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Monday, January 27, 2014

Simply Anime: Cartoon Network PRIME TIME

CONSISTENT
For my second offering of Simply Anime, I wanted to tackle a different brand of animation.  American cartoons, and in particular Cartoon Network's prime time line up of animated shows. I can already hear the groans and complaints about how this particular review is supposed to be dedicated to anime and not cartoons, or some rubbish like that. Well folks, these reviews are about animation, so be prepared to sample my insight into a wide variety of shows that the medium offers. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, here's a little history or my crib notes version of how we got to where we are in regard to Cartoon Network's current prime time lineup. It all started in 1993 with Donovan Cook's 2 Stupid Dogs. This show would signify the rebirth of Hanna-Barbera.  An animation studio of using homegrown creators who produced original animated shorts the likes of which hadn't been seen since 1984's the Snorks. Then, two years later in 1995, the first ever “What a Cartoon” debuted on television and changed the game. The brainchild of Fred Seibert, this revolutionary show and format gave birth to and was the launching pad for not only shows that many of us grew up watching, but for their creators as well. Such shows included The Powerpuff Girls (Craig McCracken), Dexter's Laboratory (Genndy Tartakovsky), Johnny Bravo (Van Partible), Codename: KidsNext Door (Tom “Mr.” Warburton), Cow and Chicken (David Feiss), Courage the Cowardly Dog (John R. Dilworth), Whatever Happened to Robot Jones (Greg Miller), the Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy (Maxwell Atoms), and a show called Larry and Steve (Seth MacFarlane) which would ironically become the format for a little show called Family Guy.

Even if the names of those creators are lost on you, their shows most certainly are not. The Looney Tunes style presentation (minutes-wise) would become the hallmark of nearly every animated show that would be aired on Cartoon Network. In addition, What a Cartoon, (which would become its own show), would birth clones of its own on rival network Nickelodeon and produce even more shows. All of this would lead to a long string of shows that some see as the “Golden Age” of Cartoon Network. This age would not only boast many of the aforementioned shows as stand alone half hour programs, but also bring about shows like Ed, Edd, n Eddy (Danny Antonucci), Time Squad (Dave Wasson), Sheep in the Big City (Mo Willems), Samurai Jack (again Genndy Tartakovsky), Megas XLR (Jody Schaeffer and George Kristic), Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends (again Craig McCracken), Camp Lazlo (Joe Murray), My Gym Partner's A Monkey (Julie McNally-Cahill and Timothy Cahill), Class of 3000 (Andre Benjamin and Thomas W. Lynch), Chowder (C.H. Greenblat), TheMarvelous Misadventures of Flapjack (Thurop Van Orman), and the juggernaut known as Ben 10 (Man of Action). There are many more wonderful shows that were a part of the the “Golden Age” and if you are interested knowing just what they are, you can see them in all listed here.

In 2009, Cartoon Network began to make changes in format and pushed toward live-action programming.  That push fell flat. (Certainly did with me at least. Though, I was not their target audience.) A year earlier, they would acquire the rights to Johnny Test.  A show many viewed as a much worse version of Dexter's Laboratory. Although there are many similarities between Test and Dexter, they just weren't the same. Cartoon Network would also make a move at this time that hurt me deeply. Always lauded for its balance of comedy and action cartoons, they would inexplicably change format again.  This time moving from an action oriented evening lineup to a more comedy-centric approach that remains to this day. Gone were shows like Generator Rex, The Secret Saturdays, and Teen Titans. In its place, more Johnny Test. It wasn't just that action cartoons were gone or were only on sporadically. It was the type of cartoons they were replaced with. Finally, a bright light was cast back on the action cartoon wasteland when CN announced the DC Nation block. It would host DC original shorts as well as shows like Green Lantern the Animated Series and Young Justice. With a super strong lead in show like Ben 10, it seemed like a slam dunk. Alas, it was not to be. Green Lantern the animated series was canceled after only one excellent season (Shout outs to Giancarlo Volpe) and Young Justice would also suffer the same fate after only two seasons. Their replacements would be Beware the Batman (now on indefinite hiatus) and Teen Titans Go! (a chibi version of the original Teen Titans show that features the same voice cast).

So now that you know the history, whether you wanted to or not, let's get to the reason why you're here. Cartoon Network's current prime time lineup. Let me start by saying that I was not entirely fond of many of the shows at first.  And as a recent Game of Thrones quiz has shown me, I can have some Ned Stark like qualities when it comes to change. That being said, once I've given something a shot objectively, I can say that it is either enjoyable or not. Many of the shows that CN is currently boasting in the prime time slots I can say I highly enjoy and recommend.  Especially if you're looking for something a bit different, or just looking to continue riding the high from Sunday night after watching the Simpsons, Bob's Burgers, Family Guy and American Dad. To start off, let's begin with Pendleton Ward's Adventure Time.

Adventure Time follows the life and times of Finn the last human boy on the planet, his magical dog and brother Jake through their adventures in the Land of Ooo. The show is laced with continuity that won't alienate new viewers (which is something that nearly all the shows do quite well also) along with comedy for both adults and children alike. Of all the shows currently airing, I would say that Adventure Time was the one that took the second longest to grow on me. Once I really gave it a shot, however, I came to really enjoy the show. Now let me say that all these shows are aired in the same Looney Tunes style format of 7 minute or so shorts.  So character development is going to be a bit tough. Motivations are either revealed quickly over the course of many episodes, or in the case of the Ice King, in special episodes like “Simon and Marcy”. Adventure Time also pushed the envelope when it was implied that Princess Bubblegum and Marceline the vampire may have been involved in a relationship in the past. To my knowledge, the topic of homosexuality had never been covered on a show geared toward kids before. For the record I applaud the writing staff and all involved with the show if that was the case. If only because it is something that is very real in our society.  Parents SHOULD be watching television with their children and be there to explain things in a prosocial manner. My mother certainly did. (And off my soapbox) Occasionally dark, but always fun, Adventure Time is excellent show.

A personal favorite for me, my friends and anyone born in the 80's is J.G. Quintel's modern masterpiece Regular Show. In it, you follow the dynamic slacker duo of Mordecai the blue jay and Rigby the squirrel as they live out there strangely entertaining lives. Mordecai and Rigby have terrific comedic chemistry together, but the unsung strength of the show is its amazing cast of supporting characters. From the ironically bad bodied Muscle Man, to Skips the yeti, to the large headed, yet sweetly insane Pops, to High Five Ghost (The name says it all) to their uptight gumball machine boss Benson. This show fires on all cylinders. There are doses of dark humor, death (You don't come back unless magic is involved), friendship, adult humor slid in, and 80's music every now and then. This show gets it right more often than not.

The Amazing World of Gumball, created by Ben Bocquelet, was a show that I had a hard time getting into. I wasn't happy that Chowder (Which I was slow to get into) and Flapjack had come to an end, so I was very resistant to Gumball without ever seeing a full episode. I initially was not a fan of the animation style and judged it only on that. I. Was. So. Wrong! This show continues in the rich history of silly, madcap comedy. Gumball Watterson, the titular character, is a 12 year old, unapologetic, d-bag cat that finds himself constantly in trouble. He is joined by his adopted brother Darwin Watterson.  Darwin is a goldfish that is often innocent and often times follows Gumball to their comedic ruin. Anais Watterson, is their 4 year old genius sister that is a rabbit that goes to the same middle school as Gumball and Darwin. Their parents are Nicole Watterson, a parentally responsible cat and Richard Watterson, the laziest rabbit in town. This show is clever in its delivery and a pleasure to watch.

Then there is The Annoying Orange created by Dane Boedigheimer.  I simply can not get past the opening credits. It's just, no. Simply no. I can't do it. Maybe you can, but even I have limits. And this is one.


Peter Browngardt's Uncle Grandpa is a show that I mentioned in my first podcast and I panned it. I had only seen a a few episodes and I honestly was barely paying any attention to it. The promos for the show where a special brand of annoying and I quickly lumped it into the same category of disdain that I hold for the previously mentioned Annoying Orange. Uncle Grandpa is everyone's Uncle and Grandpa, and puts children in unnecessary adventures or hijinks. I'm not overly crazy about him, but I do enjoy his sidekicks Pizza Steve and Mr. Gus. Pizza Steve is a self absorbed living slice of pizza who is the life of the party. (Because why else wouldn't pizza be the life of the party) Mr. Gus is a dinosaur (although he reminds me of the Creature from the Black Lagoon) that plays straight-man to all the calamity going on. There are other colorful characters in addition to the kids and adults that also fill out the show. Uncle Grandpa may not be for everyone but the characters play well off each other and I am giving it more of a chance then I originally did.

Rebecca Sugar's Steven Universe is my absolute favorite show in the prime time lineup. This was the other show that I mentioned in my first podcast and I errantly did not give Sugar her credit for the show as much as I lauded it. Rebecca, you have made an excellent show and I look forward to Monday nights to watch it. Your protagonist is Steven Universe (Yes that's his name), a young boy that has inherited his mother's quartz gem and is learning how to control his powers. His teachers are Garnet (Voiced by British signer Estelle) who is the unofficial leader of the Crystal Gems (The group of which Steven is apart of) who seldom speaks but is the powerhouse of the group, Amethyst, the roguish member of the group that has a “devil may care” attitude and also moonlights as an underground wrestler, and Pearl, the member that is all policy and procedure. She wants Steven to succeed but is very concerned about his safety, almost to a smothering degree. Steven Universe is reminiscent of the Powerpuff Girls in its delivery, yet fresh in how it drops nuggets of the past events, in addition to dealing with emotions that characters are experiencing. It makes them so much more endearing. I gush about this show.

Lastly, a special that aired last week Monday night called The PowerpuffGirls: Dance Pantsed. Personally I felt like CN dropped the ball on this special because they had an opportunity to air this on the 15th anniversary of the PPGs. (I mean, this show was announced in January of 2013) Also this was the first episode of the Powerpuff Girls that was made without any input from show creator Craig McCracken. It seems wrong that he wasn't a part of this show. That being said, it did feel like an episode of the PPGs thanks in part to long time Powerpuff director Dave Smith. The story was fun and it was a nice throwback to days gone bye.

All in all, as time goes on, all things grow old and eventually must change. For good or for bad, Cartoon Network has changed and continues to do so. Although it currently is not focused on action cartoons, we at least have Toonami back (thanks Williams Street and Adult Swim). The current crop of shows, that are still Cartoon Cartoons as far as I'm concerned, continues to revolutionize American animation and produce new creators and no matter what, that is a good thing; but you don't have to take my word for it.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Simplistic Reviews Podcast: January 2014 Edition


Welcome to 2014!  It might be a new year, but we can guarantee that the boys will still be as juvenile as ever.  In the first full podcast of the year, the gang has some fun with words as Matt takes on "Word Association."  From Shia LeBouf to the latest Warner Bros/DC calamity. No one is safe.

Neal also regales the gang with his adventures with rednecks at his local Monster Truck Show, and Justin mistakenly believes Shaquille O'Neal starred in "Hanging With Mr. Cooper."

This is just a taste of what you're getting into with this month's Simplistic Review Podcast.

 Show Notes:
Most Anticipated Films of 2014
Hanging With Mr. Cooper
GraveDigger
Son-UVA Digger
Bobby Digital

Music Notes:
Birds & Brass By Sort Of Soul
I Dream Of Jeanie (Remix)
Lawyers, Guns, And Money By Warren Zevon
The Best By Tina Turner 


FOR MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY.

Click HERE to listen to podcast

Check us out on FacebookTwitter, YouTube, Letterboxd, and Pinterest

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Simply Anime: Space Brothers

OTHERWORLDLY

As a life long fan of Japanese animation or as it is more commonly called, anime, I have watched many types of films and shows that have ranged from the absurd like Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, to Hitchcock inspired thrillers like Perfect Blue, that would go on to inspire Hollywood directors like Darren Aronofsky in films like Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan. So for my first official review here with Simplistic Reviews, I decided to give you my critique of a currently on-going series that even those new to anime will enjoy, Space Brothers.

Created by Chuya Koyama in 2008 originally as a manga (which is essentially a comic. In Japan, people regardless of age read manga and they have various categories just like books in your local library {people still go to those right?}) is published in the magazine Weekly Morning. The manga was nominated twice for a Manga Taisho award in 2008 and 2010, and would win the Shogakukan Manga Award for best general anime and in 2011 the Kodansha Manga Award in the same category. I don't need to tell you how big that is, I mean these are like the Eisner's of Japan, (ok you don't know what the Eisner's are, sorry didn't mean to alienate you any more than I already have. The Eisner Awards are given for excellence in cook books, kinda like a Golden Globe or Oscars. Yes, I could've just use that analogy to begin with but I'm talking a completely different medium here folks!) So to put this in perspective, Space Brothers in prose shared award winning company with titles such as Bleach, Inuyasha, Golgo 13, Galaxy Express 999, Salior Moon and Akira! This manga is no slouch. So, in 2012 it was adapted into an anime and is still going strong with 91 episodes under it's belt (and counting) and even boasts a full lengthened live action feature film to boot. Now, still skeptical of anime; or maybe you just haven't watched a series since Ash was try to catch the original 150 Pokemon, but just chill for a second before you write off this series and review.

This was a show that I began on a whim, probably after looking at something on my Tumblr wall in a moment of boredom and/or depression. I was, broke, unemployed and pretty much feelign as low as I possibly could at that moment. So, with no expectations for this show, I took a chance and started the series. After the first episode I was hooked. Not in the way that an action show can grab you but in an emotional way, like the first time I saw Bridge to Terabithia (the original and not the remake which I shudder to think about). The series characters paralleled so much of my life at the time and was so compelling, that before I knew it I was 10+ episodes in. Now this isn't me getting on a soap box and saying that an anime changed my life or anything like that, but I am saying that this amine is one that people can relate to on many levels for a multitude of reasons.

The story follows Mutta Nanba, (in Japan last names come first, so when you watch you will see the surname come first, i.e. Nanba Mutta), he's just been fired from his rather sweet job as automotive engineer, because his verbally abusive boss was disrespecting his brother Hibito whom is going to become the first Japanese astronaut on to walk on the moon, so, quick to defend of his brother, Mutta headbutted his boss in the face! Freaking. Awesome. However as art imitates life and Mutta's actions come at a cost. He soon finds himself black listed and unable to find a job. Untriumphantly he returns home to live with his parents and is forced to take any menial job he can find, that is until his past actions eventually bite him in the rear, then it's back to square one again. All the while, Mutta is trying to remain the staunch older brother, telling his parents not to inform his younger brother what happened. Of course as parents usually do, they don't adhere to the request and his mother tells Hibito. What ensues from that results in Mutta remembering a promise that he made years ago as a child and the opportunity to make that promise become a reality, when his mother submits his resume to JAXA (the Japanese version of NASA). We get to experience the lives of the Nanba brothers as one is venturing off into space and the other is making his way to catch up to his younger brother.

Filled with a cast of memorable characters like Ozzy - the senior citizen that lives in Houston near Hibito, who has a penchant for gambling (but in a good way), Kenji Makabe – Mutta's fast friend that he meets during the astronaut candidate processing phase, Serika Itou – Mutt's love interest with an insatiable appetite, and the person who steals the show whenever he's on, Apo – Hibito's pet pug that Mutta ends up watching once Hibito goes to space, (and no Apo doesn't talk, it's not that type of anime). Each character has their own motivations for being in the place that they're in and are each developed so well. Their reasons are as real as you, or me if we were trying to get a job. At the heart of the series, space is the backdrop for every single one these characters hopes and dreams. If as a child you were ever enthralled with all things outer space, than you too can relate. The reason why is because space, and space exploration represents what we can do as human beings. We can colonize new worlds or even the moon if we want to. We can dare to dream again like we did when we were young and it's okay. Space represents hope in the face of all that's not, and sometimes that all we ever really ever need. So I highly recommend Space Brothers for that reason alone. Oh, and did I mention that the hallmark of every anime, Space Brothers included, is the kick ass opening and closing themes. The theme for the first 13 episodes in a awesome J-Rock (Japanese rock) song by a band named Unicorn called “Feels SoMoon”, that really sets the tone for the series. The themes never let up, and you will enjoy them every time that they are on. Inversely, the ending themes are just catchy and enjoyable and are like a kiss goodnight after a great date (get it together Hollywood, you don't need that much freaking ad time). Bonus, you get exposed to a different type of music that you may never have heard before, so thank in advance for broadening you musical pallet.

I could go on but I think you get my drift. Watch Space Brothers. But of course; you don't have to take my word for it.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Simplistic Reviews Podcast: Oscar Nomination Reaction Special


It's that time of the year again folks.  You might think "Oh, the time of the year where you continue to embarrass yourself with your inept film talk?"  Well, yeah, that too, but we're talking about The Academy Award Nominations sillies.

Join DJ, Justin, and Matt as they go over the nominations, share their disdain for the people who got nominated and their joy for those who got snubbed.  It's sure to be a super-rad time on this special edition of The Simplistic Reviews Podcast.


Show Notes:
Full List of Oscar Nominations 2014
Biggest Oscar Upsets
Worst Oscar Winners

Music Notes:
"All Gold Everything" By Trindad James
"Police Academy March" By Robert Folk

FOR MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY.

Click HERE to listen to podcast

Check us out on FacebookTwitter, YouTube, Letterboxd, and Pinterest

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Timecop

Timecop: Timeless
99mins/1994/Action

Growing up in the 90's there're a few movies a boy must watch before he becomes a man...

GoldenEye
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Hard Boiled
Point Break
Demolition Man

and Timecop!

Well maybe not Timecop or Demolition Man, but damn if Timecop doesn't grow some hair on your chest then maybe you should rethink your life. Now I'm not going write all about the issues this film contains, mostly its the plot holes this film fosters. If your not one to pickup on plot holes while watching movies, this film is a bit different. They pop out like a sore thumb and you will not be able to shake them off your mind. One without spoiling anything is brought up in the beginning. A character states time travel isn't possible in the future. The reason is because it hasn't happened yet. Okay, that's fine I accept that. But then in the film Van Damme goes into the future. Before I go into a rage and reason why this could and could not happen, the simple fact is they state he can't, then they shouldn't have written that into the film if they're going to go against what they said. Another is the vehicle they use to time travel disappears, but in a very odd fashion they come back in one. So how is that possible?

Man! I said I wouldn't talk about those damn issues yet I did. How does that lying feel to you Timecop? How does it sit with you?

Okay this isn't a rant, but a review so I'll stop myself from making that jump.

What this film is but pure fun and enjoyment. It's a Jean-Claude Van Damme film, with 

JVCD high kicks! 
JVCD Acting! 
And JVCD Mullet!

This is the kind of film you watch with your buddies laughing and poking fun at. Timecop has a interesting story that might seem generic but at the same time it's somewhat special. Time travel mixed with an evil politician who uses the program for his own gain. Ron Silver plays the politician McComb, he is the highlight of this film. Definitely my favorite part of the cast. Mia Sara plays Melissa. JVCD character's wife. I've always liked Mia Sara and she looks really beautiful here but something about her voice kills me. It's soft and seems to carry no emotion. This is the only film she seems to do this in and it ticks me off, a shit ton. Since we're on the topic of what ticks me off, lets look at the biggest problem with this film. For me I've always thought it had possibilities that never came. For me it would of been fun to have more of the past then the present.

Particularly in the beginning with the Civil War scene. I find this to be the stronger part of what could of been. I wish the film took place during this time period, but instead we only got a small taste of it. (Watch the TV spin off series if you as well wanted that) What we got was a race to stop the politician and the generic subplot of the dead wife. Even with that, all is good.

The film is still enjoyable. I mean how can it not? Jean-Claude Van Damme and time travel. Come on!

If you enjoy Van Damme films then you will enjoy Timecop!



Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Her

CREEPY
Her - Creepy

In the digital age, there has never been an easier time to find a partner and begin a relationship.  Whether it be a one-night stand, or something a little more meaningful, you can find "The Future (enter your name here)" quicker than you can send an e-mail these days.  However, there are others in the digital age that have decided that technology is a much more worth-while partner and have fallen head over heels with their smart phones, computers, and video game consoles.  Trust me, I love my phone and all my hi-tech gadgets, but they wouldn't be able to replace the touch of a loving partner.  In Spike Jonze's latest film "Her" he explores our infatuation with technology and how love can blossom from the most unlikely source.  It's both a heart-warming and creepy exercise in film-making.

"Her" follows Theodore, played superbly by Joaquin Phoenix, a man going through a divorce and his own struggle to connect with people outside of his work, where he creates handwritten notes for strangers.  Looking for a new type of relationship, and to ease his own loneliness, Theodore purchases the new OS1 and we are introduced to Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson.  Samantha, who is programmed to learn while in the care of Theodore, fills the void that was left when Theodore's wife left, who is played by the overwhelmingly underwhelming Rooney Mara.  As their relationship continues, a bond is created that is both endearing and sweet, while still coming off as extremely creepy.

Once again, Phoenix is up to the challenge of carrying a film almost completely by himself.  He is the heartbeat of the film, appearing in nearly every single frame of "Her" and he is absolutely a delight.  It's funny that just a few years ago he had had enough of Hollywood and was dead set on becoming the next great rap star.  Call him what you will, but when it comes to acting he remains one of the best in the business.

The supporting roles of Amy Adams and Chris Pratt are also strong, but if Phoenix is the heartbeat, than the soulful, husky, and seductive voice of Johansson is the soul of "Her."  It's very rare to be taken by a role that is solely voice-based, but the "chemistry" that Phoenix and Johannson share is something that needs to be seen and just goes to show how great of an actor Phoenix really is.  When you think about it he has to play off of himself most of the film and I don't think most actors would be up to the challenge of creating something organic out of something that isn't even there.  It's reminiscent of Tom Hanks' performance in "Cast Away" to a certain degree.

While "Her" showcases some great acting, it also showcases some very troubling and creepy moments.  Taking place in a not so distant future, will we become so jaded and self-involved that we will need the help of computers to show us how to be social and loving again?  Jonze has created a great conundrum where the act of being an introvert (talking/texting on your phone) is the only way to become an extrovert and enjoy life.  It's fantastic psychology at work and is a touchstone for this current generation.

Overall, Jonze has created one of the most original love stories in recent memory.  It deals with people that have lost their way and need that extra push to get out and live a normal life, so to speak.  "Her" is a film that will surprise some, confound others, and probably creep out a few others, but that is what great films do; they make you feel emotion, want to talk about it, and maybe even make you want to become someone better.  That's "Her."

Fun Fact:  English actress, Samantha Morton, was originally the voice of Samantha before Scarlett Johansson was brought in to re-read all the dialogue for the film.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Saturday, January 11, 2014

August: Osage County

FAMILY
Of all the films being discussed during award season, August: Osage County seems to be the one being forgotten.  It has the award recognition somewhat, but it is hard to hear anything about it over the publicity noise of films like Wolf Of Wall Street, American Hustle, and Gravity.  And this is a film with Meryl Streep and Julia f@%king Roberts!  Two of the most iconic female actresses I've watched in my lifetime.  What was it about this film that keeps it flying under the radar?  Then I thought about the subject matter.  It isn't as captivating as a sexy scheme set up by quirky con artists in the 70s.  It isn't as outrageous as a cocaine fueled crook living to excess in the 80s and 90s.  It definitely isn't as thrilling as watching a woman struggling to survive in an endless abyss in the present.  It is merely about FAMILY.  All the love and hate and insane dysfunction of FAMILY.  It isn't a two hour long dose of good ol' escapism.  It shines a light on an all too familiar life that most would try and have tried to escape from.  

Don't get me wrong.  This is not a fun for the whole FAMILY film.  August: Osage County is the film adaptation of writer Tracy Letts' play of the same name.  It centers around a small town FAMILY reuniting after the sudden disappearance of the FAMILY's patriarch.  And the fact that this film was a play will not come as a shock once you watch it.  At the end of several scenes, you'll catch yourself waiting for the curtain the drop and the applause to start before you realize you're still sitting in a cineplex.  I made a critique of the aforementioned Wolf Of Wall Street in my review a few weeks back.  That critique was that the film seemed more like a collection of amazing scenes instead of a well structured story.  Yet, I wasn't sure if that was entirely a bad thing for me.  August: Osage County made me start to feel the same way.  But that way of storytelling works fine for a novel or a play.  That is what's tricky to me about adaptations.  Do you want them to stick with the same format the novel or play or television show had at the expense of structure?  Or do you want to mold it into something more film friendly?  I personally don't know.  It changes for me on a case to case basis.  I do know I loved both Wolf Of Wall Street and August: Osage County because of the TREMENDOUS scenes and TREMENDOUS performances in them.  I just feel that their previous roots show a little too much for me to call them perfect "film" adaptations.

I've been watching John Wells work for a majority of my life.   Shows like ER and Southland and now Shameless really show how the man can make real people just feel real on screen.  How he can create dramatic tension through stillness and subtlety instead of jarringly acrobatic camera moves or set ups.  One might assume that his visual technique for this film was just a "point the camera and walk away" style because of the actors he had it his disposal.  However, there is a slick sense of simplicity and sneakiness in how he shoots these scenes, puts you in that house, and puts you in those moments.  For a film like this, it is all about creating an environment where actors can flourish and bring their characters to life.

Who are the actors at his disposal?  Holy crap!  Well, I've already mentioned the two cinema Godzillas of Meryl Streep and Julie Roberts.  And trust me, it is their film to own.  But the top notch performances here are ubiquitous.  Yeah...I said ubiquitous.  It means "everywhere".  I looked it up because I wanted to find a word that could properly illustrate how great everyone is in this film.  I haven't seen Roberts this strong and fearless since Closer.  And Streep literally roars reminders at you that she is the best actress walking the planet.  But then you have Chris Cooper chewing scenery throughout the film, with Margo Martindale chewing it up right alongside him.  Benedict Cumberbatch and Juliette Lewis show up out of nowhere and devour every line they have.  Abigail Breslin knocks one out of the park for kicks.  Ewan McGegor and Dermot Mulroney slides in great showings too.  Hell, Sam Shepard gets one scene and delivers some of the film's best lines in that time.  It is practically a smorgasbord of acting on display.  Though, I wanted to single out Julianne Nicholson's performance because it may be the one overlooked the most.  She isn't the biggest name in the cast but she holds her own with everyone.  Before you know it, Nicholson will be the one you feel for the most and the one who will pull your heartstrings the hardest.

August: Osage County is not only deserving of its praise, but deserving of more attention.  It might be better suited as a play than a film.  However, there is no doubt that the writing, directing, and acting are still good enough for you to enjoy the hell out of it.  Sit down with your FAMILY...if you dare...watch it...hope to God that your FAMILY isn't as crazy as theirs...then tell me I'm wrong.  


  

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club - Breakout
BREAKOUT

It's funny when you follow the career of certain actors.  Some start strong, and fizzle out.  Others start weak, and grow to have a great career.  Others decide to confound you for years and suddenly make you open your eyes and realize, "Wow, so that's what they could do?"  Two actors in particular have shown that in recent years.  One is Woody Harrelson.  Sure, he plays a goofy white guy most of the time, but after an Academy Award nomination a few years ago, and a string of hits at the box office, you can say Harrelson is one of those guys who's come a long way from where he started.  The other actor is Matthew McConaughey, another Texas hick who was mostly known for chick flicks early in his career.  But after two straight years of critically acclaimed films, you can say he's one of those guys that definitely can act.  See "Fraility" and "Lone Star" for early proof.  Now you have, "Dallas Buyers Club" a breakout for McConaughey, and for one my money, one of the best performances in all of 2013.

"Dallas" is the true story of Ron Woodroof, an electrician and hustler who might come off a bit racist, homophobic, and womanizing.  All in all, he's one of the worst human beings you'd be unlucky enough to meet.  Woodroof contracts the HIV virus which eventually turns into AIDS and leads him down a road of not only self-discovery, but also redemption as he fights the FDA while trying to bring in unapproved medicine from out of the country to not only help himself, but an entire sub-community in the Dallas-area suffering from HIV and AIDS.

Within the first 16 minutes of "Dallas" I was drawn in by McConaughey's performance.  I found myself both hating him, and feeling extreme sympathy for his situation.  His portrayal of Woodroof was haunting and his dedication to the characters was on the level of Christan Bale's performance in "The Machinist" which is a parallel that a lot of people are currently making.  The difference between Bale and McConaughey's performances is the characterization.  I never felt anything really for Bale's Trevor Reznor, whereas with Woodroof I found myself hating him, and come the end, complete compassion.

Aside from McConaughey's standout performance, I'd also go as far as saying this is Jennifer Garner's best acting since "The Kingdom" and it's nice to see that Steve Zahn is still getting work.  But, you also have a star-making performance by Jared Leto, who plays Rayon; a transgender man with AIDS who befriends Woodroof and helps him open The Dallas Buyers Club.  Leto, who also fronts the band "30 Seconds to Mars," is the perfect foil to Woodroof and his acting really surprised me.  I'm left to wonder why he doesn't try his hand at Hollywood films more often, but I guess band groupies are more lucrative.  The relationship between Rayon and Woodroof is the heartbeat of the film and you'll be crushed by Leto's performance.

"Dallas" is a film that depends on it's actors' performances, and it won't disappoint.  It explores one of the unsung "heroes" during the 1980s AIDS epidemic and casts a light on how there really isn't any money in the CURE for diseases, only the medicine that is "HELPING" the disease.  There is no doubt that McConaughey will be a heavy favorite when the Oscars are announced later this month, along with Leto in a supporting role.  Acting doesn't get much better than in "Dallas Buyers Club."

Fun Fact:  "Dallas" is Jared Leto's first film in four years, since 2009's "Mr. Nobody."   

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

RESURGENCE
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug - Resurgence

Two films down, one to go.  Peter Jackson's second epic trilogy where he re-visits Middle Earth continues as Bilbo Baggins and his gang of dwarves travel ever closer to The Lonely Mountain and their encounter with the fire-breathing dragon, Smaug.  In "The Desolation of Smaug" you see glimpses of what Jackson did with "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy.  There is a resurgence if you will, in this penultimate film that features some great action set pieces, and little more dwarf history, and the best performance by a dragon you'll see all year.

"Smaug" is a vast improvement over the first film, "An Unexpected Journey" which was a slave to having to re-create a world where there was no fellowship, no imminent danger, and for lack of a better term, no real protagonist that you can relate to.  Granted, it might be hard to relate to a reluctant king, an elf princess, or a hard drinking dwarf, but at least there were recognizable characters that you could root for.  To be honest, I have a hard time remembering any of the dwarves in Thorin Oakenshield's company outside of the aforementioned dwarf leader.

I think one of the traps this trilogy has fallen into is its reliance on fanboy love.  The beauty of "LotR" was the fact that even if you didn't read the books, or knew little of J.R.R. Tolkien's writings, the story was strong enough to bring moviegoers who were dying for an epic three-part adventure, that for my money, still can't be beat.  "The Hobbit" trilogy lacks what made "LotR" magical.  At times it lacks any originality for the most part where you find yourself visiting many places you saw before, and the pacing is painful at times.  However, Jackson certainly learned his lesson from his first film in the trilogy, and while it might piss off die-hard fans of the book, he;s made "Smaug" a far more entertaining watch.

First of all, the action is pumped up quite a bit.  While the escape from The Goblin King and his minions might have been exciting in "Journey" it was the highlighted action piece.  In "Smaug" there is the wine barrel chase, a ton of hot Elf-on-Orc action, you get to see Gandalf be a bad-ass again, and of course all of the scenes with Smaug, voiced excellently by Benedict Cumberbatch.  The film also marks the "return" of Legolas and the introduction of a new character, Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lilly.  People have been pissed about the addition of these two, but I'm trying to understand why.  Legolas brings something to these "Hobbit" films; nostalgia, whereas as Lilly brings a little sex appeal to the proceedings, and I might add, she does make a sexy elf and I wouldn't be surprised if "female elf" is one of the top Halloween costumes in 2014.

The biggest gripe that many people have is the fact that Jackson strayed too far away from Tolkien's material.  I'd respond with "Thank God!"  Without these additions to the film, I might go as far as saying these films are pretty unwatchable.  They are tedious exercises in exploiting a beloved book while trying to extort more money from nerds who can't get enough of The Shire and Hobbit feet.  You might think, "Matt!  I thought you liked this film better than the first one?!"  I do like "Smaug" better than "Journey" but that still doesn't make either one great.

All in all, "Smaug" is the shot in the arm the trilogy needed.  It finally introduced the aforementioned Smaug with all the bravado that it deserved, and it ended in a way that will FORCE people who have already invested over five hours of their time into investing another nearly three hours later this December.  "The Hobbit" films might have their problems and shortcomings, but at least Jackson got this one right, even if he had to piss some book fanboys off in the process.

Fun Fact:  Published in 1937,  many critics believe that Tolkien's novel, "The Hobbit" was based on his experiences in World War I.   

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