Monday, March 29, 2010

You Know Anything about a Man Going Around Playing a Harmonica?

So, I've been hearing a lot of harmonicas lately. Back when Bob Dylan was still a folk singer, he played the harmonica at the same time that he played the guitar.

The harmonica appeals to me in a profound way, despite the harsh sound it makes when it hits higher notes. I'll tell you why: it's melancholy. Whether or not Ridley Scott was right when he said that Celts are obsessed with melancholia, I certainly feel that way sometimes. I can think of no better word to sum up our inexplicable lives on this planet.

Other than Dylan, I've only been struck by a harmonica's use twice, once in Billy Joel's "Piano Man" and again in Sergio Leone's 1968 film, Once Upon a Time in the West. Charles Bronson played a character named Harmonica, and he used the instrument to communicate and announce his presence. Never has a harmonica sounded so ominous.

Once Upon a Time in the West is the greatest Western you've never seen. It is, indisputably, the masterpiece of a movie nut, Leone, who is most famous for his Man with No Name trilogy. But it's not for kids, folks.

I've almost been inspired to learn the harmonica by all of this, but that would take time and effort. And my roomate would murder me. And then he'd hunt all of you down. So stop putting dumb ideas in my head, you meddlers.

Instead of talkin' he plays. And when he better play, he talks.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Zack Snyder's Movie can Beat Up Your Movie

I found 2009 to be a particularly disappointing year for movies. There were very few released that I actually want to own on home video, and that's saying something.

This year will be remembered forever for one movie: Avatar. Whether the 3D craze it started lasts or not, the film became the highest grosser of all time, and now everyone is struggling to catch up with James Cameron. 3D will be applied to a lot of movies, even ones that were shot in 2D.

But Zack Snyder's Watchmen was the most noteworthy film of the year. An unfilmable graphic novel was filmed, and, using the miracle of cinema, audiences were completely tranported to an alternate reality. The last sixty years of U.S. history were rewritten. A god walked among us. Every healthy young male on the continent realized that their lives were missing something and that her name was Malin Akerman. Snyder crafted an epic that was cast to the letter and used c.g. special effects in the best way possible: to tell a story.

Snyder also shows a Danny Boyle-like appreciation for montage, which is apparent in the opening credits sequences of Dawn of the Dead (2004) and Watchmen. I'm sure plenty of critics would say that editing footage to a catchy song doesn't count as good filmmaking, and they'd be right- that's done every day on MTV. But Snyder uses his little music videos to better his films; the credits of Watchmen are brilliant, and they're my favorite six minutes of cinema from all of 2009.

If you've seen any footage of Snyder, you know that he's a successful filmmaker who can also beat you up. Dang, his forearms are big! Look for Legend of the Guardians, a c.g. film, next from Snyder this fall.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Movie Review: Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island

Once you've got that Boston accent down, you might as well keep using it. And once a director like Martin Scorsese has chosen you as his new leading man, you might as well run with it. (Heck, Scorsese is so talented, even I'd work with him.)

Leonardo DiCaprio, predictably, stars in 2010's Shutter Island, a thriller with excellent production values and performances. The time is 1954. DiCaprio plays U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels, who travels to the mental institution on Shutter Island in Boston Harbor with his new partner, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo). They've been called there to investigate the disappearance of a female patient, who is considered extremely dangerous, but the institution's leader, Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley), seems hesistant to really help their investigation. The danger presented by the island's patients and an incoming storm aid the mood of this unpredictable thriller.

This is, indeed, a genre picture, and I believe the critics who say that this is relatively conventional for Scorsese. But it's an exceptional thriller for a few reasons, including the two-hour buildup to the payoff, causing a nail-biting crescendo to a disorienting symphony of a movie.

If Shutter Island is remembered 30 years from now, it will be for two reasons. The first is DiCaprio's exagerated delivery of the line, "We are duly uh-poin-ded fed-uh-ral mar-shuls." The second is the film's who-who of supporting stars, including Max von Sydow, Jackie Earle Haley, and Patricia Clarkson.

Though out of Scorsese's confortable vein, the movie was excellently directed. Scorsese leaves his mark with the usual preeminence of wide angle lenses and some obnoxious filmmaking. Plenty of the shock cuts he uses during action scenes are right out of his other films, and his manipulation of sound is extreme- if you're looking at a kitten in this film, you're probably listening to an F-15.

Shutter Island looks like a film noir from the 50's, colorized and modernized with harsher language and content. None of this would have worked without the excellent production values and cinematography (by Robert Richardson).

I'm not a student of Scorsese, but I liked this film. I don't believe he makes bad films, ever, but I do believe he makes forgettable ones.

Shutter Island is neither.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Listen to (old) Bob Dylan

I don't care about Bob Dylan's rhetoric, and for the purpose of this post, neither should you.

I really like Dylan's old music, mostly the stuff that was considered folk. This was before he ticked off all of his fans by using an elctric guitar and band at the Newport Festival in 1965. Ironically, I'm just getting into Dylan now, even though I was practically raised on oldies. I had never heard any of this stuff.

The point is that Dylan is the greatest poet, lyricist, and songwriter in the history of the United States. Don't believe me? Ask your daddy. Every other song he listened to from 1965 to 1990 was a cover of a Dylan song made popular by another artist or group. These include "All Along the Watchtower," "It Ain't Me Babe," "Knockin' On Heaven's Door," and "House of the Risin' Sun."

If you agree with me that the crowd of celebrities and musicians who praised Johnny Cash after his death was unexpectedly diverse, just wait until Dylan bites it.

"Chimes of Freedom," off of 1964's Another Side of Bob Dylan, has struck me as particularly exceptional. It's a song that's about the hardships of life and the oppression every human being faces at one time or another, including the shackles we put on ourselves. Dylan's trademark, melancholy voice and harmonica give it this flavor. The sad tone is missing when someone like Bruce Springsteen covers this song and dubbs it simply an ode to human freedom.

Check out the embedded video.

And we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashin'.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Blu Recommendation: Heat

I'll be recommending home video releases once a week because you people clearly don't get enough advice on how to live and what to buy from the media already. My recommendation for the week of March 21 is the Blu-ray of Michael Mann's Heat (1995).

I know a lot of you saw Mann's Public Enemies in the summer of 2009, but what you may not believe is that he once made a crime epic that wasn't a blurry, digital, overrated mess. Heat is his best film, a Los Angeles crime saga that holds up under multiple viewings. The story focuses on cops and robbers, as Al Pacino's Detective Vincent Hanna hunts down Robert De Niro's Neil McCauley. A strong cast supported them, but the film didn't just showcase excellent procedural sequences of police work (before they got acronymed to death on network television) and shootouts; it brought the goods by focusing on the two driven lead characters and the effects their obsessions wrought on the people closest to them. The legendary cafe scene, pictured above, showcases a surprisingly moving exchange between Hanna and McCauley in which they realize that they are two sides of the same coin, one driven to hurt others through crime, the other to stop such victimization.

The Blu-ray features an excellent video transfer (for a film from 1995) and pounding Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio. Mann's commentary is also great. I recommend this one for home theater enthusiasts.

Mann up,


*sniff* I'm so Happy...

No, seriously.

According to just about everyone, actor Chris Evans has landed the role of Captain America in the upcoming The First Avenger: Captain America. Director Joe Johnston (Jumanji) is set to helm.

I'm so psyched on this bit of casting. You may be wondering whether or not Evans is really leading man material and whether or not you can ignore that he has already played Johnny Storm in two Fantastic Four movies. Stop worrying; if you haven't seen Danny Boyle's Sunshine, you're missing out. Evans stole the movie from Cillian Murphy and that one Bond/Jackie Chan girl.

That being said, Johnston had better not screw this up. I love Cap. But how can a movie about the only other notable comic book boy scout besides Superman be successful in an age of cynicism and violent anti-heroes? Darker tone, anyone?


Monday, March 22, 2010

This Guy was Better than Ridley Scott

Shoot, here's a post that's actually about movies.

Ridley Scott is a master craftsman because of his ability to, as he explains it, realize a vision on film. I love a few of his films, most notably Alien, Blade Runner, and Gladiator. Blade Runner is probably in my top ten movies of all time.

But that guy up there is John Martin Aloysius Feeney, a.k.a. John Ford (1894-1973). Ford made stuff like Stagecoach and The Quiet Man and How Green was My Valley. John Ford crafted lyrical poetry, and he did it with such surety that he could actually put his hat in front of the camera when he knew he had the footage he needed but was unhappy with the time it took for the cameraman to stop rolling.

Ridley Scott has been known to shoot about 5.3 million miles of film for every scene. Think about that.

And these are just the two gentleman that come to mind. I'm not picking on Scott; there are plenty of good and bad directors with both of these reputations.

Uncharted 2= Better Than That Crap You Play

Nate is the new Indy.

For those of you in the know, this is your rallying cry as a serious video gamer. (If you are a Wii gamer, you're at the wrong blog- try Nick Jr.'s website or some soccer mom's blog.) For Playstation 3 owners, the Uncharted series is the best intellectual property of the current console generation.

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (2007) and its outstanding sequel, Among Thieves (2009), have set the bar for video game production values. Their third person gunplay and platforming action were nearly flawless, and their story/ presentation were second to none. Playing Among Thieves, I often wish I could take a screenshot and frame it, so beautiful is the lighting and color, even when I'm playing multiplayer.

The hero, Nate Drake, is pictured above, flanked on the left by Among Thieves heroine Chloe Frazer. (Chloe is the one on the left.) If you want more evidence of the artistry, check out the embedded trailer for Among Thieves.

That's right, a teaser trailer for this game is that good. And, yes, the music from the trailer is in the game, composed by Greg Edmonson ("Firefly").

Nate Drake, for me, has become who Indian Jones should be and was until sometime around 12:01 am on May 22, 2008. Yeah, I can't remember specifically when he lost it, but it was sometime right around then.

Here We Go

Hey, both of you who will ever read this, I'm just getting started. I love to write, but I don't do enough of it. I've got to write more often to exercise this lazy brain of mine.

Yeah, I'll often be discussing cinema and it's slow, younger brother, "Hollywood Cinema." Just kidding; Hollywood features a ridiculous amount of talent, and it always has. The point is that I'm the type of person who watches DVD/Blu-ray commentaries and reads entire books about one film. If you're not, then you're probably at the wrong blog.

The ultimatum is this: my blog will be about movies and videogames and whatever else I feel like writing about. You're going to hear a lot about the X-Files book I'm trying futilely to write. And you get to do it all in glorious, proper/grammatically correct English.