Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Movie Review: Killers (2010)

This 2010 action romantic comedy is directed by Robert Luketic (of Legally Blond, Monster-in-Law, 21, and The Ugly Truth fame)- so yeah all winners- and is the story of Jen Kornfeldt (Katherine Heigl) recently left by her boyfriend for being overly cautious. On a trip to Nice, France with her parents she meets an enigmatic and sexy (god I can't believe I'm writing this) young man named Spencer (Ashton Kutcher), a CIA agent with a license to kill. The pair begin a whirlwind romance which quickly leads to marriage. However when old enemies begin looking for Spencer, Jen has two choices, leave Spencer, or save his life.

I'm a sucker for these kinds of movies- action comedies with a sexy cast and hints of romance. The only problem is, these types of moves tend to be pretty awful. Okay I'm lying. They tend to be godawful. I may be one of only a handful of people who thought the trailers looked fantastic and wanted to see it. Judging by the movies poor box office performance, maybe there were less than a handful of us. To my brothers and sisters in arms I say this, "Guess what? Everyone else was right and we were way off." This film doesn't even deserve my traditional format for movie reviews.

Nothing works in this film and I'm stunned that director Robert Luketic keeps getting work. His movies have been progressively getting worse and I never thought he could reach the lows of J-lo's Monster-in-Law, but this film makes that one look like Casablanca. He must have some dirt on some film execs because there is no good reason why he should ever be allowed to direct another movie.

To be fair some of the shots in this film were quite beautiful. But the action scenes, the scenes the whole movie is based around were bland and at times incomprehensible. However, I thought the cast was quite good. Heigl is just beautiful even if she can't act particularly well, and Kutcher is actually a pretty good actor. I can see him playing like a younger James Bond type, a kind who gets all the girls, travels the world killing, and yet also appears vulnerable. Film producers, get to making that script happen.

So yeah, sure the cast is hot, the locales beautiful, but there really isn't anything here besides a mind-numbingly ridiculous plot, some shaky directing, a worse script and some truly terrible dialogue. I give this film a definite, "sneak out/I want my money back rating." Like how in basketball, when players getting blow-out score, it's called "garbage time." Killers is the equivalent of that. This is just "garbage time", something to fill the time just because it needs to be done and sadly, someone has to do it?

Leftovers - Conan The Barbarian: The Musical

I'm not going to lie- I think the original 1982 Conan the Barbarian movie starring the governator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is not only one of the greatest movies ever filmed, but also one of the greatest things ever created. Sure it's god-awfully cheesy and Arnold can't act his way out of his accent, but everything about it just clicks for me. I've watched it countless times and never imagined there could be anything better, anything more breathtaking. I was wrong. Like most things in life, the best and fastest way to make something better is make it into a musical. Jon and Al Kaplan have been turning films into musicals for sometime now, but I think they've reached their creative plateau with this one. The word epic should only be used to describe the greatest of concepts, the greatest of executions... and yes, this musical is truly epic. Check it out below and marvel at it's greatest because in the end all anyone ever wants is to crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Book Review: The Windup Girl by Paolo Baciqalupi

Publication Date: 2009 in US


Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen's Calorie Man in Thailand. Under cover as a factory manager, Anderson combs Bangkok's street markets in search of foodstuffs thought to be extinct, hoping to reap the bounty of history's lost calories. There, he encounters Emiko...

Emiko is the Windup Girl, a strange and beautiful creature. One of the New People, Emiko is not human; instead, she is an engineered being, creche-grown and programmed to satisfy the decadent whims of a Kyoto businessman, but now abandoned to the streets of Bangkok. Regarded as soulless beings by some, devils by others, New People are slaves, soldiers, and toys of the rich in a chilling near future in which calorie companies rule the world, the oil age has passed, and the side effects of bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe.

What Happens when calories become currency? What happens when bio-terrorism becomes a tool for corporate profits, when said bio-terrorism's genetic drift forces mankind to the cusp of post-human evolution? Award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi delivers one of the most highly acclaimed science fiction novels of the twenty-first century.

Joshua's Take: 4.5/5☆

Why I picked up the book: because it's winning every speculative fiction award, and I have enjoyed some of the author's previous work. Seriously check out his short story collection, Pump Six. It'll blow your mind.

There are some books that after reading the first 25-30 pages, a reader can sit back and go, "yeah this a damn entertaining read." You just know it, you feel it in your bones as the words fly by, you sitting alone with a Cheshire grin on your face. However, there also some times, far more rarely, some books that after just reading the first 5 pages a reader can sit back and go, "wow, this is amazingly well written. I'm about to embark on a really special journey here." Paolo Baciqalupi's The Windup Girl is such a book.

Winner of numerous awards including most recently the prestigious Hugo award, when I first sat down to read The Windup Girl I thought I was prepared- prepared for a dark dystopian story of a poor robotic windup girl and the world she lives in. What a joke. I wasn't prepared for anything that came. The Windup Girl is an amazingly well crafted read. It's dark, brutal, poetic, imaginative, both terrifyingly tragic and yet somehow hopeful and unlike most anything you've ever read. It's words just get under your skin, it's characters stand just outside your sight-line. You can smell the streets of dystopian Thailand featured in this book, you can see the stagnant and grimy air as people walk around doing anything to survive, because in the world of The Windup Girl, survival is the best anyone can hope for. It's entirely science fiction, a world of Steampunk and what many are now calling Biopunk (environmental and biotechnology science fiction). It's easy to see why this book has been nominated and has won so many awards, deservedly so, and yet as I closed the book, as I took out my bookmark and looked at the cover for a final time, lovingly caressing it, the one thought that kept popping up in my head was, "this is easily one of the best books I've read all year and I doubt I can recommend this book to most people. Who can I recommend this too?" Why did such thoughts swim around in my head? Because this is one damn uncomfortable read.

The story here is split into four main narratives: one of the calorie man spy in Anderson Lake, a white foreigner or farang, looking for a new strain of fruit so his company can further use it to subjugate humanity. Another in a fallen man from Malaya called Hock Seng, a yellow card, one refugees of the lowest of the low in Thailand who once had it all, but had it all taken away when his family, his tribe were wiped out in a religious cleansing. Another, a Thai hero and "whitshirt" named Jaidee who just wants his country to reach the heights he believes it deserves. He is like a blind avatar living in a kaleidoscope world. And lastly, the heroine, our one and only true hero in Emiko, the windup girl, a Japanese robot companion abandoned on the tepid and humid streets of Bangkok, with no owner, a toy, a being no one considers human, who is forced into prostitution by her new owner, a freak show in a freakier world. Who finds hope in the solace that there is a place for her kind, a world with no owners. All four narratives intertwine, as each character's world constantly collides with one another, changing each others futures and fortunes forever.

The one thing I can say about this book is that it isn't a nice read. If this were a film I think I would have turned and looked away numerous times. It's just has some truly unpleasant scenes, horrifyingly so, and yet it's prose is so captivating, it's tragedy so tragic that you can't look away and continue to read on. In the end you have to wonder if anyone really got what they deserved, because it's a world where all the characters are evil, although it's a more evil world that begets evil, and the only truly good, honest and hopeful character is the poor windup girl, and in the end, does she really get everything she deserves? There's just so much here, so many questions about humanity, about greed, about what it means to be a thoughtful and caring soul, about being human, so many things that will keep readers glued, keep them coming back to sentences, re-reading, just a damn amazing read, and one so brutal and honest that I'm sure many will be turned off, disliking it. That's fair. It's clearly not for everyone's tastes. But if you have an open-mind and a high tolerance for pain (I literally found myself sweating as I read sentences from time to time, the prose is just that invasive), then I think you will be greatly rewarded by one of the truly amazing works in recent speculative fiction. But all that brings me back to the original question I had after I had just finished with the book, "who can I recommend this too?"

Friday, June 25, 2010

Fantastic Short Film Friday: The Archive

And we are back with another weekly installment in our Fantastic Short Film Friday series, as we look to showcase films released in the "lesser" known form of cinema- the short film.

I'm going to make this post short and sweet. This week we have for you a 7-minute short documentary called The Archive. It's the story of a lifelong passion for music and collecting and is directed by Sean Dunne. Here's the synopsis:

Paul Mawhinney was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA. Over the years he has amassed what has become the world's largest record collection. Due to health issues and a struggling record industry Paul is being forced to sell his collection.

This is the story of a man and his records.

Dunne has worked wonders and crafted a truly remarkable and moving tale of a man and his passions and the sadness sometimes of having to face reality. As a collector myself, well, this short really hit home.

I highly recommend people checking out Dunne's other shorts. To find out more information of the filmmaker and his other films go: here.

So as always sit back, relax, and let a lifelong love of music wash over you. Enjoy!!

The Archive from Sean Dunne on Vimeo.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Fantastic Short Film Friday: Oedipe (animation)

And we are back with another weekly installment in our Fantastic Short Film Friday series, as we look to showcase films released in the "lesser" known form of cinema- the short film.

This week we have for you a French animated short called Oedipe, a slight retelling of the classic Greek myth now told by Thierry Bleton, Frederic Caro, Renaud Madeline and Jonathan Perez. It has English subtitles so don't worry. Here's the official synopsis:

After consulting the oracle, Oedipus announces to his girlfriend that his destiny is to kill his father and marry his mother. How will Oedipus choose between destiny and freedom?

Since this is a French short, I couldn't find out much information about it or rather I could, but couldn't read the main website. Still, the short is a lot fun. It's nicely animated (looks a lot like the Disney Hercules style of animation- blocky characters right out of ancient Greek art), is a Greek myth so it's a tragedy (although slapstick and light-hearted) and it even has a musical number in the middle!! What more can you ask for?

If you can read French and want to find out more information about the short go: here.

So there you have, a school lesson told through animation and song. As always, sit back, relax and get ready to find some joy in whimsical tragedy.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Book Review: Touched by an Alien by Gini Koch

Publication Date: 2010 in US
Format: Mass Market Paperback


How can a sexy marketing manager join forces with an Alpha Centauri male in Armani to save the planet-using hairspray, a Mont Blanc pen, and rock n' roll? Easy...

She's Touched by an Alien

Marketing manager Katherine "Kitty" Katt steps into the middle of what appears to be a domestic dispute turned ugly. And it only gets uglier when the man turns into a winged monster, straight out of a grade-Z horror movie, and goes on a killing spree. Though Kitty should probably run away, she springs into action to take the monster down.

In the middle of the chaos a handsome hunk named Jeff Martini appears, sent by the "agency" to perform crowd control. He's Kitty's kind of guy, no matter what planet he's from. And from now on, for Kitty, things are going to be sexy, dangerous, wild, and out of this world.

Joshua's Take: 2.0/5☆

Why I picked up the book: because I love sci-fi and urban fantasy mash-ups and frankly the cover looks fantastic. I've wanted to read this book for a long time purely for the cover so to DAW, yeah, touche, good marketing.

They say a sucker is born every minute. Well I was born many minutes ago and it appears that I'm still an overall general sucker. I mean really, I should have known from the title, but then again, I'm a sucker.

Touched by an Alien is a mix of Twilight meets MIB. I'm a big fan of the MIB movies and well, I'm a guy so I don't really get the whole Twilight craze. However if anything this book has brought me closer to an understanding. This is the Twilight series for adults. Since this is for older readers, there are somewhat explicit sexual situations, lots of action and a heroine who is actually quite interesting instead of a shell like how Bella is written. There are also numerous references to how good-looking the alien guys are, I mean really good-looking and I mean a lot of references. I get it, this book isn't for me, it's not for anyone with a Y chromosome. I get it. But that's no excuse for repetitive and overall poorly structured pacing.

I have no problem when a novel wears its influences on it's sleeves, as in this case with classic B-movies and sci-fi cold war hysteria, but that's no excuse to literally repeat lines nearly every page. There must have been over 300 references to how good looking the guys are, 250 references to how the heroine Kitty is fighting the temptation to jump their bones, 200 references to swooning and 150 references to how Kitty is a modern independent and strong woman who is embarrassed by how cute she thinks everyone is. Again, I get it. This book is really not for me. It should have been shelved in the romance section of the bookstore and frankly that's also my fault since I shouldn't have just picked it up based on how nice I thought the cover looked.

What's frustrating about Touched by an Alien is that there's a really interesting plot here. Virtuous aliens battling parastic beings who can take over and be anyone, who's sole purpose is to eat people and to turn Earth into a literal hell- demonic aliens from who we get our "evil from the pits of hell" myths from. A fascinating heroine who is smart, courageous and brave enough to stand up for her fellow man instead of turning and running, who because of her courage gets initiated into this alien MIB-type organization. Teleportation, sonic guns, epic demonic battles- there's just so much to like here, such an intriguing plot. And its just all wasted on a really cheesy and sub-par romantic sub-plot that derails any type of momentum the story has or tries to have. Just a shame.

Again, this has all brought me a little closer to understanding the whole Twilight craze, how woman around the world can enjoy something that's not particularly well written but hits all the right romantic wish-fulfillment buttons for them. Hell, I like crap too. I mean I love me some sword and sorcery, swords and sandals, big guys fighting bigger monsters, saving the day and getting the girls, so who am I to judge right? Still, there was an interesting plot here, one that I truly believed would have been better suited and far more interesting if the romance sub-plot took a back seat, but then that would be a wholly different novel and one that perhaps wouldn't have been as financially successful. So yeah, it's getting great reviews from the women who read it so if you too are a woman and like your books with more romance than substance then by all means, Touched by an Alien is the perfect one for you. Man, what a terrible title for a book.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

What I Think Of: Franklyn (2009)

This 2008 British film is written and directed by first time feature length film directer Gerald McMorrow, that while seemingly a dark sci-fi fantasy film, is really much more. Set between contemporary London and the dystopic Meanwhile City, Franklyn is split between 4 narratives. Ryan Phillippe plays Jonathan Preest, a masked vigilante searching for his nemesis on the streets of Meanwhile City, a monolithic fantasy metropolis ruthlessly governed by faith and religious fervor. Bernard Hill plays Peter Esser, a broken man of faith, searching for his wayward son amongst the rough streets of London's homeless. Sam Riley stars as Milo, a heartbroken thirty-something desperately trying to find a way back to the purity of first love. And lastly Eva Green stars as Emilia, a beautiful art student whose suicidal art projects are becoming increasingly more complex and deadly. As the narrative shifts between the real and imaginary worlds, McMorrow explores the complex relationships between fantasy, faith, and love.

I've been wanting to watch Franklyn for some time. I first saw stills of the beautiful Meanwhile City a year ago and thought the film was going to be a full-on masked vigilante fighting corruption in a religious run world, with visuals over-riding any plot, and cgi reigning supreme. Wow, how wrong I was. Still, while the film wasn't what I was expecting, it nevertheless was a very enjoyable watch. There are just so many themes explored during the film, so many visual cues, that it felt like it belonged to the french new wave sect of cinematic history. Here are some of my thoughts concerning Franklyn:

  • writer/director Gerald McMorrow should give half his pay-check to comicbook writer Allan Moore because Franklyn is so heavily inspired by Moore's V For Vendetta and Watchmen comics- the look, the feel, the costumes, the way the characters talk in the fantasy world of Meanwhile City. Moore's worlds have always appealed to me so the look of this film perfectly suits my tastes, but yeah, wow, when the film ended I had to look at the back of the dvd cover to see if it was based on a Moore property I had never heard of. I wonder if the producers got the same art director from the V for Vendetta movie.
  • Still, while the narrative in the world of Meanwhile City is the most visually stunning, the most arresting part of the movie- it is just 1 story out of 4, and the rest of the stories are entirely original and wholly ambitious. From the story of suicide as art, to the story of imaginary friendship and lost loves, I love how McMorrow balances all four narratives until they ultimately meet. Granted, while the story may be a bit to ambitious for it's own good, and the overall narrative does get a bit confusing, Franklyn is a wonderful mix of realism and fantasy, of truth and half-truths, and of delusion and obsession.
  • Ryan Phillipe's Rorschach-like performance as Jonathan Preest was pretty good, but the one who stole the movie for me was the beautiful and painfully flawed Emilia, played by the lovely Eva Green. Green always chooses such odd and unique roles that I always find myself captured by her performances. There are just so many nuances to her character Emilia, so much hurt that is sparingly and subtly explained, that for me Emilia is the one that holds the whole film together. It's her arc that transcends this movie from being too arty and unbearable, to thought-provoking and interesting.
  • This film is incredibly slow, I mean languidly so. I can see many turning the film off an hour in because it's narrative is so fragmented, it's storyline a bit too confusing, and there's little to no action as the plot appears to just be turning in circles. However, if you do stick it out until the end, I do believe the viewer will be rewarded with a film that will make them think.
  • Though I also believe that this film would have been better served as a novella or even a short story, rather than a 95 minute film. I don't know if there is enough story here to warrant a feature length film and that adds to a lot of the pacing issues I had with the film. Like I said it's slow, and you do feel a lot of time passing as you watch this one. So yeah, while I do feel the payoff is worth it, I just wish it didn't take so long to get there.
  • Lastly, while the concept is strange and the film does walk a thin line of perhaps being to arty sometimes, Frankly has a lot to say about art and religion, about fervor and understanding. And my god, the costumes are just beautiful in a haute couture kind of way that a lot of times I felt as if I was watching a decayed city hosting a fashion show. Just great.

While I'm not sure how I feel McMorrow is as a writer/director yet, I can say that he made a visually handsome film with a limited budget. He does have a nice eye for drama, but some of his editing choices and storyline pacing left me scratching my head. Still, I really did enjoy the film and would recommend it to anyone who has a bit of patience, who doesn't mind feeling confused for 60 odd minutes, and loves watching beautiful characters in run down worlds. Watching the trailer, Franklyn really isn't what you'd expect it to be, and the film is all the better for it.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What I Think Of: Brick (2005)

Come one, come all as the music plays, it's time for an homage, this time in the form of classic detective novels and movies of a by-gone-era, this week I bring you the movie Brick. This 2005 neo-noir film is both written and the directorial debut of American filmmaker, Rian Johnson. Set right out of the pages of a hard-boiled detective novel, but with the setting in modern suburbia, Brick stars Joseph Gordon Levitt as Brenden Frye, a high school student who one days finds his ex-girlfriend Emily (Lost's Emilie De Ravin), lying dead in a storm drain. He takes it upon himself to solver her murder which brings him down down the drain to the dark highschool underbelly of drug kingpins, femme fatales and classic double and triple crossing. Can Brenden solve Emily's murder and will he be happy with the truths he finds along the way?

As anyone who listens to our podcast knows, I love me some Brick, I mean really love. It has everything a fan of 40's and 50's cinema and film-noir could ever want, it's influences just bleed off the celluloid film stock. Here are some of my thoughts concerning the film:

  • The plot, the characters, the dialogue all draw heavy inspiration from the greatest of detective novels and movies, especially those written by Dashiell Hammett. The characters in Brick feel like they’ve stepped right off the set of The Maltese Falcon, or The Thin Man series, or the pages of Red Harvest. And they’re high school students. Just brilliant. It's all wonderfully complex, a maze of dialogue and transparencies, a film that just gets better with each repeat viewing.
  • This is the first film where I stood up and took notice of Joseph Gordon Levitt and his acting prowess. He plays the beaten down detective role so well, the guy who lives in gray, who only sees the finish line and doesn't care how he gets there. He embodies the classic single determination of Sam Spade, the detective with a mouth that cashes more checks than it can afford!! Seriously beautiful stuff and JGL has never looked back, getting better with each film he's in.
  • The way the film is shot, the way the film looks is just sublime goodness. The way the colors look washed out, as if black and white are trying to push back the rainbow. It's dark hues, it's wonderful use of undefined blue, Brick is the perfect example on how to use color in a film-noir, a lot like in 1994's The Last Seduction which was also punishingly beautiful to watch.
  • I will say that the dialogue can be a bit off putting for those unfamiliar with crime films and how the characters speak- the slang almost appearing as if in a foreign language. However, the script does try to explain the most important of the slang words, while the others the viewer can fill in for themselves. However, if you're watching this on dvd, I recommend turning on the subtitles if you have a hard time following what the character's say. You'll thank me for that when it's over.
  • I love the fact that while everyone is tough and murder is the game, all the characters are still high school students who live at home. And while on the street everything breathes noir, at home all the characters lead a normal high school student/family life. It all just brings a wonderful added layering to the film.
  • As I mentioned before, this is director Rian Johnson's first film and what a film it is. His second film, The Brothers Bloom is just as good while many even find it better. Johnson just has an amazing ear for characters and since he writes all the scripts he directs he has full control, his vision is at the forefront of all his films and the world should be thankful for that. He gets what films are about and his films make every viewer understand that while Johnson is a director, he is also a lover of films. He has seen as much as you have, maybe even more, and he'd like to show you his spin, his take on film genre's, here with film noir's and with Bloom, silent films.
The females here are all fatales, the muscle all stupid, the drugs all cooked, and the innocents are long gone. This is a world where no character is right, no character is pure, a world of lost souls, fast talkers, and cuts and bruises. A classic world, my favorite world, it's all crime and noir here, so just sit back, enjoy your stay and try to jump when the shadows move.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Episode 63: Prince of Persia The Sands of Time, Cyrus, Brick and...

Hello there and welcome to the 63rd episode of the Cinema Cafe Podcast, the bi-weekly, twice monthly film podcast by the fans, for the fans. Join us each week as we review new movies releases, look at some dvd's, talk some film news and share our general love for all things cinema. The main goal is to have some fun and hopefully provide the listener with some helpful insight. We are back and the podcasting world is alight once again.

This week we have a treat: it's our 63rd episode, which means we've been bringing you "bi-weekly" content for more than a year now. This week we take a look at 4 movies that have been recently released or are on dvd. With that said here's a look at what we discuss on this weeks podcast:

* Brick
* The Brothers Bloom
* Cyrus
* Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
* Upcoming movie releases for the weekend of 6.04.10 and 6.11.10

Also, film news and more, only on the Cinema Cafe Podcast. We hope you enjoy and happy movie watching.

Thanks as always to all our loyal listeners for sharing the ride with us as we've reached this milestone for the show. It's all due to your support that we have kept things going and we hope you continue to share the ride with us in the coming months.

We're also on Itunes so head over there and subscribe to the Cinema Cafe Podcast and don't forget to post a review! Thanks!!