea, but then later he found they'd went ahead and published his changes in the new editions. This spurred him into crafting a full on overhaul, much like what Lucas did with the original Star Wars trilogy. There's a great run down of that story over at Badass Digest, which I heavily recommend reading (Read More Here).

January 8, 2013

Retroview: 7 Movies That Changed The Way I Think About Movies

A Retroview Review. This one had been a part of a "7 movies that changed the way we think about movies" list...
7. Rushmore

When I saw Rushmore for the first time, I was blown away. At the time, my movie watching experience was that of children's movies, schlocky big budget movies, and schlockier "wide audience" comedies, and while I had movies that I really had a great time watching, I didn't really connect with anything in any meaningful way. In fact, I didn't see much of an art to movies, I thought of them as pure entertainment. Then I saw Rushmore, and it showed me that movies can be so much more than a cheesy love story or large explosions. There could be a subtlety to movies that I previously just didn't notice.

6. Rope

Not my first Hitchcock movie, but the first that blew my mind. Another movie rife with subtlety, Hitchcock's ability shone bright enough that my young mind opened up and started to see that movies didn't just have to have simple plots, and that tension could be built with not only clever dialogue and terrific body language, but with minute lighting changes and camera placement.

5. The Searchers

This one is kind of a cop out, because The Searchers was honestly just the first Western I saw that showed me that Westerns could be awesome. Before I saw it, my young mind categorized Westerns as "those dumb, old movies about stupid cowboys." And, while The Searchers is old, and was when I saw it, and it was about cowboys and the old west, it was about so much more than that. Again with the subtlety kick, but The Searchers showed me that Westerns, like other brilliant movies, could subtly be about more than it's setting, it could touch on human issues that have been relevant throughout time.

4. Pierrot Le Fou

Ah yes, French New Wave. I had filed FNW movies under "that artsy crap that no one understands or actually likes" until I saw Pierrot Le Fou. It's true that I had no idea what was happening throughout most of the movie that first time, because the movies I'd seen up to that point were all pretty cut and dry on how to arrange things like "plot" and "camera angles." That said, I loved it. It showed me that movies that took me outside of my comfort zone could be fun, and that there was a whole universe of "artsy crap" to delve into, just waiting to be understood and liked.

3. The White Room

When I mentioned this movie in the Soundtracks list (two lists ago), I said the short story about this movie is that this band wanted to make a movie and that it went horribly wrong. Well there's no way I'm going to go into the whole story, but the slightly longer version is that this crazy duo, The KLF, made a movie for some crazzzzzy reasons (that post is forth coming). Their plan was to make a movie within a movie (possibly with bookends as well, but I'll have to check on that to be sure), and while filming the innermovie, they ran out of money. They didn't even finish filming everything they wanted for the inner movie, and what they did shoot looked awful. But they still realllly wanted to make the thing, so they scheduled a private showing of the material they had filmed and edited, hoping to get more money from investors to complete the movie. The investors watched the ~60 minutes of film, and straight turned them down. The movie was abandoned, never to be shown again. But the weird thing is that you can find copies of it. And it's on the internet. How is a complete mystery to me. All of this only partically blows my mind. What really blows my mind is that, after tracking down the movie (the only two lines of dialogue dubbed in Russian) it's actually a pretty good experiment in tone. It's the chillest movie I've ever seen. This hardly even starts to scratch the surface of the story behind this movie, but that's enough for now. I can't believe something like this exists is essentially my point.

2. Gone With The Wind

Straight up a genius movie. I saw it in a hotel room halfway between home and MN to see relatives. As a young child, I was not a fan of "old" movies, probably strictly on the basis that they were "old." But because this movie is pure magic, and stumbling on it after flipping on the hotel TV to surf around before bed, my sister and I were sucked in. We sat, probably slack jawed, and sucked in every moment. It proved to me that "old" movies could be good.

1. Borderline (1930)

Here's the daddy of them all. I'm gonna need a bigger blog post (to fully express my adoration for this movie). Borderline is a simple movie, from plot, to camera angles, to dialogue. But it's so drastically different from basically every movie out there, in camera work, plot, mise-en-scene, pacing, etcetcetc, especially considering when it came out. Macphereson (the director/screenwriter) took his camera, pointed it at the actors, and lingered on them for far longer than would seem appropriate, forcing us to delve deep into the image. Frequently there are shots just of people's hands, or people just staring at one another, shots which evoke a feeling of uncomfortableness in me that I cringe when thinking about them, but a good sort of cringe. It's an effective movie, one that shook me to my core. I hadn't known that was truly possible until watching this movie. Brilliant.

January 7, 2013

SLM Mixtape #39: oh. i'll be there

Laser Beams - Wintersleep
Cinnamon - The Long Winters
Post Apocalypse Christmas - Gruff Rhys
Good Boys - Blood On The Wall
Hungry Mouth - Nurses
Invitations - Puberty
Northern Line - Swearing At Motorists
Elephant in the Dock - mewithoutYou

January 6, 2013

Wind Does - Real Planet

I'm releasing a new EP today.
If you have a moment, check it out.  I rather like it.
Watch out though, because it is Noise Music.
New Monday Mixtapes start back up tomorrow.

January 1, 2013

Retroview: The FP

A Retroview Review.  This one had been a part of a "favorite movies seen in 2011" series...

Not the best movie I saw this year, but my favorite for sure. The FP feels like a movie that shouldn't exist. With it's creation, it's almost as if we're ushering in an era of "anything is possible" movies, which is one of the most exciting things about this movie. The thing with artistic technology is that, when it's created, only those with a lot a money get to use it, or decide how it's used. Think Photography. Heck, think Painting. All the incredibly early stuff is beautiful, but all the risks the early artists took were either minute changes in the common style, or subtle hints at their true motive that they were unsure would ever be noticed by anyone. Then, as the technology became more widely available, the number of artists not only increased, but the number of risks being taken increased. A really easy way to visualize this is by thinking about the history of recorded music. The early recordings were an awful lot of jazz standards and classical music. From there, the technology became minorly more accessible, and people started taking one or two risks (granted, they were safe bets, but bets none the less) and recording "hillbilly music" (Appalachian folk, roots blues, etc). Move up the years and you get rock and roll groups, leading up to punk music, hip-hop, grunge, "indie" rock, various forms of electronic music, all leading up to the current era of music production where having a polished sound is easy enough to get on a small budget that the aesthetic of lower quality recordings has made a ... come back ... if you can call it that.

This trend can easily be seen in relation to movies. More and more movies are coming out with staggeringly low budgets ... but that doesn't mean that summer blockbusters are going to be easily crafted at home any time soon. The difference between the gradual democratization (maybe "increased accessibility" are better words) of music recording technology and movie making technology is, frankly, making movies is still currently more difficult. Camera's still need good lighting in order for the picture to come out "right," you still need actors who can evoke some sort of emotion, and then you have the combined difficulty of putting in the right music. Sure, you can cut those things out entirely, but that is going against the point (and heading down the trail of an entirely different argument: What makes a movie a "movie?" Is a 5 minute youtube vlog a "movie?" What separates that 30 second shot of your nephew playing football from Transformers? Is this a movie?

The FP is the kind of movie that shows that we, eventually, will be able to have full length feature films that are comparable to the slag we're handed on a weekly basis from big studios. Which means a few good things and a few bad things. The main good thing is that we'll have a greater variety of movies out there ... and the bad thing is that the ratio of good to bad movies will probably remain the same. So instead of just having a whole bunch of crazy good movies coming out, we'll have an enormous amount of movies coming out, and it'll be even harder to find the "good" ones. BUT, the cool thing is that we'll be able to decide what that means for ourselves. Which, again, brings us back to The FP. I don't know very many people who would like this movie as much as I do, and that's okay, because I think it's "good," and that's all that matters.