The Trade Post: A Big Ol’ Pile Of Library Books

comic pileLongtime readers might remember a time when I was reading so many books a week that I would simply take pictures of them in a stack and do a quick hit kind of report on them. Well, I’m not knocking down nearly as many books these days, but I did read through a good number from the library and figured I’d return to that form for this post. Let’s hit it! Continue reading The Trade Post: A Big Ol’ Pile Of Library Books

Quick Movie Review: Airheads (1994)

airheads When it comes to mid 90s music-infused comedies, the two that were ridiculously influential in my world were Empire Records and Dazed And Confused. Both of those movies showed young me a world that not only involved more complex emotional relationships than I’d personally experienced up to that point, but also reflected my views on how important music could be.

Airheads has some of those themes, but is much more of a madcap comedy. Michael Lehmann (Heathers) directed this movie starring Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscmi and Adam Sandler as members of a band called The Lone Rangers desperate to make it big in the LA music scene. Through a series of misunderstandings and accidents while visiting a local radio station, everyone thinks they’re holding the DJs and other employees hostage. The band decides to roll with it in an effort to get people excited about their music.

Fraser’s Chazz is the true heart of the film. He wants to make great music his way, but it seems like the whole world’s against him. Buscemi’s less emotionally invested, but still into it. Think Mr. Pink with a bass. And then there’s Sandler who’s somewhere between Waterboy and Billy Madison on the Sandler Stupidity Scale. The cast also includes Michael McKean as the shifty station owner, Judd Nelson as the also-shifty record exec, Ernie Hudson and Chris Farley as cops, and DJs Joe Mantegna and David Arquette. Oh and Michael Richards is in here too, mostly crawling around like a worm.

I think the success of this movie for the individual viewer depends on what kind of films you dig. If you’re a fan of the comedies from this time like Dumb & Dumber and Tommy Boy, then I think you’ll be into this one. I wasn’t such a fan so it fell a little flat. They all just seemed a little silly to me, but I get the appeal if that’s your thing. I liked Airheads a bit more than those other movies though because Fraser is just so damn earnest and Mantegna gives it his all. Still, there’s a lot of dumbness going on that took me out of the story immediately following scenes I really enjoyed. Frankly, I winced and rolled me eyes any time Richards appeared because his role, while somewhat important to the story as it gets a real gun in the station, winds up being overly stupid and mostly pointless. In other words his involvement is a long way to go for a pretty basic plot point that could have been done in one scene.

At the end of the day, I felt like there was actually a really solid point behind this film, but the overall goofiness surrounding most of it doesn’t serve that story very well because it’s not much of a leap to feel like Lehmann is just making fun of Fraser’s Chazz, which is too bad because he’s probably the best part of this film.

Not-So-Quick Movie Review: 54 (1998)

54 movie poster They say that pop culture has a tendency to roll back over on itself every 20 years or so. What’s old becomes new again not only because the people who were kids 20 years prior have now grown up, earned money and got nostalgic, but also because those same people have worked their way into the various creative worlds. It’s the reason why I’m seeing so many shows with references to movies I loved as a kid as well as reboots of the same, but also the reason we saw such a big uptick in 70s-based projects in the late 90s, specifically ones centered on disco and the world that grew up and died around it.

I would have been 15 when 54 came out, so I don’t have any personal connection to the heyday of disco in the late 70s. Hell, it was dead and buried by the time I was born in 1983. And yet, I have a strange second hand nostalgia for that era because of the disco era’s resurrection and examination in the late 90s. I became a huge fan of That 70s Show, which is one of the all-time best coming of age sitcoms around in my book. But there were also films like 54, The Last Days Of Disco and even The Summer of Sam that all came out around 1998 and 1999. At that same time there were a ton of TV specials about what really went on behind the velvet ropes of Studio 54, a legendary nightclub in Manhattan run by a guy named Steve Rubell who was an incredibly shrewd club owner, but not very good at hiding his less-than-honest business practices. Studio 54 was the place to do just about anything and everything, assuming you could get in.

That’s the backdrop for the 1998 film by Mark Christopher that focuses on young Shane O’Shea (Ryan Phillippe), a Jersey kid who pines to be in the big city where he just knows he’ll become rich and famous like his hero Julie Black (Neve Campbell), a fellow New Jersian who stars on a soap opera. Eventually he makes his way to Studio 54 where he literally has to leave his old life behind (they don’t let his friends in) and winds up getting a job. From there he makes a whole new group of friends including coat check girl/wannabe singer Anita (Salma Hayek) and her busboy husband Greg (Breckin Meyer) and does his best to enjoy his new social status when it doesn’t go against a moral code with roots back to his home life in Jersey.

At the end of the day, 54’s story isn’t all that mind-blowing. It’s your basic “lower-middle class kid gets a look at the world of the rich and famous and discovers its not as genuine as he though” story. But, the gilding of the time period is very engrossing if that’s something you’re interested in. All the actors really dove into the characters and seemed to dig deep into some emotional places that all get left on the screen like so many empty bottles after a big party. I wasn’t overly familiar with Phillippe outside of his standard horror appearances in the 90s, but I thought he did a quality job of actually going through the emotions instead of just the motions.I especially enjoyed his various interactions with Ellen Albertini Dow’s Disco Dottie. And, man, Mike Meyers did a killer job of bringing the off-kilter Rubell to life on the big screen.

I read that Chistopher’s intended cut of the film had about 30-40 extra minutes and a variety of extra subplots that were completely cut by Miramax, something that wasn’t uncommon back then. He got his hands on the extra footage and put together a longer version that I would like to see some day, if possible.

Quick Movie Review: The Lone Ranger (2013)

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I’ve long given up on trying to figure out why certain films kill at the box office and others don’t. Take The Lone Ranger for instance. Much like it’s filmic cousin, Pirates Of The Caribbean, this film stars Johnny Depp as an offbeat character, was directed by Gore Verbinski and features a ton of fun action set pieces. And yet 2011’s POTC: At World’s End made over $1 billion worldwide and Lone Ranger pulled in a mere $206.5 million. At the end of the day, as a viewer, these things don’t matter to me aside from the fact that a poor performance in the real world will kill franchise potential which is too bad because I did like this film.

I was never a Lone Ranger fan. I remember the reruns being on the Disney Channel when I was a kid, but I avoided them (Zorro was more of my jam back then). I did read the first arc or so of Dynamite’s initial comic series which was solid, but that’s about where my experience ends. So, I went into this without many expectations and was pleasantly surprised by what I was presented with which was a big, fun popcorn movie featuring Armie Hammer developing into the Lone Ranger persona with the help of Tonto (Depp) while running afoul of the always-fantastic William Fichtner.

Sure, the film probably could have been a little shorter — it clocks in around the 2.5 hour mark as it is — but I didn’t find it lagging, personally. There’s a solid mix of character as Hammer’s John Reid moves from the law abiding district attorney he is at the beginning of the film to the masked vigilante at the very end. We even learn interesting things about why Tonto’s so crazy and get looks at a lot of interesting character as well as a bevy of train and shoot-out based action scenes that are always fun.

My one complaint about this film is that they went with the origin story. Much like with comic book films, I think that screenwriters, directors and producers fall into this trap when they’re making films based on existing properties and that is this desire to devote the first film to the character’s earliest days learning to be a hero. I’m personally much more in favor of the Die Hard method of action film storytelling in which you just show the lead being awesome and give details about their past as they’re needed. I wonder if a full-on Lone Ranger film would have done better than the story of the guy who becomes the Lone Ranger. Still, I enjoyed the movie, think it got a bad wrap and would suggest spending a lazy Saturday or Sunday giving it a watch.

We Want Action: Hit & Run (2012)

hit-and-run-poster Sometimes it can take a while for my wife and I to decide on a Netflix offering to watch on a Friday or Saturday night. The main problem is the huge number of offerings and a less than clear idea of what kind of film we want to watch. Last weekend I was flipping around and finally just hit play on Hit & Run. We both watched Dax Shepard (who co-wrote and co-directed the film with David Palmer) on Parenthood and went through Veronica Mars together a few years ago. So, it seemed like a good choice and I’m glad to say my instincts were correct.

The film finds real life couple Shepard and Bell playing a couple in a small California town. Everything’s going smoothly for them until Bell’s character gets an interview opportunity for her dream job in LA. The problem? Dax is part of the witness protection program and isn’t supposed to leave the town. He decides to throw caution to the wind and take her on the trip which reveals more of his past than he intended after Bell’s ex informs Dax’s former partner in crime that his pal is heading back to the City of Angels. Things get progressively crazy from there.

A solid mix of car-based action and comedy, Hit & Run felt like a unique film. There’s just as much relationship talk between Bell and Shepard as there are cool car chases, which puts it in a fairly sparse group of films. In other words, Vanishing Point this aint. After reading a bit about the movie, I started liking it even more because it basically came about because Shepard and Palmer had a cool idea for a movie, got together with their friends and got to work. Shepard even used his own car collection in the film and did a lot of his own stunt driving. In that regard, it reminded me of RZA’s The Man With The Iron Fists because it’s just a person taking what they love and putting it on film and that’s always aces in my book.

It’s A Disaster Is Anything But

ITS-A-DISASTER_FESTIVAL-POSTER Every few weeks I head on over to the Netflix site and look through the newly added movies and TV shows. Usually, there’s nothing to write home about, but this week had a pretty interesting crop of films including It’s A Disaster, an end-of-the-world comedy I’d never heard of, but was intrigued by. In addition to the general plot — four couples are hanging out when a bunch of dirty bombs go off, the drama of which uncovers their equally dirty relationship secrets — I was also drawn to the film by David Cross’ involvement. I’ve been a fan of that guy’s since Arrested Development and got to know him even better through his comedy albums thanks to my buddy Rickey Purdin.

To get a bit more into the plot, Cross’ character Glen has just started dating Tracy (Julia Stiles) who has a tradition with her couple friends of getting together for brunch on the weekends. They’re at seemingly happy Emma and Pete’s house and joined by free spirited married couple Lexi and Buck as well as science teacher Hedy (America Ferrera) and nerd Shane. I won’d get too deeply into the details of how these couples start falling apart, but things like infidelity and longstanding personal doubts make the possible impending apocalypse even harder to deal with.

Much like Shaun Of The Dead, the film lets the viewer spend some time with this fast, over-talking group of friends — and Glen — who are going about their normal, brunch-loving lives as a series of dirty bombs are set off across the country. As you might expect, they’re pretty oblivious to all this once the power, internet and phone all go out. From there, they do their best to figure out what’s happening — including a talk with their prepper neighbor and asking an international telemarketer for an update — but the real thrust of the story revolves around mixing and matching these characters and seeing what kind of truths come out from those interactions.

While there are elements of this movie that I wasn’t a huge fan of — the geek is ultra nerdy and, of course, the one who starts thinking that zombies or other monsters might spawn from this attack — but overall I liked how these actors played off of each other. A lot of that is thanks to their obvious talents, but writer and director Todd Berger also did a great job of crafting a solid, compact story that realistically explores the emotions people would go through when everything comes crashing down. There’s even a twist element in the ending that definitely switched things up and drove the film to its abrupt conclusion. I think this is the kind of film that can only benefit from more viewings both to see how the twist is hinted at and to grab on to more of the quick dialog.

Computer Movie: Track Down a.k.a. Takedown (2000)

track down poster One of my favorite movie subgenres has to be computer movies (heck, it’s got it’s own Category over there on the right). Favorite examples include WarGames, Sneakers, The Net and Hackers. It might seem inconceivable, but back then, the general public wasn’t sure what to think about all these people talking to each other over a mysterious new invention called the internet. Hackers — people who understood how computers worked and used their abilities either for good or ill — were as mysterious as comic book vigilantes, roaming the online landscape under the guise of colorful aliases. All of this mixed together for a new breed of films, ones trying to capitalize on the rising popularity and mistrust of computers, adding more traditional action elements  to thrill audiences. Some of them are actually solid films, some are fun cultural artifacts and some are ridiculous. I especially enjoy seeing how excited people got about the kind of technology that your phone surpassed about a decade ago.

Track Down, as it’s known on Netflix Instant, or Takedown, which it’s also called is one of these movies. Unlike the movies I mentioned above, I’d never heard of this one directed by Joe Chappelle (Phantoms, Fringe) and starring Skeet Ulrich, Russell Wong, Master P, Amanda Peet, Donal Logue, Jeremy Sisto, Christopher McDonald, Tom Berenger and Ethan Suplee. The film is based on the story of real life hacker Tsutomu Shimomura (Wong) working alongside the government to bring down legendary hacker Kevin Mitnick (Ulrich).

Obviously beefed up and made more theatrical, this is a pretty fun little movie. I like how they made the relatively boring idea of sitting-in-front-of-a-computer look interesting without getting into the craziness of something like Hackers. Ulrich also seems to be channeling his inner Johnny Depp throughout the film as the pressure of running from the government and going up against a talented adversary clearly wears on him. Chappelle also brings some style to the proceedings with the use of filters and whatnot. You might get sick of the color orange from the last 20 minutes or so, but at least he was trying something.

takedown poster

There’s actually a documentary called Freedom Downtime that a bunch of Mitnick’s supporters created in 2001 pointing out the inaccuracies of this film. I’d be interested in checking that out as I’ve been curious about Mitnick’s life for a while (I also want to read his books The Art Of Deception, The Art Of Intrusion and Ghost In The Wires). However, I still think it’s possible to enjoy this flick as its own entity that works as a take on actual events (it’s based on Shimomura’s book called Takedown), an action-thriller movie and a look at Hollywood’s reaction to computers.

If you dug the more serious elements of Sneakers and the look and feel of Hackers, then I think you’ll dig Track Down/Takedown.

Quick Movie Review: Lost In Translation (2003)

lost in translation As a big fan of Bill Murray’s run on Saturday Night Live and classic 70s/80s comedies like Stripes, Caddyshack, Meatballs, Scrooged and, of course, the Ghostbusters movies, it was hard to accept him in what a younger version of me described as his “sad bastard” phase. In the late 90s I wasn’t paying nearly as much attention to the world of film as I do now, so the switch from things like Space Jam to Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and Lost In Translation was a pretty big shock. It makes all the sense in the world to me now he felt the need to change his image a bit and wanted to show a different side of himself.

For what it’s worth, I’m not a big fan of the Wes Anderson movies I’ve seen, so I’m not into Murray’s performances in those movies because they’re just not my thing. But, I did enjoy him in Fantastic Mr. Fox and Zombieland, so I’m not entirely unfamiliar with the movies he’s made in the last decade. I’ve also seen at least one other Sofia Coppola movie, the moving The Virgin Suicides, so I was curious to see these two creators joining sources. Plus, who isn’t captivated by Scarlett Johansson?

And it really is a great film. I’m a huge fan of stories that take two characters who probably shouldn’t be together and create a believable atmosphere for them to interact within. That’s the case for married movie star Bob Harris (Murray) and photographer’s wife Charlotte (Johansson) who both happen to be staying in the same Tokyo hotel at the same time, wind up meeting, becoming friends and possibly more.

I like to call this a “staring out the window” movie because, well, there’s a lot of that going on. I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all because it means that the characters are contemplative. I mean, it’s a pretty obvious way of conveying that idea, but when you’re cooped up in a hotel room and surrounded by the fairly alien landscape of Tokyo, it works. The film also takes a somewhat leisurely pace, not rushing too fast, often getting into scenes that show how these characters act on their own, together just the two of them and also in larger groups. You notice little differences as you go which comes from getting so many creative people together to work on a story. Essentially, you get to see them grow as a couple, though a couple that probably shouldn’t be together.

While the “inappropriate” relationship is a big part of the story (they’re both married), another driving force of this movie is the idea of two people coming together in this environment that’s so separated from their normal lives. It’s only because they’re in this strange place that they come together. Because they’re so isolated, these people cling to one another and develop a relationship that wouldn’t happen otherwise. It’s a really interesting story and situation that asks a lot from its actors and delivers as far as I’m concerned.

Quick Movie Review: Land Of The Lost (2009)

land of the lost On a whim, I moved Land Of The Lost to the top of our Netflix queue a while back. My wife and I actually watched the Blu-ray a few weeks ago, but things got in the way and I forgot to write about it, but I did want to take a few graphs here to sing the movie’s praises. Will Ferrell’s one of those guys whose in some of my favorite movies of all time and others I’ve only seen a time or two without remembering much from them. I love Old School and Elf, but probably haven’t thought twice about movies like Blades Of Glory or Semi-Pro since I watched them just the once.

Anyway, I had pretty much zero expectations from this film, but figured it might be good for a few laughs. Turns out I actually really enjoyed it. Ferrell plays scientist Dr. Rick Marshall who discovers a way to travel through space and time, but doesn’t build his prototype until grad student Holly (Anna Friel from Pushing Daisies) shows up with some affection and evidence to prove his theories. They go on an expedition that brings them into contact with Danny McBride’s Will, who operates a crummy roadside attraction that happens to be the perfect place to open a portal into the Land of the Lost. While there they do their best to find the lost device, not get eaten by dinosaurs, avoid the Gorn-like Sleestaks and get back home.

I thought this was actually a really solid film that looked good (on Blu-ray at least) and had pretty great comedic, dramatic and action moments. Did anyone see this movie? I don’t remember hearing anything about Land of the Lost when it came out, but I’m not sure if that’s because it got savaged by critics or it just didn’t do well in theaters. I actually just checked out the other movies that came out that weekend and think I might have discovered the reason why it didn’t grab an audience, The Hangover came out that first weekend and became a gigantic hit. There’s also the fact that it’s a less-serious take on a somewhat beloved television series from the 70s. I would imagine some fans saw this and thought it was more along the lines of Starsky & Hutch which poked a lot of fun at the original series. I don’t think that’s really the case though. Even though I’m not very familiar with the original Land Of The Lost, I saw this movie as a comedic take on the concept that treated it with respect, but also a healthy sense of humor.

So, if you were one of the people catching Hangover when it first came out, thought this would be a disrespectful interpretation of something you really love, were burnt out on Will Ferrell movies or just want to see a good-looking, funny movie, I’d say give Land Of The Lost a watch. I’d also say that it’s an interesting film because you get Ferrell and McBride in ways you’re not used to seeing them: PG-13. It’s not the way I want to see those comedians exclusively, but it was a nice change for this film (yeah, I know it was originally rated R and edited to the current rating, I would be curious to see that other version, though).

Quick Movie Review: The Five-Year Engagement (2012)

five year engagementI had pretty high hopes for The Five-Year Engagement. I’m a big Jason Segel fan from the Freaks & Geeks days. He co-wrote this film with director Nicholas Stoller, the guys behind one of my favorite recent movies, The Muppets. Plus, you’ve got a cast packed with hilarious people like Chris Pratt, Alison Brie, David Paymer, Dakota Johnson, Mindy Kaling, Kevin Hart and Brian Posehn, all actors and comedians I like a lot. And yet, I was definitely left wanting after watching The Five-Year Engagement.

The movie follows Segel and Emily Blunt from the time they get engaged through their titular five-year engagement. It’s not that either one of them has particularly cold feet, but that life gets in the way. Blunt’s sister (Brie) has a kid with and gets married to Pratt, then Blunt gets a new job that takes them to Ann Arbor, Michigan (which is only about 45 minutes from my home town of Toledo!). Segel, a chef, kind of loses his mind while Blunt goes on with her life and he’s there spinning his wheels, having left a really great job back in San Francisco. Then things get pretty bad and I won’t get into the ending right now.

I have two problems with the movie. First off, it’s 124 minutes long which is too damn long for a comedy. I’m fully in the “90-100 minute” camp when it comes to movies that are supposed to make me laugh. My other problem is that it’s really, really, really hard to make the dissolution of a relationship entertaining and funny. It’s the kind of plot that usually works better in indie dramas or romantic comedies and it could have worked better here if about 20 minutes of the film had been cut. I love Dakota Johnson in Ben & Kate, but her character here is so obviously terrible that she could have been almost completely excised without losing anything of substance.

Stoller and Segel did a somewhat similar kind of movie with Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but the key difference here is that Segel didn’t stay with the girl who did bad stuff to him. You’ve got to see all the warts of this relationship (and there are some huge, seeping ones) and you’re still supposed to be charmed by and like these people. It’s like knowing too much about your best couple friends, it’s hard to look at them the same way.

However, SPOILERS, the damn movie won me back with that charming ending. I mean, I wasn’t surprised that they got hitched, but the way they went about it was pretty fantastic. It doesn’t necessarily win me back, but it was well done. Really, I’d like to see a non-director’s cut of this movie, with big chunks chopped out and re-presented for my viewing pleasure. However, if that does happen, the editor needs to leave that part where Brie and Blunt have a relationship conversation while doing Elmo and Cookie Monster voices. That was fantastic.