The scene has been set for the past 7 years. When Christopher Nolan was announced as the director for the Batman Reboot I was shocked, confused, and very much looking forward to it.

I’ve been a Batman fan since the first time I picked up one of my Dad’s comics. This spurred on my love for the campy TV show starring Adam West as well as the movie. Then I was introduced to the Dark Knight with Tim Burton’s Batman movies where I started liking the grittier story lines and deeper lying agony that came more apparent through Keaton’s depiction of Bruce Wayne.

Unfortunately we were then subjected to Joel Schumacher’s atrocities known as Batman Forever and Batman & Robin in all their Bat Nipple glory which effectively killed the franchise and destroyed any hope for a good superhero movie for a few years.

Which brought us to chapter one of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, starting with Batman Begins which drew heavily from Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One and Jeph Loeb’s Batman: The Long Halloween.

Nolan knew what he wanted to do, to start fresh, we know the story of how Wayne donned the mantle of the Bat and have known for years, but we never felt the depth of his torment till now.

Nolan then followed up with The Dark Knight, brought back the iconic Joker like we’d never seen him before. The only time I’d been more frightened by the Joker than Heath Ledger’s depiction had been from Alan Moore’s Batman: The Killing Joke. Ledger’s Joker carried the second film and concreted in my mind the dedication that Nolan was showing us.

So when I heard the Dark Knight Rises was going to be bringing back one of the worst villians ever portrayed in a Batman film, I was a little nervous at first. Then I re-read the Knightfall story line written predominantly by Chuck Dixon. Knightfall is the storyline in which Bane shows he belongs at the top of the Rogue’s Gallery.

Almost every major detail from Knightfall is portrayed in The Dark Knight Rises in one form or another. (Here’s where I would normally break this down into it’s multiple parts of Book vs Movie but since the movie is still in theaters I’m gonna wait on that for now. I’m trying to keep the spoilers to a minimum.)

From the opening scene of the film I knew I’d made the right choice to put my faith in Nolan’s writing abilities and directorial prowess. We get introduced to a new Gotham, 8 years have passed since The Dark Knight. Crime is at an all time low due to the Dent Act that was passed posthumously after Batman takes the blame for killing Harvey Dent (Two-Face) which enabled the Gotham PD the power to incarcerate major players in the underworld without bail indefinitely.

Then the action begins.

The Dark Knight Rises is a smashing two hours and fourty four minutes long. And it feels like an hour at the most. I could have stayed seated after the movie ended and watched it right away again.

The Dark Knight Rises shows us the dangers and benefits of being a peaceful society, what makes us weak and what makes us strong and how we react to problems and emergencies.

Bane is a super genius and even though he’s traded in his luchador mask from the comics for his Darth Vader-esque breathing apparatus and has never entered into the Venom world (A wise choice seeing how well people liked the last Bane’s appearance in Batman & Robin) he is portrayed with such ferocity by Tom Hardy that you can’t help but love to hate him. He doesn’t even come off as a ‘Bad’ guy, he’s a mercenary fulfilling a quest.

There’s never a time when I despised what he was doing, I knew it was wrong but the way in which he presented his story and his plans to everyone in the city, you couldn’t help but begin to wonder “What if?”. Would we so quickly fall to the looting and murder the way the people of Gotham did? And that is from coming out of 8 years of relative peace, not the (for lack of a better word) normal world we do live in.

Nolan was able to bring back the Rogue’s Gallery so many times over with Bane, The Joker, and, my new favorite, Catwoman. Anne Hathaway’s take on Selina Kyle blows all other Catwomen out of the water. The Catwoman in TDKR is the newer hipper Catwoman, she’s tough as nails and not afraid of a firearm. She is Batman’s polar opposite which makes their partnership in and out of their costumes so much more enjoyable. They are able to play in the real world and really get at each other while hooded.

The greatest addition to the series was Officer Blake played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Blake is a up and coming rookie on the GPD who is quite adept at picking up on clues. He’s driven. He’s a protege in essence to Commissioner Gordon, again played by Gary Oldman, again in top form.

If you have not yet seen this movie, you need to add it to your weekend plans. Or go tonight. Just see the greatest ‘Third’ movie I’ve ever seen.

Series movies never work. Until now.

This past weekend was a great one. So great in fact, that this is part one of the weekend, focusing on the Sleigh Bells concert I attended on April 14th 2012.

The show started off with a band I’d never heard of, Elite Gymnastics, who’s presence on stage was muted yet exaggerated all at the same time. If that makes sense….

To start off with, when we arrived at the venue for the concert the Slowdown, near the beautiful Old Market in downtown Omaha NE, the stage was set up like this;

Then Elite Gymnastics came on. I must say I wasn’t that impressed when they first started but once you began to understand the type of music they were playing; more noise-pop than Sleigh Bells but also a lot more electronica added. The odd thing was the way they turned down the lights completely so you couldn’t really see the two band members as they played. Instead we were shown a Karaoke Music Video that played through the duration of their set. That in itself set Elite Gymnastics apart from almost all bands I’ve ever seen perform.

Next up on the docket was Brooklyn based electronic duo Javelin.

I’ve heard Javelin here and there over the past few years and was not at all ready for the awesome show they pulled off. The duo, cousins in actuality, rock out with a Bass Guitar and a single Ride Cymbal being the only ‘analog’ instruments on the stage. The rest of the music is played through prerecorded loops and melodies and beat out by the drummer on his electronic drum pad. It was a great show and if you have a chance to check them out you definitely should. Here’s a small excerpt of a song I was able to record.


And then it was time… Time for the thunder and the lightning and the more than off chance of getting Epilepsy from the strobe lights. That’s right Sleigh Bells. I have thoroughly enjoyed Sleigh Bells since getting turned onto them a little more than a year ago. I listened to the CD a few times then had the opportunity to pick up the Vinyl which me and my friend ‘S’ pretty much played through more than a few times a week. So I was happy when ‘S’ said she’d go along to this show too. It was incredible to see the energy that singer Alexis Krauss spread through the crowd. I always think of the line from the 2000 Cameron Crowe film “Almost Famous” when I see great shows. The line comes from singer Jeff Bebe (Jason Lee) “You know what I do? I connect. I get people off. I look for the guy who isn’t getting off, and I make him get off.”

It’s the job of the singer, when they don’t also play an instrument, to make people enjoy the show, to move around, to . . . well . . . get people off! Alexis has a great understanding of this. I don’t believe she really stopped moving since the moment she stepped on stage.

The music was infectious, people were up on their feet, hands were in the air, laughter and joy was all around and that was only after the first song. As the set continued, you could see the crowd inching closer to the stage, but at the same time, there were stragglers, people sitting back in the bar area, just there to enjoy the music and that’s what bands like Sleigh Bells bring out.

 

 

 
I’ve been to rock concerts where there are more fights than enjoyment of the music, more screaming than listening, more wasted money than entertainment gained.

That said, I would follow Sleigh Bells around for a while just to see another performance like that. It sounded real, it looked real, it felt real and when all was said and done, the band was just chilling in back by the merch table smiling and laughing with their fans.

 

 
If you get a chance to see the Sleigh Bells on this tour, do it. It’s going to be hard to beat the tour as a whole including both openers. Great show, and a great weekend.

The next post should be pretty good too as it focuses on the foodie aspect of this past weekend. I miss my foodie weekends, maybe they’ll come back sometime.

 

Being one of the few people on the face of the Earth that has yet to see the Hunger Games (Although I have read it) I am catching up on the love of Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss in the Hunger Games) as an actress.

2010’s ‘Winter’s Bone’ has been on my list of movies to watch for the past few months and this past weekend, it made a fast jump to the top of my list with the help of a friend who also wanted to check it out. It was without a doubt, one of the best decisions of the weekend.

The premise of ‘Winter’s Bone’ is this; Ree lives in the Ozarks in southern Missouri with her semi-catatonic mother and two younger siblings. Her father has been in jail for a while when the movie starts and the local sheriff stops by to inform the family that her father has posted bail by putting the house up as collateral. This would be fine and dandy only he hasn’t shown up around home since his release and he is required to make his court date the following week or the house is gone.

Ree sets out to locate her father and we meet the rest of the family as the film progresses. The film touches well on the fact that this is a back woods location where no one is really well off, and most of the families around share more than a bit of blood between them.

The film follows Ree’s journey to find her father and the interactions she makes with family and friends as well as a few people who couldn’t care less to be seeing her come around. It’s the interactions between Ree and her uncle Teardrop that set this movie apart from most other dramas I have seen in the past few years.

Not only does it star Jennifer Lawrence (Who got the Oscar nomination nod for best lead actress (Lawrence being the second youngest in history to be nominated for the category behind Dakota Fanning)), it also starred John Hawkes, one of the most under-rated actors to grace the silver screen.

As I scrolled through imdb.com when looking up names of the people that took part in Winter’s Bone, I was immediately drawn to check the history of Hawkes as he is one of the actors that you will always recognize in his roles and immediately forget about the second the movie finishes rolling.

I can’t even describe why people don’t think of Hawkes as a lead actor because he is, he is amazingly dedicated to the roles he is given, he graces the screen and the audience with his dedication and power that seems to ooze from the viewing to viewing.

The first time I recall seeing Hawkes was in his role as Cowboy in the 1993 Alex Winter (Bill from Bill & Ted) film Freaked, and he always stuck with me. As he developed and got more roles as an actor, from ‘From Dusk Till Dawn, to various TV spots, to ‘Steel’, to ‘Rush Hour’ and ‘The Perfect Storm’, to his part in the critically acclaimed Steven Spielberg sci-fi mini-series ‘Taken’. Hawkes has paid his dues ten fold to get the lead roles in films yet he never gets them.

I can’t go into why he doesn’t get them, because I have no reasons why he should get them. He is the supporting actor every lead would dream of getting. He devotes every bit of his ability to his role and that shines through as his character of Teardrop in ‘Winter’s Bone’. While Lawrence is unstoppable in her role as Ree, the scenes in which she appears with Teardrop it is as though she has disappeared behind his presence. It’s hard for me to say I’ve seen more emotion portrayed in characters on film aside from the characters of Ree and Teardrop, but it’s the honest truth.

The pain they feel, the audience feels. The struggles, the beatings each takes, the internal struggle for survival and the knowledge of what is right and what needs to be fought for outweighs so much when watching ‘Winter’s Bone’.

This is the first time I’ve seen Jennifer Lawrence in a lead role and I am extremely happy that I viewed ‘Winter’s Bone’ before watching ‘The Hunger Games’. I’ve read that trilogy. I have not read Winter’s Bone. I have an image of what Katniss should be and up till now I didn’t think Lawrence could pull it off, but having seen ‘Winter’s Bone’ I am completely behind the decision to get her as the lead.

There are still times during this film that I was bored, but that happens with a lot of films that I watch anymore. My mind goes a mile a minute and doesn’t relax enough to just enjoy where I’m at. That has a lot to do with whom I’m watching a film with as well though. But with ‘Winter’s Bone’ I wanted to know what was going to happen from each second to the next. I’m happy to have seen it and stand full behind it for anyone who wants to enjoy a drama that embraces every aspect the genre should hold. Screw the stereotypes, this movie shows the emotion as it should be shown.

On a final note, ‘Winter’s Bone’ was directed by Debra Granik, a director who only has 3 films under her directorial belt but has a staggering 22 wins in various film award nominations, most coming from ‘Winter’s Bone’. It just goes to show, that even though it may take a film maker years to be shown the recognition they deserve, the wait is worth it. The faith in the person is worth is. According to imdb, there are no future endeavors in the chutes for Debra Granik, but after seeing ‘Winter’s Bone’, I can honestly say I will be at the next one as soon as I can, just to see how well she can show me characters like she did in ‘Winter’s Bone’.

When I first saw the trailer for this film I thought to myself…. “eh.”

now that i’ve seen it, it was slightly better than expected.

It is definitely a funny movie at times. It has a great cast of Jesse Eisenberg, Danny McBride, Aziz Ansari, Nick Swardson, and comedy veteran Fred Ward.

The major problem I have with 30 minutes or less, is just that fact, it’s funny… at times. It’s not constantly funny or even remotely consistent in the type of humor it tries to pass by the audience. There are moments of dire stress that really make you feel for Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) all while you really know nothing bad is going to happen.

Movies like this thrive on making the audience thing something bad is going to happen to the main character. The only problem is this is a comedy. Not a drama. Were this 2001’s Swordfish (A Review that will happen soon) we would want the hero to escape while reveling in the fact that the bad guy is winning for almost the entire film.

The general plot synopsis of 30 minutes or less is “Two fledgling criminals kidnap a pizza delivery guy, strap a bomb to his chest, and inform him that he has mere hours to rob a bank or else…” (Taken directly from imdb.com)

And that’s it. Jesse Eisenberg is our delivery boy, Aziz Ansari is his best friend, Danny McBride and Nick Swardson are the fledgling criminals. It’s honestly kind of futile to explain the rest of the plot as it really doesn’t matter. Nothing is short of cliche in this film and the film makers don’t do much to convince you otherwise.

This is the second “real” outing by director Ruben Fleischer. His last (and first) major film was 2009’s Zombieland which really made me want to like this one SO much more. I was honestly let down though, if that hasn’t already been made clear. The actors in Zombieland portrayed a chemistry that the boys in 30 minutes or less just could not muster. The interactions were forced at best for almost the entire film. But then again, it’s really hard to get stand alone comedians like Danny McBride and Aziz Ansari to really interact with fellow actors well because they are comedians at heart that are better at one liners and stand up than they are interacting with other people. They don’t like their lights to be dimmed, sadly this is portrayed the most in Ansari’s Chet. Chet is supposed to be the best friend of Nick, but every time they interact with one another you want to punch Chet through your TV screen. He’s just that obnoxious throughout the film, even when he is supposed to be having sincere heart to hearts with Nick, he just comes off like an ass.

I can’t say enough how much better this film could have been had they just changed out a couple of actors. But then again, the calibre of comedians they got for this project can’t be beat either. Stand alone, each actor is heads above the next choices that I could come up with. So while I wasn’t by any means impressed by this film, I can’t turn a blind eye to it.

It’s the best that could be done with the story. It’s the best that could be done with the actors. It’s the best that could be done with the director. The only question is why it was made. This story line belongs in an action drama film, not a comedy. There are story lines that are impossibly hard to translate to comedies and 30 minutes proves that to the greatest extent possible.

 

In 2008 Steven Spielberg directed one of the largest steaming piles of crap I’ve ever seen. That pile was named Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It had the potential to be a great revamp of a classic series, but if you’ve seen it, you already know it was not meant to be.

In 2011, Spielberg has made up for his last role at the helm with The Adventures of Tintin based on three comic stories written by Belgian artist Hergé. Spielberg also co-produced Tintin with Peter Jackson who’s WETA studios was in charge of the digital animation of the film. The two already have plans for Jackson to direct a sequel and the two collaborating on a following third film.

Spielberg has owned the rights to Tintin since acquiring them after Hergé’s death in 1983, so this project has been at least been mulling in his mind for the past two and a half decades. That thought and preparation paid off in the feature film I’m writing about today. This movie should have been made years ago, but the wait was well worth it. Tintin has adventure, excitement, mystery and lovable characters from Thomson and Thompson, Captain Haddock and of course our heros Tintin and his clever pup Snowy.

Not only are the characters amazing, the voice actors they got are top notch. Jamie Bell plays Tintin, Andy Serkis plays Haddock, Thomson and Thompson are played by Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, and our villian Sakharine is played wonderfully by the great Daniel Craig.

This story reminded me so much of what it felt like to watch the Indiana Jones Trilogy (For that’s all that exist in my mind for the franchise) for the first time. The mystery that Tintin unravels rivals great heist stories, detective films and even action adventure movies.

The WETA studio has gone above and beyond what I ever could have imagined an animated film to look like. More than a few times, I was so absorbed by the beauty I was seeing on even my modest screen at home was enthralling and entrancing. It was not what I expected and far surpassed anything I could have dreamed. I’ve been a Peter Jackson fan for many years now and have loved watching his ability to work with CGI grow and expound more than even he could have hoped for. From the first time we see the first ghosts in 1996’s the Frighteners, we were shown what would become the Ring Wraiths in 2001’s Fellowship of the Ring. It’s shown me great hope to see how well he’s going to handle 3D in the new Hobbit films and made me even more excited to see the continuing adventures of Tintin.

The story for Tintin is superb, based very closely on the original stories the film is based on but updated to a more modern vernacular by another of my favorite film makers/writers Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim, Shaun of the Dead, etc.) The writing keeps the action rolling, there are few if any dull spots but the action picks back up so quickly, you forget about it within seconds.

I highly recommend The Adventures of Tintin for a family movie night, or just a night to help forget the last Indiana Jones film and replace it with a true adventure story that will take you on a trip few movies can lay claim to.

 

Being born in 1986, there are probably a lot of people who may think I have no place in trying to say anything about the Grindhouse Genre, let alone the “Grindhouse experience”.

I will be the first to admit, I’ve never lived a true grindhouse experience. Yes, I went and saw the Grindhouse double feature presented by Quentin Tarrantino and Robert Rodriguez back in 2007. It was presented in one of the larger auditoriums at an AMC Theater down in Dallas. There were 7 other people in the theater at the beginning of the feature, and three of us left at the end.

I’ve begun taking it as a bad sign when the ticket teller looks at you odd and asks if “You’re sure you know this is a three hour movie right?” before they actually sell you the ticket.

Yes. I know it’s three hours. It’s 100 degrees in the shade out today, I’m pretty sure a large efficiently cooled building is exactly where I want to be this afternoon. Especially for three hours.

I rather enjoyed my first grindhouse experience, but it left me wanting more. I wanted the sticky floors, I wanted the scratched and ripped reels of film shown back to back for days on end. I wanted the real grindhouse experience that only 42nd Street in New York City.
Grindhouse theaters popped up in the old burlesque houses on 42nd Street in the 1970s. Grindhouses showed mainly exploitation films where you could pay less than a dollar and sit for an entire afternoon watching whatever they had laying around.

The films shown in these modified theaters fell into a few different genres all fitting under the umbrella of the exploitation title. These included; sleazy pornos, cheesy horror or slasher horror films, poorly dubbed martial arts films, or crazy action flicks. While quality varied from film to film, almost all had the same things in common, low production costs and value and even poorer print quality often resulting in lost frames or damaged reels causing delays in screenings which in turn resulted in people throwing popcorn and random fluids at the screen. (Resulting in said sticky floors)

There are a number of collections of trailers you can find online that give you the impression of the types of films that were shown in these theaters. Almost none remain fully intact to this day. Trailers were easier to keep due to smaller reel size and weren’t subject to the multiple showings that the film reels were put through.

If you have Netflix, just search for the keyword “CHEEZY” and you’ll find three collections of trailers available to watch on instant viewing.

The reason the grindhouses were successful and have become such a favorite genre for many film makers and viewers alike is the fact that the film makers had free reign to do whatever they pleased. These films weren’t subject to being edited or censored by the MPAA, they were shown because they had enough money to get their own movies made and put onto a film transfer that could be shown in a theater.

There’s something missing with today’s cinema that disappeared with the grindhouse and that is freedom. The freedom to do what you wanted, the freedom to gather with a bunch of friends and waste away an entire day watching bad kung fu movies, sleazy horror slasher flicks, and trashy zombie action films.

I’ve thought time and time again, that if I had the money to start up a theater, these are the types of films I would show. Anyone with a camera and an idea could make whatever they wanted and could show it at my theater. It’s easy to get your movies out to the masses these days thanks to the internet. And that’s great, but there’s something about seeing your own ideas and stories presented on the big screen in a real theater. It’s the dream of everyone who’s made a short film for a class or just for fun.

The closest thing we have to a grindhouse experience these days are the few and far between theaters that still show the Rocky Horror Picture Show during the summer months at midnight on Saturday nights. These theaters still hold onto the dream and view it through rose-tinted lenses. We could learn a lot from our past. There’s still hope for the future. The grindhouse will rise again.

 

 

As a closing note, to learn more about the Grindhouse experience check out the documentary ‘American Grindhouse’ available to watch instantly on Netflix.

Learning to Read. . . Again

Posted: March 25, 2012 in Uncategorized

The past few years, I’ve fallen away from reading. I don’t know a specific reason why, but I have a feeling that TV, Movies and Video Games really put a damper on things.

When I was in high school I was at any given time, reading anywhere from 3-5 books. I used to have people ask how I was able to read so many books at one time, and the simple fact is that it was easy. I didn’t have the distractions I have now. I didn’t have satellite TV, only had a Nintendo 64 which I didn’t play much of outside of Zelda: OOT. And I lived out in the country, my closest friend being 7 miles away. Books were how I escaped from life. They let me be something different. If I got bored with one book, I’d pick up another and read a few chapters in that before jumping back to the first book, then i’d throw a third into the mix, and then a fourth and a fifth. I’d finish all five within a few days of each other and then move right on to the next big batch.

When I look at my book shelves nowadays, I see a lot more graphic novels. Only the best of course; Fables, Y The Last Man, Jack of Fables, Transmetropolitan, A large portion of the Allan Moore library, Sin City (In two different prints), and various DC hero collections.

That could also be part of the reason my reading of standard form books has dropped off the edge. My attention level has dropped so low, that I can’t focus on reading a book for a very long period of time.

Fortunately, I’m back on the road to recovery. I read the Hunger Games trilogy within a couple of weeks, and I’m actually finding more and more books that are sucking me in more and more. I want to read more again. I made a trip to Half Price Books the other day and picked up some new books to help get me back into my old reading habits. A couple of Andy Sedaris books, a few Kurt Vonnegut books, and a Christopher Moore book. I’m also finishing up American Gods by Neil Gaiman right now.

I’ve got a lot lined up to read, I would really rather read than waste more time watching crap on Netflix anymore. I may have to put my subscription on hold for a couple of months so I can retrain myself to focus on reading things that will in turn help my own writing advance.

Learning to read is hard, learning to read again, can be a daunting task. I’ve got too many gadgets to distract my time, too many movies to stimulate my eye holes more than my brain, too much time that I’ve forgotten how to utilize.

It’s time for a change, it’s time to learn again.