Friday, March 25, 2011

Sucker Punch

Holy crap! Sucker Punch was absolutely phenomenal. Awesome, awesome movie. Surpassed my every expectation, and then some. Zack Snyder, you, sir, have completely outdone yourself this time.

The movie is played through the perspective of different characters, who each see the world in a different light. Everything about the way they view the world changes once we're in their perspective, such as the way people talk and dress. It's a neat way of telling this story about a bunch of over-imaginative girls stuck in a loony bin as they try desperately to find a way to escape. And when all is said and done, everything wraps up nice and tightly for an extremely satisfying conclusion.

For anybody that has an imagination with a tendency to run wild, you will definitely appreciate what this movie has in store for you. I find the film's theme of escaping through fantasy to be very relatable. The imagery is like something pulled straight out of my own head. This is Snyder's first non-adapted work, and he uses all of the techniques he's learned and mastered over his film making career thus far, combining them together to make his masterpiece. So, if you're not a fan of Snyder's style, then you probably won't like this one too much. However, if like me you enjoyed his previous works, such as 300 and Watchmen, then this movie was made just for you.

One of the big complaints about Snyder's style is his over-use of slow motion. And yes, there are a few scenes of slow motion, including one entire action scene shot entirely in slow-mo. But unlike some films, such as last year's Resident Evil: Afterlife, where the over-use leaves you bored and rolling your eyes, Snyder manages to keep things intense and engaging all throughout these scenes.

It's not just the visuals, but the musical cues as well. Many scenes feel like you're watching a music video. The various re-worked classic tracks are beautifully performed, and add so much to the action on the screen.

I loved pretty much everything about this movie. It's brilliant, the visuals are out of this world, the accompanying music is outstanding, and the ladies are jaw droppingly gorgeous. And lets face it, who doesn't love watching a bunch of beautiful women kicking all kinds of ass?

I don't hand out numerical scores too often these days, but I'd have no problems giving this film an easy 10/10. This is one of the best movies I've seen in some time, by a director who's quickly rising up the ranks among my absolute favorites of recent times.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

My Chemical Romance

When talking about My Chemical Romance, I should probably start with the beginning. I was introduced to them through the song "I'm Not Okay", and I instantly wrote them off as just another worthless emo band. But then I heard their next single, "Helena", and I was swayed to change my mind about this band entirely.

I love this song. And I love the music video, which is, to this day, the very best music video I've ever seen. Not just for this band, I mean ever. It floored me when I first saw it, and it continues to floor me whenever I rewatch it today. I loved the song so much that, despite hating their previous single, I went out and bought the album Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge soon after.

Three Cheers is an almost perfect album, with "I'm Not Okay", ironically enough, being the only song holding it back from absolute perfection. And even then, over the years, even that song has somewhat grown on me, though I do still tend to skip it from time to time. But my god, everything else on this album is just brilliant. It's a modern day rock album unlike any other. Each and every song is like a drug, addicting in their own ways. So much so that, as I admitted to my brother upon graduating, this album helped get me through boot camp, despite not actually being able to literally listen to it. All of the songs were etched into my brain, and there was rarely a night when these songs weren't blaring in my head, keeping me awake as I stood my post on firewatch.

It was also the military that introduced me to MCR's earlier works. A buddy of mine let me borrow their first CD, I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love. You can see where their sound for the Three Cheers album started here, though there's more of a grunginess to it's overall production. I like the album, though there are a few songs, particularly in the second half, which are a bit dull, a trait that would rear its head in one of their later albums.

But the boring songs are completely offset by some of the most powerful music I have ever heard. None more so than "Skylines and Turnstiles". Going back to My Chemical Romance's origins, the band's frontman, Gerard Way, was originally going to be a cartoonist, and even had something lined up with Cartoon Network at one time. But then 9/11 happened and changed all of that. Impacted by the travesty, he decided to take a different rout with his life, which ultimately lead to the formation of the band My Chemical Romance. The reason I mention all of this is because the song "Skylines and Turnstiles" is based on the events that happened during 9/11. And you can just feel the raw, overwhelming power that this song emotes. Even if this were the only good song on it, the album would still be entirely worth it just for that one song, that's how good it is.

As I said before, you can hear the natural progression from Bullets to Three Cheers. And that natural progression is always at hand from one album to the next. But the thing about these guys is that they're not always just churning out the same thing over and over again like some bands do. This band completely revamps their style and completely redefines themselves as a band over and over again, all while still managing to remain true to their roots. And in doing so, each new album has its very own original identity. And that originality never rings truer than with their third album, The Black Parade.

Essentially a concept album, The Black Parade tries out a variety of different sounds. Some of them work better than others, though none of them are particularly bad. And through each song is a new piece to a bigger story at hand here about a dying cancer patient. In many ways this album feels like it's tailor made to be a musical, and that never feels more true than once you have a listen to the live version, The Black Parade is Dead!.

As good as these guys are in the studio, they may very well be even better live. And unlike most bands who perform live, their songs don't just sound like live versions of what you hear on the CD. My assessment that they revamp their music carries over onto the stage as well, as they manage to breath an entirely new life into all of their songs. Yes, they're essentially the same songs, but they're performed in such a way that they become their own entity altogether. For instance, listening to the studio version of "Welcome to the Black Parade" versus the live version sounds like listening to two entirely different songs. They're both fantastic, and the lyrics and music are all the same. But the live performance manages to bring this song, and all their others, to life in a such a way that I can't even really find the right words to explain.

Their latest album is Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. It takes off of one of the many established sounds produced in The Black Parade, most notably from the song "Famous Last Words", and pretty much runs with it. It's not the sound I would have preferred, though they manage to make it work to some brilliant effects. This is the album I alluded to before when I said that, like the first, it has a tendency to be bland at parts. There are also pointless skit tracks throughout that really kill the momentum of this album, one of which randomly includes the American national anthem, which just feels really out of place. But also similar to the first album, there are some extremely powerful songs at play here. "Bulletproof Heart" and "The Only Hope for Me Is You" both manage to rise high above the rest as the stand outs on this album, and express a similar emotional energy found in "Skylines and Turnstiles".

Overall, this band has become one of, if not my absolute favorite bands of all time. All of their albums are good, and one is the closest to being perfect that I've probably ever heard. They're a fun, energetic, and powerful band, one that deserves a lot more recognition than they currently receive. I do think that the thing that hurts this band the most is the "emo" label they've been stuck with, but I personally don't think that this label is an accurate fit. It all started at the beginning with their first big single, "I'm Not Okay", which also just so happens to be their only real "emo" song. Perhaps it's just an example of a bad first impression, which I can totally relate to. After all, my first impression of this band wasn't a good one, either. But I couldn't be happier to have given this band a much deserved second chance, because otherwise I would have missed out on some of the best music in this day and age.

I originally thought to write this blog as I was compiling a list of my personal top 10 best My Chemical Romance songs. I didn't arrange them in order from best to worst, but rather, in my preferred listening order. And looking at some of the song titles, it's almost refreshing how, especially in their in their earlier works, they didn't just name their songs based on the lyrics in the chorus. Just another little thing that I've grown to love about the band. So if you really want an idea of what it is about this band that makes me love them so much, then have a listen to some of these brilliant songs.

"Welcome to the Black Parade" - The Black Parade
"Helena" - Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge
"House of Wolves" - The Black Parade
"You Know What They Do to Guys Like Us in Prison" - Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge
"Bulletproof Heart" - Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys
"Honey, This Mirror Isn't Big Enough for the Two of Us" - I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love
"Dead!" - The Black Parade
"Thank You for the Venom" - Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge
"Skylines and Turnstiles" - I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love
"The Only Hope for Me Is You" - Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys

Monday, March 14, 2011

How DARE You Like That Movie!!

It's not easy being a fan of "bad movies".

I've run into this situation a countless number of times. Either myself, or somebody else, mentions the fact that they happen to enjoy a movie which is generally seen as being "bad". This is then followed by somebody else coming up behind them and verbally attacking that person for expressing his opinions. For instance, most recently online, I witness someone mention that they're a fan of Star Wars: Episode II. Some self-righteous prick decided to respond to this person, saying that their opinion on film as a whole has now been invalidated since, as a result of enjoying this generally poorly received movie, they clearly don't know what they're talking about.

This infuriates me, and while I wasn't personally involved in that particular exchange, I have been on the receiving end of it more times than I'd like to admit. And it's not just anonymous faces on the internet who are doing this. I've had this happen in real life, too, which leads to a very uncomfortable situation where I'm suddenly forced to defend my personal tastes.

Spider-Man 3 and the Star Wars prequels are some of my favorite movies in recent times. All of these movies receive, in my opinion, an unwarranted amount of hatred on by a very vocal portion of society. And I have had the fact that I like these films thrown in my face by these people on many occasions. If I'm not a fan of a movie getting good reviews, "Yeah, but you liked Spider-Man 3, so your opinion doesn't matter." Or if I happen to kinda like a film that's getting panned, and try to defend its good points in a debate, "Aren't you the guy who listed Tron: Legacy as his second best film of the year? Yeah, that shows what you know."

But why does one's appreciation of "bad movies" even play a role in determining how informed someone is on the subject at hand? Why is it that people who can see good in places where others see nothing but bad are looked down on? From my perspective, I think it shows that people like myself are, perhaps, maybe a little more open-minded than those who blindly shun what society has deemed "bad". We don't allow society to dictate our opinions for us. We have a mind of our own, and we embrace it.

The way I see it, being a fan of film doesn't just mean enjoying what you're supposed to enjoy, while scoffing at what you're supposed to scoff at. It means being able to find a true, genuine enjoyment in a wide variety of films, and to be able to enjoy a movie for what it is. Some movies aren't meant to be "good". That doesn't necessarily make them unenjoyable, or dare I say, "bad".

And just because we enjoy those "bad movies", that doesn't mean we don't like the good ones, too. We most certainly do, and by accepting movies for what they are, both the "good" and the "bad", we are presented with a wide spectrum of films to enjoy at our disposal. But that's not to say that I enjoy all films. I have several films I don't like, some considered good, some considered bad. The thing is, though, I attack the films themselves. I don't have a problem with an individual who enjoys those films, and I won't shun someone for expressing those views.

I guess I never understood the reasoning behind attacking the movie-goer for his opinions, rather than just the movie itself. If you don't like that particular movie, that's fine. But why think lower of me because of a difference in taste? Don't attack me for being a fan of it. Attacking the movie itself will do just fine. Why can't we just agree to disagree and leave the personal attacks out of it?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Cut It Out: The Green Hornet and Battle: Los Angeles

I recently watched two movies which were good, but not as good as they could have been had they undergone some proper editing. The two movies that I'll be talking about today, as you could probably tell from the title, are The Green Hornet and Battle: Los Angeles. Now, I don't go into movies trying to pick things out that are wrong with them. But when something does go wrong, it tends to stick out like a sore thumb.

First, lets start with The Green Hornet. Hidden underneath this jumbled mess of film, there's actually a decent movie here. Sadly, as it is, this movie is riddled with scene after scene that either overstay their welcome or should have been cut altogether. There's dialogue-heavy scenes that just go nowhere, such as James Franco's cameo near the beginning of the movie. Yeah, it was neat, in a geeky sort of way, seeing the Green Goblin make an appearance in The Green Hornet, but this scene does little to actually add anything to the movie. Franco's lines start out funnily enough, but as he continues to go on and on and on, the comedy quickly runs thin, and I'm left anxiously waiting for them to just get to the point already.

There's also a number of action scenes that overrun their course and just become tiresome. For example, there's a scene where our two main characters engage in a brawl throughout a house. It starts off entertaining enough, and actually has somewhat of a comedic aspect to it. But then the brawl just kind of goes on and on and on. And just when you think it's about to end, it doesn't. Nope, it still goes on and on and on, and by the time it's finally over, you'll be feeling exhausted.

But scenes that run longer than necessary aren't the worst offenders in this movie. Nope, it gets worse. There's an entire sequence near the end of the movie which is completely out of place, and it takes you completely out of the film (you know, where this scene belongs). It's a sequence where our main character plays out the entire story up to this point through his head, narrating it all the way. It's an offensive scene that slaps the audience in the face with its redundancy, and assumes that everyone watching is a complete and total idiot who hasn't been paying any attention at all. The only purpose this serves is to waste even more time than have already been wasted up to this point. It's also filmed in an entirely different, almost psychedelic, style from the rest of the movie, which makes it stand out even more. They try to play off this scene as an excuse to show us how slow and dumb our main character is. The thing is, for anyone actually paying even the slightest bit of attention, we already got that part earlier on in the movie.

It's almost as if they were trying to make this movie longer on purpose. But had they just trimmed some of the scenes down, yeah, it would have made the movie a little shorter. But it would have made it a helluva lot stronger, too. Like I said before, though, there actually is a good movie hidden underneath all of that rubbish. Some of the action scenes are actually done well, and the movie can even be really funny at times, too. I wouldn't necessarily recommend this movie, but I wouldn't completely dismiss it, either. I've read that they had a number of issues producing this film, and it shows. But as much time as they may have spent fixing things up, it clearly wasn't enough.

Now, the next movie I want to talk about doesn't have nearly the number of problems as The Green Hornet, though the problems it does have are similar. Battle: Los Angeles is actually a good movie. In fact, while I know it's early, I'd be willing to call it the best movie this year so far, if not for one major, major problem. And that problem is the beginning.

The first 15-20 minutes of this film are just horrible. They introduce us to our main characters, just hours before the alien invasion begins. This is all pretty much standard stuff, but what sucks is the way in which these opening scenes are filmed. It's as if someone handed a camera to some newbie who wanted to try out all of the different camera options while filming. The shots are wobbly, with random zoom-ins and extreme close-ups on faces throughout.

To clarify, this handheld style of filming can work, assuming the film is supposed to be shot from this perspective, ala The Blair Witch Project or Cloverfield. But here, it's clear that our characters aren't involved in any sort of documentary type feature, so the fact that it's filmed in this amateurish style hurts it a great deal. It quickly becomes nauseating the watch, and I actually considered just walking out of the theater right then and there. No way was I about to sit through two hours of this horrible, unprofessional style of filming.

It's a good thing I decided to stay, because once our introductions are over, the film is actually really good. It's pretty much non-stop action from this point on, and the movie excels in this respect. And finally seeing an alien invasion film from a military perspective is really refreshing. It's just a shame that it has that horrible opening scene holding this movie back so much. They should have gone one of two routs there. Either completely re-shoot the scenes properly, or completely scrap the opening entirely. Hell, that may not have been a bad idea, cutting out the whole opening scene. Most of what we learn about our characters in the opening is played out through the rest of the movie anyways, and it's brought up in a way that honestly wouldn't leave us feeling lost or confused.

As it is, I would recommend Battle: Los Angeles if you like a good action movie, and are looking for a fresh take on the classic alien invasion film. However, it's the first time I would actually recommend that you show up to the theater a little late.

It's a wonder how some of these scenes made it to the final cut in both of these movies. They're obviously not the only films I've seen with this issue, though they're the two most recent examples, and I happened to catch them both relatively close to one another. If they had someone else take a look at it and slice off a minute here, a minute there, or in some cases, entire scenes, then the final products would be so much stronger.

Watching these movies was almost like watching an "extended" DVD version of a film, where they include the scenes that were cut from the theatrical version. When you watch the additional scenes, you can always tell why they were cut, and the same holds true for these two movies. The difference is, their additional scenes were left in the final movie, and the quality of both films suffers for it. It's a shame, and it's frustrating, but it is what it is.