Tag Archives: Review

Mini-Movie Review: ‘You’re Next’

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On the surface, ‘You’re Next’ appears to be a formulaic slasher film akin to 2008’s ‘The Strangers’.

Directed and edited by Adam Wingard (most notably known for his 2012 surprisingly creepy and original ‘V/H/S’) the film first premiered at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival. The trailer for the film is misleading in conveying both the tone and what to expect. The Perfect Weekend and The Perfect Family fade across the screen to images of a beautiful country home and boisterous dinner. I was pleasantly surprised that the film was entirely not what I was expecting having seen the trailer.

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At the risk of spoiling too much, I’ll say very little about any of the characters backstory. ‘You’re Next’ is categorized as a Dark Comedy, which won’t make sense until you see it. If you’ve seen ‘Cabin in the Woods’ you’ll have a good idea of what to expect. It’s a spoof without being gimmicky or over the top, and I can only think of one word to describe it: cathartic.

I believe Adam Wingard set out to make a horror film unburdened by those irritating tendencies of characters and movies past: the hero/heroine surviving by pure luck; villains immune to harm or mistakes; and worse still a characters inability to walk, instead crawling away in terror though they have no injuries. This movie has none of those pitfalls. The acting, cinematography, editing and story are all top notch.

‘You’re Next’ is a clever, brutal, cathartic horror film that will leave you feeling empowered, not underwhelmed.

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If You Write, You Read, And You Should Read This

Despite being published 12 years ago, Stephen King: On Writing remains a compass and road map to every pencil-wielding, Starbuck’s-visting, laptop-carrying, self proclaimed wordsmith of varying degree. There exists within every page a refreshing volume of honesty; an amount which may have proven (and still prove) to be far too…well, honest, for some.

Unrestrained by ego or ill-will, Stephen King holds nothing back in admitting the struggles of any who choose to make sense of their world through words, and yet in recounting his past reveals the joys and plausibility of a life spent doing just that.

A mini-biography of sorts, the life of Stephen King was, in the early days, not nearly as grand as any who’ve read his fiction may envision. The arduos challenges, some comical and others dismal, which he reflects upon are entirely human in their vulnerability, and as a reader I found myself experiencing fleeting echoes of what he may have felt; the joy of a father unable to afford medicine for his sick child coming home to an unexpected paycheck/publishing; excitement at the phone call which finally propelled him into the spotlight; pity and pain when, years later, a van nearly took his life.

By all accounts, I am a fan. That much is clear I’m sure. What I mean to get at specifically is exactly what I’ve said in the title of this post: If you write, you read, and you should read this. As one who writes daily I’m forever grateful for the pointing out of weaker areas in my own work, like taking a college course from your favorite professor for all of $16.

If you’ve read and enjoyed any of Stephen King’s work, are interested in what made him who he is, or are looking for an entertaining way to learn how to better your craft, I implore you to pick up a copy of On Writing for yourself.

“The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing…the more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor.” –Stephen King, On Writing (pg. 150)


Mini-Movie Review: ‘Skyfall’

From the very beginning you know this is Bond, pure and unrestrained.

After a reboot comparable to Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, 007 found himself the #1 spy once more with Daniel Craig at the helm. However, an unrefined film with a plot as convoluted as it’s title, Quantum of Solace left many movie-goers feeling rather dissatisfied. In an effort to come back strong, director Sam Mendes and his talented team chose to go back to basics while still retaining that 21st century sense of style and relevance.

It was the right decision on many levels. The headlining single “Skyfall” by Adele serves well to the symbolic, dramatic, and haunting opening title sequence, while Javier Bardem brought his reliable sense of unease and creepiness to a villan who, in the wrong hands, would’ve instead been ridiculous.

In an effort not to spoil anything, I won’t delve too deeply into the plot points which so characterize and callback the Sean Connery days of James Bond. The script here is a polished, engrossing work of cinematic set-pieces and calculated coolness. The exotic locations, a staple of the series, are varied and utilized as more than mere scenery, and Bond himself by the end is a far more interesting person and character for the revelations found across his journey.

This is Bond at his best.

9/10


Mini-Movie Review: ‘Cloud Atlas’

A visual smorgasbord with more storyline’s than it knew what to do with, ‘Cloud Atlas’ is a beautiful film suffering from an over-ambitious script.

I managed to stay intrigued despite a just under 3 hour run time, and hardly once felt bored or uninterested. But as it neared it’s climax, I was left feeling disappointed at an unrealized merging of arcs. Like a science fiction, fantasy version of “Pulp Fiction” without any of the cohesiveness or knowledge of where or how the plot points would ultimately connect.

Many of the more interesting ideas and concepts are forgotten and left as ambiguous, which, while frustrating, seems intentional. The cinematography is stunning, and most of the acting is on the same level. The futuristic Neo-Seoul arc is immediately engaging, staying unique and leaving you wanting more of Jim Sturgess and Xun Zhou. In fact, I felt more of a chemistry and “fated” pairing between the two of them than the powerhouse combo of Tom Hanks/Halle Berry.

The editing overall is satisfactory, and a particular sequence involving a slave raising a ships mast while such events are mirrored in an alternate timeline is unforgettable and sparks a desire for more scenes crafted with such obvious vision and planning.

Surely everyone walked away having experienced (and felt) something different, and therein lies the films greatest achievement.

7.5 out of 10


Album Review: Metric – Synthetica

“I make all that I believe, I set myself free. So take all the time you need, and let yourself be.” “Artificial Nocturne” by Metric

Emily Haines and her band don’t hold back in their new album Synthetica. Not lyrically, not musically, and certainly not artistically. Overall it is a worthy successor to their groundbreaking Fantasies released back in 2009.

Let’s talk about what it isn’t: Synthetica is neither a re-hash of Fantasies nor a collection of “lost” songs thrown together and called a new album. It’s obvious the thought that went into creating each track, as they stand on their own individually while also flowing into one another in a full-album play through.

An example of the visual inspiration & representation of Synthetica

Their first single “Youth Without Youth” took some getting used to. It didn’t have the same depth lyrically as other songs. But once you memorized the beat and song, it grew on you. The flowing ballad of “Speed the Collapse” is a dark, stormy song full of Haines’ beautiful melodies and a powerhouse chorus that will leave you breathless.

“Youth Without Youth” music video – click to watch

“Lost Kitten” is the most surprising track of them all, being something of a pop song without being that simple. It shows off Haines’ vocal range and is a nice break from the relatively dark tracks that precede it. Their title track “Synthetica” is catchy and far less dark than some of the other tracks. Rather their use of synthesized notes and a constant electric guitar evoke something of their neon-lit, electric inspiration Blade Runner.

Emily Haines on set during the “Youth Without Youth” music video shoot

Haines’ described Synthetica as being, “about forcing yourself to confront what you see in the mirror when you finally stand still long enough to catch a reflection. Synthetica is about being able to identify the original in a long line of reproductions. It’s about what is real vs what is artificial.”


Mr. Sams Goes to a Show

“We either learn to live a lie, or we’re waiting here to die.”                                              ~”Saved” by The Dear Hunter

Click on the picture and check out their site

Last tuesday, our superhero of a sound guy had the privilege of attending a concert at the Hawthorne Theatre. Underground bands are not uncommon in Portland; walk down any street east of the Pearl District and you’ll find the telephone poles look like trees made of mostly obscure concert fliers.

“A lot of (underground) bands in the music universe stink, but one band that is blowing the musical minds of people all over is The Dear Hunter.

An indy rock band originating from Providence, Rhode Island, The Dear Hunter has a habit of creating albums with overall themes:

“Their music contains epic arrangements, heart wrenching lyrics, complex musicianship, and catchy singles. Their most recent album The Color Spectrum was a series of 9 EP’s, all containing 4 songs exploring individual colors – BlackRed, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet, White.

Click on the pic and check out their album The Color Spectrum

“They were the second band to play a set in the rotation, and played for about an hour and a half. Within their set, they showcased some of their best songs from The Color Spectrum. It was beautiful and I felt really privileged to witness in person an album I’ve loved playing on repeat.” ~Nathanael Sams

“Leave the pain behind, casting fear to the side for just a moment, so things can align. And if I fall, sometimes that’s just fine. As long as I get up, then things are alright.”                    ~”Look Away (Violet)” by The Dear Hunter


The 84th Academy Awards

“Life. Camera. Action.”

In honor of the 2012 Academy Awards, we managed to collectively watch every film nominated for Best Picture.

“I think it was a year of movies where most of the components were really good, but there was one that didn’t live up to the rest, so you’re just left not satisfied.” ~Alisha Noles, Production Designer

These mini reviews explore the aspects that we know best, be it the acting, directing, design, or music.

Directing/Writing/Sound:

My Week with Marilyn: No film in recent years has been able to capture the inner workings of a star as brilliantly as this film. Williams’ manages to capture the essence of the icon while simultaneously developing her own character. She deserves her nomination and could easily take the prize. It’s disappointing the film is not more represented at this years big night.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close: This film was in fact extremely loud and incredibly close to being wonderful. It has Stephen Daldry’s overly dramatic style and lack of restraint all throughout. Under another director the film may have been able to reach it’s potential. That said, Tome Hanks, Sandra Bullock, and Max von Sydow offer beautiful and heartfelt performances.

The Help: Flawless acting compliment a polished screenplay with moments both moving, and unforgettable. You’ll gain a new respect for Emma Stone as an actress, and see why Viola Davis more than deserves her Oscar nomination.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Not since Heath Ledger as The Joker has there been a performance so captivating as Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth Salander. A thrilling, if dense, mystery with unmatched cinematography & editing, though the screenplay fails to capture the intensity of the novel’s end revelations.

Moneyball: The sound design was subtle and added a unique feel to the movie. Their use of silence created dramatic moments in which the audience could respond emotionally to the situation, especially when the drama was at it’s highest point. Two Thumbs Up!

War Horse: The music was written by John Williams and you could tell without looking it up on IMDB. It was as if he took the score from “The Patriot” and mixed it with the score of “Jurassic Park”. In all honesty, the score just felt lazy.

Cinematography/Design/Production:

Hugo: Visually it delivered exactly as hoped. There is a theatrical quality to the design of the film that supports the whimsical storyline. The attention to detail and historically accurate information provided a lot of room for the production design to play with reality.

Midnight in Paris: It was surprising to see this nominated for “Art Direction”. Although the storyline was refreshing, the design of the film did not deliver – ultimately leaving you dissatisfied with flat, obvious design decisions that were nothing more than average.

Winnie the Pooh: You’ll love the simplicity of this movie, and how they stuck to the true nature of the original cartoon. From a Graphic Design perspective, the way they used & interacted with typography was also really interesting. Honestly why wasn’t this nominated?!

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: This was an incredibly stunning film; the cinematography was absolutely gorgeous, and each shot regardless of length was beautiful to look at. It should be every cinematographers goal to make something that inspired for the big screen.

The Descendants: A very satisfying movie, with every element of it done perfectly. The cinematography was simple but amazing and fit for what the movie was. The Director of Photography knew how to use restraint in order to drive the story forward. One of the best films of the year.

Enjoyability:

The Artist: In the wrong hands this black & white, silent, and analogue film may have relied on its “artsy” attributes to get by, but it doesn’t. The “old style” film making moves the thoughtful plot and well rounded characters forward in a way that modern film techniques could not have done. A truly enjoyable film.

The Tree of Life: It was a really pretty movie, and actually certain shots looked straight out of National Geographic. But the story felt really disjointed, with random shots of random things placed sporadically. At one point, there’s dinosaurs…dinosaurs. It felt artsy on purpose. There are some truly beautiful interactions between the main family, but overall, it lacked focus.