Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"Kittens" inspired by Kittens

This is my favorite video currently on the entire internet. 

Is there an oscar for YouTube clips?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Jon's 2009 Oscar Picks

Best Picture
"The Wrestler." What's that? It wasn't nominated? Oh... uh, then it should go to "The Dark Knight". What? That wasn't nominated either? Well... I dunno. Then, I guess just give it to whoever you want. Okay, so I guess "Slumdog Millionaire" it is, then.

Best Actor
Mickey Rourke. Hands down. Yeah, he's been in some shit movies, and he looks kinda weird, and those chihuahuas... what is with those chihuahuas? But, when it comes down to the performance, his Randy "The Ram" Robinson was utterly transcendent.

Best Actress
So, the easy choice here would be to say Kate Winslet. But I have a feeling that Anne Hathaway is going to pull this one out. She is on someone's short list to be an upcoming A-list actress, and this will be just what she needs to have that solidified. But the Academy does love Winslet...

Best Supporting Actor
Heath Ledger. Yawn. It's not that I didn't like his performance-- I loved it! But it's just been so long, and there has been so much hyperbole about his performance that I'm just looking forward to giving him the award and being done with it.

Best Supporting Actress
I'm going out on a limb, and saying Amy Adams, from "Doubt." She is an A-Lister in the making.

Best Original Screenplay
I would like for "In Bruges" to win, but I think "Milk" will have this one locked up because it will be the only chance for the Academy to give the film a chance at Oscar gold. And, ahem, what about "The Wrestler"?

Best Adapted Screenplay
"Slumdog Millionaire". This one is deserved. Good script. But, I still think "The Dark Knight" should have been nominated here...

Best Cinematography
I think people will assume that this will go to "Benjamin Button", but that will be due in large part to many people ascribing the look of the film to the cinematography, when really the film's look is dominated by visual effects and digital filters. So, having said that, I think this one will go to Wally Pfister for "The Dark Knight." It's the only chance for the film to win an Oscar, and they damn well better give it to him.

Best Director
Danny Boyle, "Slumdog Millionaire" I really like Danny Boyle a lot. I have no problem with him winning. However, I have a huge problem with the fact that neither Christopher Nolan nor Darren Aronofsky were even nominated. How in the hell did that happen?

Best Animated Feature
Wall-E. Yeah. Another year, another Pixar Oscar. And sure, it was really great and all... it's just I miss 2d animation. I really do.

The Oscars are on this Sunday, February 22nd. I suppose I'll post again after the show, discussing how well my picks went over. If you want to watch a good live blog during the show, head over to Film Junk. I'll be in their uStream room for the whole show. 

Song of the Week: "I'd Hate to Leave You" by Will Stratton

I came across Will Stratton while looking to see if there was anything new on the horizon for one of my favorite musicians-- Sufjan Stevens. While there's nothing new for Sufjan, apparently Will Stratton is  a protege of Stevens', and they even collaborate on Stratton's fantastic debut album, "What the Night Said."

Stratton is primarily an acoustic artist, and his songs are delightfully depressing-- a quality I love in my music. I don't need to be driven to commit suicide by a song, but if it plants the seed of an untimely demise, it's tops in my book. 

Anyhow, Stratton only has one album out as of now-- his second will be out soon. And though I've only recently discovered his music, I have listened to it over and over. It's really great to find a new artist that I like as much as Stratton. 

So give it a listen, and if you get a chance, look him up on iTunes. That's right-- I'm asking you to pay for his music. 

Paying for music-- what a novel idea! I know-- It's something I'm no longer accustomed to myself. But in this case, it's well worth it.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Werner Herzog's "Conquest of the Useless"

One of my favorite filmmakers, Werner Herzog, has a new book coming out very soon. It's called Conquest of the Useless, and it details his experiences in film, and particularly the making of the awesome movie "Fitzcarraldo."

I don't know that much about the book, other than what the Amazon description says about it, which is listed below. But, I mean, come on-- it's Werner Herzog.

The book is out on June 30th.

Needless to say, I'll be giving this one a read.

"Fitzcarraldo", written and directed by Werner Herzog, stars Klaus Kinski as the title character - a would-be rubber baron Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, an Irishman called Fitzcarraldo in Peru, who has to pull a steamship over a steep hill in order to access a rich rubber territory. The film is derived from the real-life story of Peruvian rubber baron Carlos Fermin Fitzcarrald. In his autobiographical film "Portrait Werner Herzog", Herzog has stated that the film's spectacular production was an incredible ordeal. It famously involved moving a 320-ton steamship over a hill without the use of special effects. Herzog believes that no one has ever performed a similar feat in history, and likely never will again, calling himself 'Conquistador of the Useless'. The casting of the film was also quite difficult. Jason Robards was originally cast in the title role, but he became ill and was forced to leave. Herzog then considered casting Jack Nicholson, and even playing Fitzcarraldo himself, before Klaus Kinski accepted the role. By that point, forty percent of shooting was complete and Herzog insisted on a total reshoot with Kinski. Mick Jagger was originally cast as Fitzcarraldo's assistant Wilbur, but his shooting schedule expired and he departed to tour with the Rolling Stones. Though none of the major cast members spoke English natively, the original soundtrack was recorded in English, as it was the only language common to the lead actors. Klaus Kinski himself was a major source of tension, as he fought with Herzog and other members of the crew. In his documentary "My Best Fiend", Herzog says that one of the local Peruvian chiefs who was an extra in the film offered to murder Kinski for him, but Herzog declined because he needed Kinski to complete filming. Les Blank's documentary "Burden of Dreams", about the production of the film, also documents these many hardships. Herzog won the 1982 Best Director at Cannes for the film, which was hailed by critics around the globe. "

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Song of the Week: "Paranoid Android" by Rockabye Baby!

This week's selection came to me during an insomnia induced perusal of the bowels of the iTunes store. So, apparently "Rockabye Baby!" is a musical ensemble that caters to the ultra-hip, "we-gave-our baby-a-quirky-name" set. If that sounds disdainful, there's a good reason-- I typically find this segment of the population tremendously annoying. But, I listened to some of these "lullabies" out of sheer curiosity. Turns out they're actually kind of cool.

When I write, I like to listen to instrumental music-- and this stuff fits the bill. I downloaded some Radiohead, Pink Floyd and Coldplay, and I have to say, I am really enjoying it.

I'm sure this one is not going to be for everybody, but you should check it out, if only for the quirkiness factor. And please, do what you can to refrain from naming your children after inanimate objects. Thank you.


Monday, February 9, 2009

DVD Review: "Mirrors"

In 1999, director Gore Verbinski remade a little known Japanese film entitled “The Ring.” The film was a tremendous success with critics and audiences alike. What followed was a firestorm of Japanese horror (known as “J-horror”) remakes, all of which attempted to capitalize on the creepy aesthetic “The Ring” had introduced. To a varying degree, some of these films were successful. Though, more often than not, the visual style of the remakes was the only element that transferred, leaving out a rather important ingredient—a good story. Alexandre Aja’s “Mirrors”—a well intentioned, yet narratively lacking film, seems to be riding out the tail end of the more lack-luster trend of J-horror remakes.

Keifer Sutherland stars as Ben Carson, a disgraced police officer trying to piece together his broken life. In an effort to clean himself up, he takes a job guarding a boarded up, distractingly out-of-place department store in the heart of New York City. From the beginning of his first shift, Carson notices something strange about the spotless mirrors that populate the entire store. He’s quickly (arguably too quickly) thrust into a devilish game, wherein the mirrors reflect horrific images that unfortunately effect the real world that Carson lives in. The mirrors presented a unique, yet oddly difficult horror antagonist. On one hand, if Carson and his family can simply steer clear of mirrors, they seem to be relatively safe. So, just cover every mirror, right? Not exactly-- the ghastly visions inexplicably begin to appear within any surface that displays a reflection. But hey, I’m all for suspension of disbelief, so long as the story is engaging enough to warrant it. This one, unfortunately, didn’t quite maintain a high enough level of interest.

One area in which the film does succeed is its special effects. “Mirrors” contains some genuinely creepy visuals, and one set-piece in particular that took the gore factor to a level this reviewer has rarely seen. Needless to say, that scene was the highlight of the film, and this review would certainly be different if they had found a way to bring that level of horror to the film just a few more times.

As it stands, the film caves in on itself in the third act, becoming just a standard “man saves his family from certain doom” type of flick. The film had a solid concept, but simply not enough meat to satisfy even a casual horror fan. Though, fans of Sutherland’s Jack Bauer character from “24” will certainly get their fill of brooding, and gruff screaming in this one. The film is worth a look, if just for the aforementioned bathroom scene. However, you could save yourself some time, and easily find that clip on the net. If it’s thrills you’re looking for, you’ll find one or two here—though you would be better served to visit Alexandre Aja’s earlier films such as “High Tension” and “The Hills Have Eyes.”

Score: 2 out of 5

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Song of the Week: "Rebel, Rebel" by Seu Jorge

Okay, so obviously I'm a huge David Bowie fan. But this week's selection is actually a cover of one of his songs. Anyone familiar with Wes Anderson's film "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" will recognize Seu Jorge, as he had a small part in the film. In fact, he performed a few of Bowie's songs in the film.

He later released an entire album of Bowie covers in his native language, Portuguese. The songs lose nothing in the translation, and in fact they sort of become their own entities-- the melody is familiar, but the cadence of the lyrics is slightly off, and you hear things you may never have before. For someone who has been listening to Bowie since my older sister introduced me to his music (and his crotch) a long time ago in "Labyrinth", I was under the false assumption that I had heard all of the possible iterations of Bowie. I was wrong. Even if you're just a casual fan, this is worth a listen. It's available on iTunes, I believe. And it's also available, um... on that thing.... what's it called? Torrent, or something?

However you procure the music, do yourself a big favor and give it a few listens. My wife was at a loss when I requested this one for Christmas a few years ago. But after letting (forcing?) her listen to it, she has actually become a bit of a fan herself. I think you will, too.


This video is a "found footage" youtube clip. Kinda cool.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

R U Professional?

This one came to my attention thanks to Jay Cheel of the Film Junk Podcast. It's a mash-up of the Christian Bale blow-up on the set of "Terminator: Salvation." All I have to say about that is, what a douche. And I like Christian Bale as an actor-- a lot! But, come on buddy, it's a Terminator movie. And I know-- he's a method actor and all that. But there's a line, and he went way beyond what should be considered acceptable-- on a film set or otherwise.

And, you have to wonder if, in retrospect, Bale is struck by the irony of his asking if someone else is professional, whilst in the middle of his horrific, expletive-filled, completely unprofessional tirade?

Anyhow, this song is the work of a band called The Mae Shi. And for a bit of audio that was released just over 24 hours ago, this is pretty damn good. 

So, I hope you enjoy the mash-up-- because the object of Bale's ire, Director of Photography Shane Hurlbut, sure as shit didn't enjoy the original version.

Double Dipped? Again?

My favorite film of all time is Carol Reed's masterpiece "The Third Man." I watched my VHS copy so many times I literally almost wore the tape out-- It really is that good. (I only ever did that to one other VHS tape-- Luc Besson's "The Professional")

The first time the film was released in a deluxe edition was in the initial wave of Criterion discs, back when Criterion was only releasing Laserdiscs. Now, I'm not old enough to have purchased Laserdiscs, but I know that they were somewhere near $100 bucks a piece. (Of course, now that Laserdiscs are laughably outdated, I was able to grab the disc on Ebay for about $8.00)

So, my first real chance at the Criterion disc for myself was when it was released on DVD. And you better believe I bought it right up-- despite it's $38.99 price tag. Hey-- I'm a hard-workin' guy, and as such, I treat my self now and again.

Cut to three years later, and I get news of yet another, newer Criterion release of "The Third Man." Hmm. Well, Like I said, it is my favorite film. So of course, when it came out, I bought it. Luckily I was able to nab it for a "steal"-- $32.99. And, though the disc does now include a really cool commentary by Steven Soderbergh, that's about the only change that I've noticed. = I really don't mind the double dip too much, because now I see that I am sort of collecting the various versions of the film-- (so far, VHS, Laserdisc, Criterion DVD 1, Criterion DVD 2.)

But now, we all know the new high point of home video viewing is Blu-Ray. And I admit, it is amazing. No argument. But (ahem) now they're rolling out the first wave of Criterion Blu-Ray discs, and guess what film is one of the first titles available. That's right-- "The Third Man."

So, here are my questions:

1.) Do I buy it? I mean, I'm anal, and it'll irk me that this would be the only version that I don't own. And though it's the exact same version as the second Criterion release, this one is blu-ray. You simply will not beat the picture and sound of a blu ray disc.

2.) Am I an idiot? I mean, am I playing right into the hands of the Home Video industry?

The sad truth is, I'm going to buy it. There never was a real doubt about that. But I'm still interested to see what people think about the double dip, or in this case, the double-double dip. Let me know where you stand by filling out your answer below.