Thursday, May 29, 2008

Music Mix #26

I've been making "Music Mixes" since I was about 19 and now, 8 years later, I'm up to 26 of these bad boys!

This one is a pretty cool mix. It has a few guilty pleasures on there, but you'll feel just as guilty and enjoy them as much as I do, I'm sure. I've written some tidbits about each track below the player.






1. R.E.M. - Living Well Is The Best Revenge
Just a good ol' rock n roll song. I really love it. Great way to start any compilation. Listen for the very complimentary backing vocals in the chorus.

2. Coldplay -
Viva La Vida
If the iPod ads haven't ruined it for you yet, you'll know this is a pretty good Coldplay song. The orchestral strings change up their usual sound and a powerful chorus makes this instantly one of my favorite from these guys.

3. The Raconteurs -
Salute Your Solution
What a rocker! This band is something special. Their whole second album -
Consolers Of The Lonely - is pretty amazing. Jack White and Brendan Benson sound pretty similar as they exchange lead vocal duties on this track, but it all adds up to a really rockin' tune.

4. Mötley Crüe -
Saints of Los Angeles
Theeeeeeey're baaaaaaaack! And The Crue is in rare form on this one. Tight as ever and rockin' like there's no tomorrow. Enjoy!

5. Death Cab For Cutie -
I Will Possess Your Heart (Radio Edit)
As great as this tune is, I wasn't able to appreciate it fully until I saw the video. It's very simple, but seems to tell a decent story somehow. And seeing the band perform it with some great cinematography helped me dig them even more. The original track is over 8 minutes long, but you still get the idea of how catchy the tune is in this shorter radio edit version.

6. Madonna -
4 Minutes (feat. Justin Timberlake & Timbaland)
One of the guilty pleasures - it's a great little dance tune. Totally poppy in all the right ways. I liked the video, too.

7. Nine Inch Nails -
Discipline
You won't find this one on iTunes... because there's no money to be made from it. It's totally, 100% FREE - along with the rest of NIN's latest album,
The Slip - available for download in multiple audio formats on the band's official website. Musically historical AND rockin'! Me likey!

8. The Roots -
Birthday Girl (feat. Patrick Stump)
This bonus track isn't exactly indicative of The Roots' signature sound. Thanks to Fall Out Boy's Patrick Stump, it's got more of an alt-pop-indie-rock sound with hip-hop verses overlain, but... it's way too catchy; I just had to put it on here. The jumpy guitar is irresistible.

9. Fall Out Boy -
Beat It (feat. John Mayer)
Okay, it's not nearly as good as the original Michael Jackson version, but it's in here for the novelty factor. John Mayer takes on Eddie Van Halen's famous solo and doesn't come close, but I suspect he wasn't out to imitate - only to do his own thing, and it sounds cool.

10. Panic At The Disco -
Nine In The Afternoon
Although these kids may not know how to accurately read a clock, they do a decent impression of what might be created if Fall Out Boy mated with the remaining Beatles. All the bells and jangles remind me of the sixties-psychedelic-Beatles or perhaps E.L.O., but the vocals are a carbon copy of F.O.B.'s Patrick Stump. Derivative, but not without it's own charm.

11. Steve Winwood -
Dirty City (feat. Eric Clapton)
The old Blind Faith guys sneak onto the list with a pretty heavy groove. I dig the organ and the jagged, drawn out guitar jabs. Nothing amazing about this track, except that Steve Winwood still sounds great all these years later. Clapton is hardly noticeable, however.

12. Joe Satriani -
Andalusia
Although I couldn't find this track available for preview on Playlist.com in it's original format, you can can get the idea from this clip from Joe's website. It's my favorite from his latest effort,
Professor Satchafunkilus and The Musterion of Rock. There's a great, long intro with a very flamenco guitar thing going on, with the rhythmic clapping and all, and then things just get progressively heavier and heavier, all without any break in the rhythm. It's tight - very "Joe". Check it out.

13. Moby -
Ooh Yeah
Not his best, but still kinda catchy.

14. Lyrics Born -
I Like It, I Love It
The Bay Area legend (formerly known as Quannum) is back with his 2nd album and this single, which is almost identical to his first big single, "Callin' Out", from his last album. So, no points for originality, but if it ain't broke... right? This is just a fun, bouncy, hip-hop jam all about "wavin' 'em in the air like ya just don't care."

15. Radiohead - Bodysnatchers
Okay, so I was a little late on the band-wagon with Radiohead's latest release, but I think this was my favorite track from Rainbows. It rocks, and yet its deep, and kinda confusing, and never over-thought or over-produced. It's groovy.

16. John Mayer - Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) [Live]
I recently discovered this old live track from John's underground live albums collection, As/Is. This is one of those songs I try to tell people about to help them disassociate their mental image of "John Mayer" as that "Daughers" or "Wonderland" guy. This is some amazing stuff. John, DJ Logic and Guru go to town on this old Marvin Gaye song and John's solos are simply ON FIRE! Although it's not on the Playlist.com preview above, you can guy it for a buck here on iTunes.

17. Counting Crows - Come Around
On an otherwise pretty dark album (Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings), this song was the final ray of sunshine that wrapped it all up with a happy ending.

18. VHS or Beta - Bring On The Comets
I must admit, I'm jealous of all those kids who get to associate this title track, from VHS or Beta's debut album, with their High School years. It's got that nostalgic, youthful, closing credits, graduation party, "we've-come-so-far-together" feel to it. Rock this one all alone in your car at full blast and you'll be singing along with the backing vocals of the chorus by the end of the song, for sure. Couldn't find it on Playlist.com, so go download it on iTunes here.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Spoiler Alert!

INDIANA JONES and THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL

Okay, here's the review: It's a good movie, but not great - and it should've been great. Still worth checking out, though - for sure.

Now, onto the details...

*******SPOILER ALERT!!!********
Do not read the text below unless you have already seen the film!
DOUG! THIS MEANS YOU!
*******************

Indiana Jones versus the space monsters who have been laying around in wait for thousands of years for the missing skull of their brethren to be returned so they could all merge into one alien, destroy communism, and finally fly their old skool saucer-style spaceship back home? What?!?!

That's basically what I saw in the theater yesterday. That and some seemingly pointless computer-generated prairie dogs.

Lets start at the beginning:

So first, Indy (Harrison Ford) and his old pal, Mac (Ray Winstone), are kidnapped and used by the evil K.G.B. (and Cate Blanchette's sinister Irina Spalko) to find a particular, highly magnetic crate in a warehouse in Area 51 in New Mexico (which is apparently what we were seeing at the very end of Raiders back in 1981 - a great turn-around by screenwriter David Koepp). But, just as the evil dudes are about to open the contents of the super mysterious crate, Indy is able to escape, despite being double-crossed by his dear buddy, Mac.

He is thrown into a classic Indiana Jones fist-brawl with a typical faceless henchman until they tumble onto some secret rocket project, which is far-too-easily activated by smashing the control panel, sending our hero and his opponent shooting out of a cave into the vast Nevada desert at super-sonic speeds. When he gets his wits about him again, Indy heads to a nearby suburban neighborhood, only to find that its a designated site for nuclear weapons testing. "T-minus: one-minute and counting..." Indy hides himself in a lead-lined refrigerator shell and is sent hurling into the sky, landing somewhere safe just in time to crawl out and watch a smoldering mushroom cloud climb high into the sky.

This was the best part of the movie.

After this, Indy gets fired from his job as a professor of archeology when the feds smear his name as a commie-pinko threat to America (due to his ties with Mac), meets up with and angst-ridden Wild One-Brando-wannabe kid named Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf), and engages in a treasure hunt with the kid, complete with mysterious riddles, MacGuffins and C.G. monkeys! It seems that the K.G.B. is seeking to possess the power of the Crystal Skull - an elongated, deformed skull made of a mysterious crystal found in the jungles of the Amazon, that remotley (and perhaps psychically) amplifies under-developed portions of the human brain, allowing the possessor to control vast legions of humans, thus granting the K.G.B the power to take over the world. (Now THAT'S a Red Scare!) Of course, Indy saves the day, but not before coming into the knowledge that this kid, Mutt, is his own son with long-lost love interest, Marion Ravenwood Williams (Karen Allen).

In short, I enjoyed scenes like the swashbuckling between Mutt and Spalko (minus the super-saturation of obvious C.G. effects), the quicksand, the motorcycle chase, and many of the very clever dialogue scenes (which were very reminiscent of the earlier films). Ford, although a bit flabbier and slower than the Indy we remember, still fills out the fedora like no one else could, but the producers allowed his age to be part of the story with grace and civility, and still engaged Indy in his signature fist-fights and cave-crawls as though a day hadn't passed since he rode off into the sunset in 1989's "The Last Crusade".

But what I did NOT like - or, I guess I could say, the thing that still hasn't gelled for me - was the overt "ALIEN" explanation for everything. This is what the Greeks defined as a "Deus Ex Machina" - or a divine intervention ending. It's a cheap and easy way out of a story. It allows the screenwriter to make up a huge, crazy, complicated story, and wrap it all up in the end by saying "The gods did it!"... or, in this case, the aliens.

Now, I know, Spielberg is into that stuff - and maybe he's been spending a bit too much time with his good buddy, Tom Cruise - and even Lucas is a space-nerd with that whole Star Wars thing - but just about every appearance of aliens in Spielberg films has been better than this one. The aliens were all C.G., they looked like all the other aliens we've seen a million times, and, when Irina Spalko allows herself to be taken in by the promise of "the great gift" of the aliens (much in the spirit of Belloq with the Ark, and Donovan with the holy grail from the previous films), she very quickly bursts into flames and is incinerated, without any of the brilliant effects-wizardry of yesteryear, without any poetic irony and without anyone in the audience giving a damn.

Then, Indy and company escape out of the cave and watch the entire area being up-heaved by a long-buried flying saucer, which then just flies away. The end.

Really? That's it? It's just aliens? The end? Ouch!

Come on, Spielberg! And for GOD'S SAKES, LUCAS! Get your acts together!

For everything they did right, I give them credit, but that stuff is expected of them! This ending was really sub-par for these masters of the genre. We're still waiting for the Spielberg OR Lucas film that re-solidifies either of them as the Kings of the Silver Screen. But even with this mighty outing - as fun a movie as it is - I'm very sad to say, perhaps their hay-day has passed.

That said, Indiana Jones ad The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull is still incredibly entertaining when compared to any other film coming out this summer - just as much fun as Iron Man. Even with all my complaints, it's still a "CAN'T MISS" movie!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Froooom NBC Studios in New York, it's Late Night with... JIMMY FALLON!?!?!

That's right - starting sometime in 2009, when Conan O'Brien leaves his 12:30 AM slot to take over for Jay Leno at The Tonight Show, SNL-alum Jimmy Fallon will step into Big Red's shoes.

The announcement came yesterday - (quite coincidentally) the same day that Fallon was appearing on O'Brien's show. The interview, however, consisted almost entirely of a two-way ass-kissing session ("I always watch the show, I'm the biggest fan of yours... you're great with guests... you've set the bar really, really high... I'm so nervous and excited..." - "I think you're gonna do an amazing job..." blah blah blah), proving that this decision had been made some time before it was announced.

There are many who doubt Fallon's ability to successfully host a late night talk show, and also many who simply can't stand the man himself as a performer. Admittedly, he does tend to laugh at his own silliness a lot, and playing an anchor on a fake and scripted news show certainly doesn't equate to this particular job. But to all the Fallon-haters out there, I say: "Hell, they let Chevy Chase have a shot, didn't they?" And just keep in mind what an unpopular choice Leno was when he took over for the pervious host, Johnny Carson, in 1992. He's pretty well accepted these days, even if his shtick isn't nearly as entertaining as some of the other late shows out there.

I, personally, hope to see O'Brien keep his original, wacky, mostly-scripted show dynamic when he moves to Los Angeles (which I presume is where they will continue to shoot
The Tonight Show), and that Jimmy will create his own dynamic for his incarnation of Late Night. (I think we can all bid farewell to "Headlines" and the self-aggrandizing "The Audience Wants to Know"... and I don't think 'ConanWalking' has quite the right ring to it.)

As for Fallon, producer Lorne Michaels (creator and executive producer of Fallon's break-out vehicle,
Saturday Night Live) publicly admitted that "a learning curve" is inevitable for the new Late Night host, noting that even Conan took about a year to get into his groove when he started in the early '90s. So, if things don't go smoothly right away, just remember: it's all part of the plan.

And I gotta think that Carson Daly is pretty let down by some of this, but ya know what, Carson? You dated Jennifer Love Hewitt. So just shut up.

Good luck, Jimbo!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

DOUG DAY AFTERNOON - by Michael Wood

Once upon a time, Doug was sitting at home, happily minding his own business and playing his fifth consecutive hour of competitive online Hearts - currently against "Stan," "Joey" and "Computer" - on his Apple Desktop Computer.

"I win, again!" Doug exclaimed.  His joy was far beyond rational, and had anyone else been in the room, it would have certainly frightened them to into leaving.

"This sucks," typed Stan from some anonymous place in cyberspace.  "Yeah," added Joey from his own spot in the vast nothingness of the Internet. "He's like some sort of savant!  It's practically cheating!"

"PLAY AGAIN?" asked Computer.  "Sure, guys!" typed Doug.  

"No!" typed both Stan and Joey.  And a moment later, they had both exited the game.

"Gosh, Computer," Doug typed. "Why does that always happen after only 3 or 4 games?"

Computer didn't respond.  "Fine," said Doug.  "Be that way!"  

Doug canceled the Hearts program on his desktop, feeling quite forlorn.

He tried a couple more hours of Cribbage, Gin Rummy, and then even moved on to Mah Jong, before upsetting all the other online gamers there as well.

"This just isn't my night!" said Doug.  That's when he noticed the time.

"Four-thirty A.M.?" he shouted.  "Mother of Peril!  I need to get some sleep!"

And although Doug had been liberally gulping down can after can of Super-Mega Hyper-Bolt energy drink cola, he knew it wouldn't effect his ability to fall asleep.   He'd been drinking this particular beverage for years now and had built up a bit of a tolerance to it... but not so much that it didn't affect his dreams.

So Doug left the computer, entered his sensory-deprivation room and crawled into bed in his custom-built ergonomically-correct Sleep-Chair.  

He strapped himself in with his lucky pillow, put on his "magic hat" (which he believed kept his hair from being stolen in the night by the elves that dwelt under his sleep-chair), put on his headphones, listened to a looping cassette of Bill Cosby's voice saying the words, "Eat the puddin'!" over and over again, (he'd had it since he was a kid - it was his favorite,) turned on all the lights (the elves hate the light, Doug reasoned) and drifted off into a deep slumber.

He slept for a whole five hours that night - which was pretty good, considering the copious amounts of caffeine in his system combined with his endless night terrors - and awoke happily around ten o'clock in the morning.

"Ten o'clock?" thought Doug, as he awoke and scratched his head.  "What the hell does 'o'clock' mean?  Is it Scottish?"

"It means 'of the clock', you dolt!" came a shrieking little voice from below him.

"Shut up, you stupid elf!" Doug screamed at the small hallucination scampering about on the floor beneath his sleep-chair.

"You don't know anything!" shouted the elf.

"Go away, you awful, awful, troll!" cried Doug with his eyes closed tight and his fists clutched tightly over his ears.  He rocked back and forth until he felt the tingling sensation - which he always felt after waking up - had subsided.  He slowly and carefully opened his eyes, and everything was back to normal.

Doug carefully stepped out of the sensory-deprivation room and went about his day. He didn't feel like showering or shaving or even getting dressed, really. So he just wore his pajamas and his wool cap and headed out to do some shopping, drop off some DVDs at the rental place, and stop by the bank.

When he got to the bank, he noticed everyone was laying on the floor.

"How odd," he thought.  "Usually they're all standing up.  It must be some sort of holiday I don't understand!  Crazy religious nuts!"  

He stepped over several of the bodies lying prostrate on the marble floor and headed toward the teller.

"Hey! No line!" he noticed happily.

"Hey!" roared a voice from the back of the room.  Doug spun around to see a nervous, jittery man in a maroon suit, pointing a rifle in Doug's direction and shouting at him.  "Whatcha think you're doing!?! Get on the floor!  Now!"

"Oh, I'm sorry," said Doug, starting to kneel down.  "I don't understand this holiday!"

The man in the maroon suit, holding the rifle was tall and lanky.  He was standing on one of the desks in the back of the room.  He brushed his long bangs of hair out of his face, his eyes nervously twitching about, when another man came out of the bank vault with a hand gun.  This man was shorter, with much wilder eyes than the first man.  He lead a female teller out of the vault at gun point.

"Okay," he said to her in a very demanding tone, "Get down on the floor with the rest."  

Doug ventured to sneak a peek at the second man.  He was much more commanding, Doug thought.  More driven.  The teller woman knelt down very near to Doug and lay face down on the floor.  

"Psst!" Doug hissed at her to get her attention.  She looked at him as he whispered loudly to her, "What day is this?"

"What?" she said, perplexed.

"What holiday!?" he explained.  "I don't understand the customs of this one!  I've never been very observant of these more obscure religious holidays... is this Lent?"

"Hey!" yelled the second man with the wild eyes.  Doug felt that this was projected towards himself.  He was right.  He felt a hand grab the back of his shirt and pull him to his feet, which  knocked his wool cap off his head.  Before he knew it, he was being pushed hard against the glass of the teller window with the gun grinding into the back of his neck.

"What do you think you're doing?" demanded the man with the wild eyes.

"Mmmfmmfmmmfffm!"  Doug said, his mouth obscured almost entirely by the glass.

The man pulled Doug an inch or two away from the glass.  "What did you say?"

"I said..." Doug muttered through tearful whimpers, "I said I just don't know the proper rituals for Lent!"

The man stood there, stunned into silence for a moment, before he threw Doug back to the floor.  "Keep quiet, nut-ball!" he said.

"Okay!" yelled Doug, putting his wool cap back on his head as the man walked away.  "I WILL!"

"Shhhhhhhhh!!!!" hissed all the people laying on the floor.  Doug sunk back onto the floor, feeling very embarrassed.

The man walked over to the other man and they moved to a corner of the room where they could talk in private.

"What are we gonna do?" the man with the wild eyes told the man in the maroon suit.  "The vault is practically empty!  I told you we shouldn't have come before noon!  If I told you once, I've told you a thousand times: People make deposits at the end of the day!  The end!"

"Yeah," said the man in the maroon suit.  

"But... you know I hate to miss Judge George, and he's on at three o'clock!  And besides, what else were we gonna do all morning?"

"I could have SLEPT IN!" was the other man's response.

Meanwhile, Doug whispered to the female teller next to his spot on the floor.

"Pardon me, miss!  I really hate to interrupt the ceremony here.  Could I just ask you where the Change-of-Address forms are?"

"What?" the woman said, again.  It seemed to be the only thing she could say to Doug.

"The Change-of-Address forms!" He reiterated. "You see, I just moved to a new apartment, but all my mail is still showing up at my parent's house and I..."

"What are you talking about?" she hissed at him.  "This isn't exactly the time or the place!  Besides,  banks don't have those!  You're thinking of the Post Office!"  Doug lit up with a gasp. 

"You're right!" he exclaimed.  "I gotta go!"  

And with that, Doug stood up, crossed the bank floor, stepped over the people near the door and exited the building.  

"Hey!" yelled the man with the wild eyes, as he bolted after Doug.  "Get back here!"

"Can't!" Doug yelled back.  "Gotta get to the Post Office!  Time is money!"

The man feared to exit the building, but ventured a look outside.  "You moron!  I've got a gun!  Get back here!"

"Go climb a tree, you bully!" he spat back at the man.  "Gosh," Doug the said to himself as he walked away.  "What a meanie!"

The man stood there, shocked, watching Doug walk away.  Then he ducked back into the bank as several police vehicles came screeching to a halt at the doors.  Doug continued walking down the sidewalk and around the building, but offered some advice to the officer that had crouched nearby pointing a handgun toward the bank door:

"If you're going in there, I should tell you - they're doing some weird religious stuff in there!"  But the officer didn't seem to hear him, so Doug kept on walking toward his car.

When Doug arrived at the bank, he encountered a short line, as it was still only midday.  He stepped up to a Postal Clerk who appeared happy on the outside, but whose aura visibly burned with the deep inner despair that only comes with a sense of a wasted life.

"I'd like to ask you a question." Doug said to her.

"Okay," she said.
"May I?"
"May you what?"
"May I ask you a question?"
"You just did."
"What?" Doug said, puzzled.
"You just did ask me a question."
"I did?"
"You've just asked four questions."
"Are you sure?"
"That's five."
"What's five?"
"Six."
"Okay, now I know that's not true!"
"What's not true?"
"Six is not five!"

"What is your question?" she asked after a brief pause, without ever changed her facial expression.

"I was wondering if you could point me in the direction of the Change-of-Address forms?"  Doug asked.

"I'm sorry," the woman said. "I believe we've just run out of them."

Doug's face displayed his obvious dismay at this news.

"Oh, but..." the woman continued, as Doug simply stood there looking sad for several silent moments, "I, uh... I suppose I could go check in the back to... see if we have more."

Doug just frowned at her.

After a moment, the woman moved toward the back of the post office where Doug could no longer see her.  He felt deep in his gut that she would never find any Change-of-Address forms.  He knew his day was doomed.  He knew, somehow, that this was not going to end well.

The woman came back and Doug could see she didn't have any Change-of-Address forms in her hands, and he felt his heart sink even deeper in his chest, and his breathing started to grow shallow.  The edges of his mouth twitched sharply as the tears welled up in his eyes.  

The Postal Clerk looked at him without any change of expression.

"I'm afraid we don't have any Change-of-Address forms in the back, either." she reported.

Doug struggled to maintain composure as his vision was blurred completely now with the bitter, salty sting of tears in his eyes.  He began to make little hiccup noises as he made short gasps for air, but his cries bested his attempt to keep them at bay.

"But..." the woman went on, "If you have Internet access at home, you can do it online now.  Just go to the Post Office website."

Doug was visibly happy to hear this news.

But he didn't move. He just stood there, grinning.  Perhaps he was paralyzed by the sudden onset of overwhelming joy.

At any rate, he was starting to stir an actual, honest-to-God emotion in the Postal Clerk standing in front of him, which was the first she'd felt in as long as she could remember.  She recognized the emotion after a few moments as fear, and her eyes started to widen.

And yet, Doug just stood there.

"Do... you need to change your address?" she asked.

Without a shift of expression or even saying a word, Doug simply moved his head in a nodding motion to indicate an affirmative answer.

"Do... you have Internet access at your home?" she asked.

Doug nodded again, but this time his eyebrows raised a bit.

"Well..." she continued. "Why don't you... ya know... go to your home and get on our website from there?"

Doug nodded his head at an almost dangerous pace this time.  The woman's eyes widened even more.

"Okay, well, good luck!"  She said now with an almost terrified tone in her voice.  "Why don't you just head out through that door back there? Go on home and change that address!"

And now Doug was able to regain total motor function and happily skipped out of the Post Office.

When he got home, Doug did as the nice woman had advised him and logged onto the Internet on his Apple Desktop Computer.  

"No time for you, Hearts!" he boasted.
"No time for you either, Cribbage!" he smiled, eagerly.
"And forget about you, Gin Rummy!" he bounded as his fingers clicked and clacked on the keyboard.

"What about me?" asked Mah Jong, meekly.

"Aww, I'm sorry, Mah Jong.  But I just can't right now.  I have some very important things to attend to!"

Mah Jong hung it's head and exited the conversation... somehow.

Doug felt bad for a moment, but his excitement at the opportunity to correct the Postal Services record indicating his true address, once and for all, easily overshadowed his remorse for his good friend Mah Jong.

As he was about to bring up the Internet browser on his computer, he felt something move near his feet under his desk.

"What the...!?!?"

It was that mean old evil elf who had called him names that morning.

"You!" he screamed at it.

"You!' it screeched back at him.

"You get outta here!" Doug commanded with a sense of purpose.  "This is no place for you, and I have important work to attend to!"

"Don't end your sentences with prepositions, you overgrown, nog-swilling twit!" said the elf.

"FINE!" Doug shouted.  "I have important work TO WHICH I MUST ATTEND!"

"That's better!" the elf said, "But you're still a twit!"

"How dare you!  Get back in under that Sleep-Chair with the rest of your kind!  That's where you're supposed to stay!"

"Don't you push me around, ugly!" screeched the elf.  "You don't get to tell me what to do anymore!  Better hang on to your magic hat, tonight!  We have a big plan for you!"

"Huh?" asked a puzzled Doug.

"That's right!  We've been studying BRAIN SURGERY!"

"BRAIN SURGERY!?!" Doug gasped.  "Aw, you don't scare me!  You're just making that up!  How could you have learned brain surgery when you spend all your time living underneath a Sleep-Chair?"

"Haven't you even wondered..." said the evil little elf, "... what I'm doing out here by your computer?"

Doug didn't inquire further, but as the gears in his imagination were turning, he looked back at his computer screen.  There was already an Internet browser up and running.  It had only been minimized on the screen.  He clicked the "maximize" button and the window popped up, displaying a web page that bore the title: 

"HOW TO LOBOTOMIZE THE GIANT THAT IMPRISONS YOU UNDER HIS SLEEP-CHAIR"

Doug gasped again.

"That's right, smarty!  We're gonna cut you GOOD!" croaked the evil little imp.

"Oh, yeah?" asked Doug with a disrespectful edge in his voice.  "With WHAT?"

"With THIS!" spat the elf, revealing a large knife.

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!"
screamed Doug.




But it was too late.

THE END

The moral of this story:
Don't go out drinking with your buddies in South Africa.  You'll just end up getting lobotomized by an evil elf.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

IRON MAN - movie review


IRON MAN, the unquestioned opening gong, signaling the birth of the big 2008 summer blockbuster season, is upon us!

First, I'm going to tell you how good I thought it was, but after that I'm going to go into some detail about why I liked it, which will contain spoilers. So if you're planning to see this film, but haven't yet, don't read past the warning.

Iron Man is a super hero and an action movie with a lot of heart. I had heard a lot of rave reviews, and I have to agree that this film was completely enjoyable - on par with the first Spider-Man movie. And, like Spider-Man (2002), it is an origin story (possibly the first of its own trilogy), which always seems to have a powerful appeal in Super Hero films, be it Spider-Man, Batman or Superman (and to a lesser extent, X-Men (2000) and Hulk (2003)... to a MUCH lesser extent).

Iron Man certainly benefits - skyrockets to success, even - from the casting of the brilliant Robert Downy Jr., who, as the tech-prodigy-playboy-turned-rocket-man Tony Stark, can deliver a mediocre joke - scripted or improvised - dryer and funnier than almost anyone. And yet, he can turn around and be as passionate and convincingly determined as anyone, as well.   This guy's range is incredible. From comedic roles like Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005) or even Air America (1990), to tragic or otherwise dramatic figures in films like A Scanner Darkly (2006), Charlie Bartlett (2007) or Zodiac (2007), Downy far exceeds his real life drama with drugs and alcohol with his on-screen talents.

Downy defines his own portrayal of comic book author/legend Stan Lee's character thusly: "a challenge of making a wealthy, establishmentarian, weapons-manufacturing, hard-drinking, womanizing prick into a character who is likable and a hero."  (By the way, keep your eyes peeled for another great and endearing cameo appearance by Iron Man creator, Stan Lee, in this film - hilariously well done!)

Director John Favreau (who also gives himself a bit part as Stark's limo driver) demonstrates mastery of the art of "Hollywood blockbuster direction" after a few only-okay movies (Zathura, which I never saw... and Elf, which... actually, was pretty funny), and smaller, more personal comedies like Swingers and Made.  Favreau sets his world of Iron Man not in a dark, twisted fantasy plane like Tim Burton's Gotham City from Batman (1989) (or even that of the conservative Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins (2005)), but in a more realistic and plausible (even if far-fetched) reality, like Sam Rami's New York, in Spider-Man.

Terrence Howard is passable as the inside man in this film - "Commissioner Gordon" to Iron Man's "Batman" (although he has a much bigger role to play in the sequels, so his character is just subtly being set up here), as is Gweneth Paltrow in her role as (the more romantic and desirable version of "Alfred" -) Virginia "Pepper" Potts, Stark's personal assistant and sidekick. 

Jeff Bridges is dominating as the double-crossing villain, Obadiah Stane/"Iron Monger", Iron Man's biggest nemesis, but ultimately seemed an odd choice for the role.  The cast is well-rounded, with some other great villains (even if they're not "super"), like Faran Tahir (recently seen on TV's "LOST") and enabling sidekicks, like the notable performance by Shaun Toub (also from "LOST") as Yinsen, the man who makes Stark's prototype Iron Man suit ("Mark I") possible.

Apparently, Samuel L. Jackson makes an appearance in this film (stick around after the credits) as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury.  We can only assume that he's up for a major role in a sequel.

The score, composed by Ramin Djawadi, is always perfectly invisible. It's not that it's subtle or underscoring, but always perfectly appropriate, to the point that it never upstages the action or draws attention to itself, just as a good score does. From iMDB's comments, "[director] Jon Favreau advised composer Ramin Djawadi to keep the core of the music on heavy guitar, which he felt suited Iron Man best. Djiwadi composed the music on a heavy guitar before arranging it for the orchestra to perform."

This film also benefits by keeping the action sequences short, tight and evenly spaced apart, and surrounding them with engaging drama.  Although some scenes are predictable, they are obviously necessary and well executed.  Like, Spider-Man, Iron Man leans heavily on character development, resulting in a story about a character into whom we - the audience - are heavily invested... and it pays off.  

The film doesn't take itself too seriously, and it never gets too goofy, campy or, as we say in the business: "Batman & Robin-ish".  It's not dark, but it's not cheery and innocent.  There's a bit of language, a hint or two of sexual content, and plenty of violence. (So please, deadbeat Dads, don't take your 4-year old sons to this one.  He won't understand it and it's inappropriate for a child.  Just buy him the toy and keep him at home where his feet can't possibly touch the back of my theater seat.)

As Marvel's first fully self-financed film, and compared to the slew of super hero movies we've seen in the last decade, Iron Man is a winner.

4 and a half stars (out of 5)!  Check it out!

NOW...

"WHY THIS FILM WORKS SO WELL"
*****SPOILER ALERT***** 
(IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE FILM, READ AT YOUR OWN RISK)

This film - and this story - lend heavily from proven methods.  The most notable comparison I made was with the story of "Batman".  

Tony stark is very much like a West Coast Bruce Wayne - a millionaire playboy, a brilliant engineer, head of a major company that bears his name, lives in a huge mansion that serves as a base of operations, and has a personal assistant who knows his secret identity and is his only family.  He is as human as you or me - that is to say, he has no "super powers" - and as such, he is as susceptible to injury and death as any man.  He creates a suit and secret identity with which he can defend the innocent people of the world, and as Batman can swing and glide, Iron Man can rocket around the globe in record time.  But the inevitable question comes up with this comparison, and the answer is simple: Iron Man could easily kill the dark knight.  Sorry, Bruce.

Also, Stan Lee's original story, as well as the film's screenplay, borrow from several themes of ancient literature and stages from Joseph Campbell's "Hero's Journey".  

The character of Tony Stark, who starts out in "conventional slumber" as a "merchant of death", caught up in his world of money, power and fame, is captured by soldiers of fortune ("The Call To Adventure") and imprisoned in a cave in Afghanistan, which Campbell may call "The Belly of the Beast": the place where things cannot possibly get any worse, and which serves as a chrysalis where a true metamorphosis may take place.  It is here where Tony Stark truly becomes Iron Man both physically and spiritually.  This is where he "grows a heart" (as Yensin builds him an electromagnet fixed into his chest cavity which keeps the deadly shrapnel metals in his body from entering his heart, killing him) and transforms him from a "merchant of death" to an "iron" MAN - solid and righteous; impenetrable.

Yensin, himself, is sort of wizard who embodies the role in Campbell's "Monolyth" of the "Helper with the Amulet."

"During the early stages of the journey, the hero will often receive aid from a protective figure. This supernatural helper can take a wide variety of forms, such as a wizard, and old man, a dwarf, a crone, or a fairy godmother. The helper commonly gives the hero a protective amulet or weapon for the journey."  This is exactly what Yensin gives Stark in the form of his protective chest plate.

Yensin's magnetic "heart" shines brightly, even through Stark's clothes, as an ever-present reminder of his metamorphosis.  Stark even makes it visible through every version of the Iron Man suit, radiating proof that - robotic as he may appear - "Tony Stark has a heart".  And when Obadiah Stane builds his Iron Monger suit, it can't even be powered without Stark's chest plate, reminding us subconsciously that, as Stane has no "heart", he cannot be an "iron man".  Thus, Stane is forced to steal Stark's "heart" to operate his Iron Monger suit, and ultimately it's still not enough.  Only the true hero's heart can win out in the end.

As Stark emerges from the caves of Afghanistan a new man, he announces that Stark Industries - his inherited, long-time war-profiteering company - will no longer build weapons.  Thus his peers, closest friends and board of directors all decide that he must be insane and suffering from post-traumatic stress.  But having gone through this death and resurrection in the cave, Stark is enlightened and sees what the sleeping masses cannot see.  He sees the bigger picture, that his weapons kill as many Americans as they serve, and that in the end, building weapons keeps no peace.  The separation from the superficial "self" that allows for this sort of clarity is the basis for all concepts of enlightenment, as Jesus, Buddha, Krishna and Rumi can all tell you.  Stark sees a "truth" to which all others around him are "asleep" or "unconscious."  When his good friend, James "Rhodey" Rhodes, suggests that "What you need is some time to get your head right," Stark struggles to hide the smile that washes over his face.  He cannot help but laugh at the backward logic, and the irony that he once would have agreed with it.

The film also plays the old fashioned "damsel in distress" card, as Iron Man battles to save the life of poor, helpless Pepper Potts from the grips of the evil Iron Monger.  If this had been a Quentin Tarrentino flick, or by any female screenwriter or director, Pepper would have kicked the villain's ass herself, but in classic fairy tale fashion, all she can do is stand there, look pretty and scream, "Iron Man! Save me!" (- not an actual quote... that's sarcasm).  And as politically incorrect as this scenario might be by today's standards, it still has an effect on the collective psyche based on the stories and images upon which we were all raised.  Iron Man becomes a classic "white knight" in this way.

For all those reasons and more, Iron Man is made a powerful story and screenplay through the use of ancient, proven story techniques which are so often forgotten in Hollywood today.  And that is why this film will do so well in the long run.  

Congrats, Iron Man.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

I need YOUR help!


I'm planning on writing a really interesting blog essay about the "death/resurrection" theme in modern cinema. You'll enjoy my thoughts on the subject very much, thank you. But first, I need you to come up with some movies where you've noticed this trend, yourself, so you can tell me about them, and I can in turn write about them.

TOP PRIZE: You get CREDIT in my blog for the film that you come up with IF I decide to use it as an example in my blog.
*RUNNER UP: A set of steak knives.

Now, I already have plans for writing about these themes in several movies, so don't write to me with the following films:
The Matrix (Trilogy?)
Star Wars (Saga)
Fight Club
E.T.
Kung Fu Hustle
Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade

These films are just the top few that came into my head as I was thinking about this topic, but I'm sure there are many more.

Make your submissions below or email me at MWood919@aol.com
(If you IM me about it, I may forget your idea)

Thanks,
Mike



*There is no "Runner Up"