Monday, September 29, 2008

Ben Folds "Way to Normal"

The much anticipated new album from Ben Folds finally hit stores (um, and the Pirate Bay) today. Upon my first listen, I have to admit that I was waiting for that ballad-type song that I've become accustomed to from Folds-- they're always my favorite. But most of this album is quirky, poppy songs, containing both his unique melodies as well as his now trademark, spot-on lyrics.

It wasn't until the second time I listened to the album all the way through that I caught up with a track called "Cologne." This is what I was looking for. It's a great, somewhat melancholy ballad. And the final song on the album, "Kylie from Connecticut" provides a nice companion piece, for those of you who, like me, like to indulge in songs of the the morose, heart breaking nature. That's right, I cry myself to sleep at night. Got a problem?

But I digress...

This in not to say that the rest of the album should be overlooked. His first single, "You Don't Know Me" is incredibly catchy. And the official versions of "Brainwascht" , "Dr. Yang", "Free Coffee" and "The Bitch went Nuts" are good-- though in my opinion none quite stack up to their bogus, leaked versions. I would suggest that you purchase this record, but also seek out the "leaked" versions of these songs for a more complete version of the album. (Read more about about that here.)

All in all, the album is really great. It's probably not going not be considered his masterpiece, especially coming after his previous two albums, "Rockin' the Suburbs" and "Songs for Silverman", both of which were absolutely amazing. It is, however, a terrific album and most definitely a must have for anyone who fancies themselves a fan of Ben Folds.

Score: 4 out of 5 

Below: Ben Folds - "Cologne"

Saturday, September 27, 2008

R.I.P. Paul Newman 1925-2008

Sad news from Hollywoodland. Legendary actor Paul Newman has succumbed to cancer at the age of 83.  The very definition of a movie star, Paul Newman starred in some of Hollywood's most memorable films such as "Cool Hand Luke", "Hud" and "Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid." That's not to mention what was arguably his most enduring role-- the face on the many varieties of Newman's Own food products, the proceeds of which went to numerous charities.

For me, though, I'll always remember Newman as Fast Eddie Felson from one of my favorite films, "The Hustler." It's a fantastic film in which every performance (including Jackie Gleason's role as Minnesota Fats) is just knocked right out of the park If you've never seen one of his films, this is a terrific place to start.

So, here's to you, Paul. I don't really drink alcohol, but today I'll buy a 40oz. just so I pour some out for thee.

"The Hustler" - 1961 - Dir. Robert Rossen

Sunday, September 21, 2008

DVD Review: "The Love Guru"

Good Lord, where do I even begin?

Look-- we all know Mike Myers is a compulsive joke-recycler. And while it wasn't yet apparent during his SNL days, or in his early film career-- it's undeniable now. This guy is using jokes that he's been riding for well over ten years now, and seemingly expecting them to still fly. Well, they don't.

Let's see what elements make up a Mike Myers souffle.

1.) Over-use of an accent. Check.
While it's usually Scottish ("So, I Married and Axe Murderer", "Shrek") or British ("Austin Powers")-- in this case, it's Indian. And an awfully bad Indian accent, at that.

2.)Verne Troyer. Check.
At least in the world of "Austin Powers" there was a reason to have a midg... dwar... very small guy in the film. He's mini-me-- a punchline to a legitimate joke in the film. But here, it seems Myers is simply exploiting Troyer as a walking, talking sight gag. We're expected to laugh at him simply because he is extraordinarily small. In this film he plays the coach of a professional hockey team-- with no explanation given as to why or how. They didn't even go as far as to jokingly say that he was a former player. Nothing. And not only that, but Myers brings back one of the only jokes tat was new in "Austin Powers 3"-- the Mole joke. Only here, instead of Myers not being able to take his eye off of a melanoma, he can't get over the fact hat Troyer is small. Bravo, Mr. Myers.

3.) An unbelievably hot love interest. Check.
I don't mean to say that Jessica Alba isn't unbelievably hot-- she is. But what is unbelievable here is that she is supposed to be attracted, sexually, to Myers' guru Pitka. This is pushing the bounds of suspension of disbelief to horizons I never thought possible.

4.)Musical numbers. Check.
Hated the musical numbers in Austin Powers 1, 2 and 3. Hated them in Shrek 1, 2 and 3. Hated it in this film. It's filler, and not funny in the least. Enough said.

5.)Jokes recycled from previous skits, characters and films. Check.
Without bringing up the many instances of lifted material from other sources, I'll jst say this-- It's safe to assume 50-60% of the script for this film may very well have been copied and pasted directly out of other scripts. I'm just saying...

Then there are the new additions that make this film terrible-- namely Justin Timberlake. There is nothing worse than someone who thinks they are funny, and because they are surrounded by yes men and glad-handers, none of whom have the cajones to tell them they aren't funny. His small role alone damn near ruined this film, like he ruined "Alpha Dog" and "Black Snake Moan." I really wish he would simply go back to making awful pop music that I never have to hear.

Also adding to the tally-- the utterly inane concept that passes for a plot in this film. I won't go into the specifics of the plot, because it's simply not worth it. Let's just say the climax of the film involves a literal climax-- as in an elephant reaching orgasm while mounting another elephant on the ice at Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. I am not joking. This is offensive to the idea of comedy, and is retroactively taking away from my opinion of Myers' previous works.

All in all, I just think that whatever Mike Myers once had, he's lost it. He simply cannot craft a decent character any more. Even Goldmember in "Austin Powers 3" was a half-baked concept. I think what he needs to do now is either A.) Hang it up for good. B.)Do a drama, and stay away from comedy for a bit. or C.) "Wayne's World 3." I vote for C. I have always thought that there was more that could be done with Wayne Campbell, and at least he'd have a competent sidekick in Dana Carvey/ Garth Algar. 

But as far as this film is concerned-- avoid it like the plague. Avoid it as if it will give you an STD. Avoid it as if you gave it an STD, and now it wants to talk.

Just avoid it.

Score: 0 out of 5

Friday, September 19, 2008

James @ The Trocadero -- 9/16/2008

I got the chance to see one of my all time favorite bands, James, in concert this week. Let me tell you-- it's awesome to finally see a band that you've loved for so long in concert. And they certainly delivered a terrific show.

The band Unkle Bob opened the show, and they're a decent band in their own right, but James owned the night. Lead singer Tim Booth's unique voice and utterly bizarre dancing style made for quite an entertaining set. The highlight of the show was Booth's acrobatic climb onto the upper balcony. He made it all the way to the top, where he performed the song "Born of Frustration" a mere five feet from my wife and I. It was fantastic!

Another highlight came during the encore performance. As most bands who are associated with a hit song do, they reserved their most well known tine ("Laid"-- most of you will know it as the theme from "American Pie") for last. Not only did they jam out, but they also invited about the first three rows of fans onto the stage to dance with them. It was definitely a memorable scene.

 Check out the videos below to get a dose of the concert. They don't come to America often, but  if you ever get the chance to see them live-- for God's sake, do it!

James Trocadero Philadelphia Encore

James Trocadero Philadelphia Tim climbing balcony.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Trailer:"Fear(s) of the Dark"

For some time now I've thought that it would be cool to see an animated horror film. Given the advances that CG animation has seen in recent years, the possibilities of what could be done are seemingly endless. Now, thanks to IFC Films, we'll finally get to see what this new breed of horror will look like.

"Fears of the Dark" is an anthology film created by some very impressive French graphic artists and animators. It consists of three short films, all of which are black & white, and each is presented in its own unique artistic style, providing a different texture and feel to them. From the trailer alone, this does look like a very cool film, however, I am a bit hesitant to say that it will be truly scary. There is just something about the distance from reality that the animation brings forth that makes the "horror" of a horror film not quite translate. But then again, I've yet to properly see the film, so we'll see...

In any case, the film is definitely on my radar now, and should be on yours. Look for it in theaters this February. Right in time for... Valentine's day? Check out the trailer below.

Source: Film Junk

Monday, September 15, 2008

Jon Writes for the Screen is on Facebook

I went ahead and put together a little Facebook group in support of the ol' blog. Every little bit helps, right? So if you are on Facebook, and I haven't already inundated you with requests to join, you may do so right here.

Go on. Sign up.
Everybody's doing it.

On a serious note...

This past week, Hurricane Ike tore through Texas like, well like a hurricane. Thankfully, most residents were able to flee to safety before the storm hit, but a lot of animals were left displaced and in serious danger after the worst of the storm had passed. The Humane Society is now working to rescue many of these animals left in the wake of the hurricane, and could use all of our support. 

They are now accepting donations at their website here. Not feeling generous? Take a look at the photo of the cat stuck in that tree, you heartless bastard. You can't part with a few ducats to make sure the cats and dogs of Texas are okay? But seriously, if you can spare some bucks, they could use it.

Anyhow, just thought I'd pass that along.

The Bat's outta the bag? Not quite...

Ever since the (ridiculous?) success of "The Dark Knight", rumors have swirled about the next film in the series, and specifically which characters from the Batman universe would be portrayed by which A-list actors. Don't you just love today's film fans? We're not happy to just enjoy the films we have--  we choose rather to focus on what's next before deals are made and scripts are even written. Amazing. Anyhow-- of course they're going to make a sequel! If there's anything for absolutely certain, it's that any film that makes that much money in Hollywood will no doubt be treated to a sequel-- and probably more than one. (I know-- "The Dark Knight" itself is a sequel...)

Also, given the posthumous career bump that Heath Ledger received for his role as the Joker, what actor wouldn't want to be the next one to take on the reigns, and try to one-up the villainy in the next film. Some may consider trying to top the Joker a fool's errand, but I don't think so. As long as the character and portrayal are sufficiently different, this would be a prime role for any actor. Which brings me to my next point...

It was erroneously reported last week that Michael Caine let slip the fact that not only will there be a sequel, but the film will star Johnny Depp as the Riddler and Philip Seymour-Hoffman as the Penguin. And even though story has since been debunked and retracted, it still sounds on par with what Hollywood would try to force into the next movie.

My question is-- Do we really need Johnny Depp as the next Batman villain in the "Nolanverse?" Nothing against Depp-- hell, I'm actually a huge fan of his. I just think that it's enough already-- Johnny Depp is the ultimate actor of this generation. I get it! I'd rather they cast someone who goes somewhat against type, as they did with Ledger. Look back at the ire of the fanboy nation when he was announced as the Joker. Cut to a year and a half later, and he's the greatest Joker ever. Go figure. Casting Depp in Batman will do nothing more than surprise nobody, and make the goth/emo employees of Hot Topic cream their jeans. What about an actor like Guy Pierce (who starred in Nolan's "Memento") or even maybe a relative unknown. Okay-- that won't happen. But Depp is too easy. I thought the same thing about Angelina Jolie being rumored as Catwoman. Too obvious and too boring.

Now, of course, this should all be taken with a grain of salt. After all, there have also been reports of actors ranging from Brain Austin Green, Cher, Tera Patrick and several others being up for roles. I'm just saying, I hope this series doesn't get out of the hands of the man who has made it what it is-- Christopher Nolan. I'd like to think that he'd rather not make another film in the series than ruin it with forced casting. But, then again, who could turn down the type of money he'll be getting for the next movie.

Eh... I'm just talking shit now. I'll see it regardless. But you get my point, right?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Not for nothing, but...

Would it be too much to ask for Apple to include an AM/FM tuner in the iPod? After all, I can watch "Lawerence of Arabia" on the 2.5 inch screen, but I can't tune in to an AM broadcast? I mean, this is a method of audio transmission that's been going strong for, oh, about a century now. I'm pretty sure it's here to stay. So, Mr. Jobs, can you throw that feature in, straight out of the box, for the $299 price tag. Maybe?

That is all.

Essential DVD: "Grand Illusion"

Criterion has always been known for releasing some of the finest, and most well preserved films available on DVD. In fact, their name alone pretty much ensures that you've got a quality film, and the best possible print you're likely to find. And if you've ever wanted to get into classic film, but didn't know where to start, they've now made it rather easy for you with their  five film "Essential Art House" collection. This set caters almost specifically to film fans who may otherwise be reticent to jump into classic films. They are hand picked to ease you into a world of truly wonderful film that isn't exactly widely discussed in the mainstream.

The set includes Jean Cocteau's "Beauty and the Beast", Akira Kurosawa's "Rashomon", Roman Polanski's "Knife in the Water", William Golding's "Lord of the Flies", Ingmar Bergman's "Wild Strawberries", and Jean Renoir's "The Grand Illusion."

Boy, don't you feel more like a film snob just reading those names? I know I do. But I digress...

My personal choice as to where to start is with Jean Renoir's "Grand Illusion." The synopsis according to TCM is as follows:

"During 1st WW, two French officers are captured. Captain De Boeldieu is an aristocrat while Lieutenant Marechal was a mechanic in civilian life. They meet other prisoners from various backgrounds, as Rosenthal, son of wealthy Jewish bankers. They are separated from Rosenthal before managing to escape. A few months later, they meet again in a fortress commanded by the aristocrat Van Rauffenstein. De Boeldieu strikes up a friendship with him but Marechal and Rosenthal still want to escape..."

Okay, so it's not the most captivating synopsis, but it's a fantastic film nonetheless. It's also usually,
unfortunately, left of off most lists of the best war films of all time. Tsk Tsk.

The full set is available, at quite a low price, at
Amazon and even more reasonably priced from the Criterion Store. And if you're really on a budget, the films are available separately for about $15 each. Not a bad price to buy you some culture and bona fide film-nerd street cred.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Passing on the Podcasts

In the year and two months since I've had my iPod, I've become something of an obsessive podcast listener. Maybe it's the fact that there is never anything good on FM radio these days, or maybe it's the lack of movie oriented talk radio pretty much anywhere. But, for whatever reason, I've really come to love podcasts.

From the more serious, critique related shows, like Filmspotting and Battleship Pretension, to the more fun, pop culture oriented shows like the Slashfilmcast and Scene unseen-- I love them all. But I'd have to say my favorite of all of the podcasts out there is the fine Canadian movie podcast FilmJunk.

If you know me personally, I've probably (unsuccessfully) recommended this show to you. Well, I'm going to do it again-- listen to this podcast! It's the best weekly podcast about movies and pop culture going, and it's free! I've included the 2007 year end video podcast if you want to give it a look. This will give you some idea what he weekly podcast is like, though the weekly show is audio only.

It's a funny show, and the hosts usually have some insightful thoughts about the week's top stories and their reviews. So check it out-- you may end up liking it as much as I do. And if not, there's always Top 40 radio, right?

NOTE: The actual show begins at 3:20. Up to that point is the intro, which I happen to think is pretty funny. But if you want to just check out the show, skip to 3:20. Peace.

Film Junk Year End Video Podcast from Jay Cheel on Vimeo.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Hoo-ray for Blu-Ray-- (this format better last)

After the debacle that was HD-DVD, I decided to hold off for a while before diving back into the high def realm. At least I thought I would. Turns out I'm a movie nerd-- who knew? So I finally took the plunge and got myself a blu-ray player.

Now, I'm not as blown away by the image and sound as I was with the HD player, simply because it's not the first time I'm seeing an HD image. But, man is it nice. Anyone who says that the difference between DVD and blu-ray is negligible needs to get their eyes checked.

Unfortunately, my schoolwork has put my free time at a premium, so I haven't had the chance to fully enjoy any films. But believe me, I have a few lined up in my queue (namely, "Pan's Labyrinth" and "Dark City") that I can't wait to fire up. For now, I've relegated any movie watching to the weekends only, at least until I have a draft of my script that I'm happy with.  Ahhhh-- there's nothing like buying a new toy, only to force yourself to not play with it.

So, I should have some blu-ray reviews to be posted in the next few weeks. And, hopefully, I'll get around to posting my review of last month's MonsterMania 11 sometime soon.

Until then, don't forget to check out Mike Lizzio's new blog. Peace.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Trying out Google "Chrome"

I'm a sucker for new internet-tech stuff. So, when I heard that the folks at Google were trying their hand at a new web browser, set to compete with Microsoft's Internet Explorer, I was definitely up for trying it out.

So far, it's pretty damn intuitive. The basic home page displays thumbnail images of all of your most frequently visited sites, which is really convenient. And the program stores your passwords, which is actually a huge help. For instance-- it remembers your password for MySpace and has it waiting for you in the password box, so that when you log on to the page, you simply have to hit the "log on' button and you're in. It's simple, I know, but I've always hated that MySpace doesn't allow you to save your password.

Other than a few glitches that have to do with flash plugins that aren't yet available, Google Chrome is pretty awesome. And a few bugs are to be expected-- it is only a beta version, after all.

So if you're up for trying something new to spruce up your web browsing experience, you can downlioad the beta version here.

Notice: With Google Chrome, some blogs that use analytic software to track who is visiting the site will give you a prompt that says the site may contain "Malware." I assume his will be addressed, but in the meantime, at least on my site, disregard it. I use MadKast analytics software, and there is no threat of malware from my site. I swear.

Now enter your Credit Card number and Social Security Number in the comments section.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

R.I.P. Don LaFontaine -- The King of Voice-Overs

You may not know his face, but if you've seen a movie trailer during the last 25 years, you certainly know his voice.
Don LaFontaine, whose deep, throaty voice provided the description for thousands of movie trailers, passed away this weekend due to complications from a collapsed lung.

This was the guy when it came to voicing a commercial advertisement. He was even the one who coined the now-cliche trailer catch phrase "In a world..."

LaFontaine was a giant in a section of the industry that often goes unnoticed, but his presence will surely be felt now that he's gone. He was that good. I assume that a load of imitators will be vying for the jobs he would have had, but let's face it-- this guy wrote the book on voice-overs.

Anyway, check out the video below to learn a little bit more about the man-- who seemed like a pretty damn cool guy.

I tip my forty for you today, Don.