Sunday, February 28, 2010

Shutter Island

Shutter Island, the new film by Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese, is as much of a mind-bender as the characters who inhabit the mental asylum for the criminally insane. On my first viewing on Saturday, it was like me and the audience were going 12 rounds with a prized fighter at the top of his game. The movie pummels the viewer with vivid and graphic flashbacks of Teddy Daniel's (Leonardo DiCaprio) past, hidden motives from the head honcho, Dr. Cawley (the great Ben Kingsley), and a deadly hurricane which threatens to bring down the walls of Ashcliffe, both literally and figuratively.

Here's a tip: just let all the madness and dark poetry Scorsese paints sink in. For decades, Marty's used the criminal underworld and the mean streets of New York City and Boston, to name a few, as a blazing torch way into the darkening, haunted depths of the human soul. From the terrifying opening score composed by Robbie Richardson, to the ever superb editing of Scorsese's longtime partner Thelma Schoonmaker, Shutter Island is another triumph of gut-punching storytelling mixed with utter devotion to the filmmaking of old.

Teddy and his new partner, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) are U.S. Marshals assigned to investigate the disappearance of one of Ashcliffe's patients, Rachel Solando. Once there, the pair quickly begin to realize that the truth behind the woman's disappearance is as elusive as she is. On Shutter Island, everyone has some demons - or secrets - buried within. Even Daniel's motives for taking on the case, are shrouded in mystery. That's all i'm telling you about Shutter Island, partially because there are certain parts from this head trip of a movie that I still don't understand. I will tell you that DiCaprio gives his most complex and devastating performance yet as Daniels, as he tries to connect the dots to the many mysteries on Shutter Island, before he loses his own sanity. I can tell you that Ben Kingsley plays Dr. Calwey with quiet menace that'll keep you guessing his agenda up until the end. And I can tell you that production designer Dante Ferrti and cinematographer Robert Richardson are magnificent in bringing to life this hellish mental facility.

In the end though, you don't have to figure everything out to realize that Scorsese's still at his best, even when the story twists, turns, and throws a twist that would shock M. Night Shyamalan himself. A great filmmaker and his talented cast will keep you enthralled every time.

***1/2 stars out of ****

Girls, don't do this!!

This is, perhaps, the strangest thing i've heard of in the month of February: women adding tiny beaded crystals to spruce up the vagina. No, I am not making this up.

Vajazzling is a burgeoning beauty treatment, popular with celebs and kinky Martha Stewart-ites alike, that involves ladies bedazzling their freshly waxed lady parts just as they would their neato neckerchiefs or fancy fannypacks – with tiny, magical crystals.

So women aren’t just obsessively coiffing their “areas” to look like pre-teen Barbies – they’re now glue-sticking Barbie’s earrings down below, too?

What the hell? If you really want to impress us "down there" then just keep it odor-free, neat, and tidy. Trim it if you want; going bald is a plus in my book. Just don't bling-out your lady parts. If there are two things that don't need the sparkle treatment, its blood-sucking vampires (I'm talking to you, Edward Cullen!) and a woman's privates.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Diamonds in the Rough: The 10 Bes Movies of 2009 #1-5

Like my 10 worst list a while back, this top 10 list isn't as timely as I hoped, but, once again, now is as good a time than any. 2009 marked the end of the first passing decade of the new century...and we went out with more questions than answers, and doubt rather than a sense of certainty we all felt after making history in 2008. CEO's are still practicing the "greed is good" philosophy that led to the financial catastrophe and recession we are still in, the promise of revamping the nation's health care system is in serious jeopardy of not passing Congress, and doubts are quickly rising about our newly-elected President's ability to carry out his agenda.

Movies in 2009 seemed to imitate life around us. Films that were sure-fire contenders for Oscar glory were deadpanned by critics (Nine, The Lovely Bones), blockbuster franchises turned out to be total crap (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen), and average films managed to become favorites for awards season. Still, there were those that broke through all the mediocrity and garbage on 2009's disappointing movie-going season. A movie about the Iraq war managed to be both a white-knuckle-thriller and avoid preaching to either base. Pixar reminded us why they are still the kings of animation going into the 21st century. James Cameron took us to Pandora...and took the movie going experience to a whole new level. And the ultimate revenge fantasy came to life by the man who cut cop's ears off...among other twisted things. Here is my list of the 10 movies that mattered in 2009.

1. Inglourious Basterds - History tells us that Adolf Hitler and his newlywed Eva Braun died by committing suicide before Berlin fell to the Allies in 1945. In the eyes of Quentin Tarantino, Hitler and the rest of the Nazi high command meet their match at the hands of Brad Pitt, Hostel director Eli Roth and their squad of Jewish-American soldiers, known only as "the Basterds." Tarantino's latest effort was more talkative than Pulp Fiction, more violent than Kill Bill Vol. 1, and it was the most entertaining, balls-to-the-wall movie that came out this year. Tarantino's dialogue (subtitled mostly in German and French) is as ludicrous and engaging than ever, while prolonged suspense, tantalizing dialogue and outrageous acts of violence are mated together in a dance of carnal passion as only Tarantino can deliver. Pitt, playing the leader of the Basterds, takes Aldo Raine and plays him like a blast-from-the-past Apache warrior, exacting his mixture of revenge and near-psychotic enjoyment in slaughtering Nazis, with demented glee and raw intensity. Dianne Kruger plays bravery and brains as German movie star as Bridget von Hammersmark, in the biggest role of her life: acting as a double-agent for the Allies. Mélanie Laurent breathes fire and brimstone bottled up as Shosanna Dreyfus, the last French Jew who escaped execution from the hands of the charming, sadistic SS Cor. Hands Lander, who makes Ralph Finnes' Amor Goeth seem sane and friendly. And the film's real bastard, Christoph Waltz, as Lander, creates QT's most memorable character since Jules Winfield spouted Bible verses before going on a killing spree in Pulp Fiction. Tarantino provides the shot of adrenaline movies have been missing for far too long: a cast, a script and it's mad director, all unwilling to compromise to please the naysayers and create a bloody, entertaining, and chilling meditation on how America conducted its foreign policy during the Bush years.

2. Avatar - 11 years ago, James Cameron became the king of the box office with his overrated romantic drama, Titanic, and sailed that ship to Oscar glory in 1998, winning 11 Academy Awards including Best Director and Best Picture. In 2009, there's a new box-office king that has dethroned Cameron's tale of star-crossed lovers on a doomed ocean-liner, and it's...James Cameron. This time, the world of Pandora and it's indigenous people, the blue-skinned Na'vi are the big draw. Cameron brings 3D to the mainstream, shooting his breathtaking alien planet in the third dimension. But its the story, albeit predictable, that has us engaged: a crippled ex-marine (Sam Worthington) ships out to Pandora to get the natives to move out of the largest deposit of Unobtainium (a resource needed to fuel the dying planet Earth in 2154), only to end up falling for the tribal princess, Neytiri (an excellent Zoe Saldana), and joining their rebellion against the human invaders. We may have seen this tale before (Dances With Wolves, The Last Samurai), and anyone can see the exploitation of the Na'vi in the movie can connect that to America's exploitation of Native Americans, but Cameron delivers it with eye-popping style and passion for his beautiful and terrifying new world.

3. Up - Pixar is to animation as Radiohead is to rock and roll: neither group can do no wrong. They can make their weakest releases - A Bug's Life and Cars for Pixar; Pablo Honey and Amnesiac for the Oxford quintet - and they would still be considered great. Their newest release, Up, continues that winning trend. This time around, they introduce us to Carl Fredrickson (voiced with weariness and touching poignancy by Ed Asner), a retired widow living in the same old house him and his now-deceased wife, Elle, lived in as the rest of the world around him becomes an isolating urban jungle. He uses the retirement saving he's collected, ties countless helium balloons to his house, and presto: it becomes a floating blimp with a roof and sets his sails to Paradise Falls. Accompanying him is a stowaway wilderness explorer, in the form of chubby eight year-old Russell (Jordan Nagai), and what soon begins as a trip to fulfil a promise to his wife, soon becomes a race to protect an exotic bird from the hands of obsessed and disgraced explorer Charles Muntz (the great Christopher Plummer) and a confrontation of Carl's and Russell's demons. With first rate visuals, a bittersweet storyline and a heart-filled score composed by Michael Giacchino, Up soars on Pixar's unlimited and endless heights of sheer imagination.

4. The Hangover - It's about four dumb, drunk boys sending off the friend, Doug, in style in Vegas, of all places, before he gets married in three days. One wild night later, the three buddies Stu (Ed Helms), Phil (Bradley Cooper), and Alan (Zack Galifianakis), the brother's groom - lose the groom-to-be. That's all you need to know about Tood Philip's The Hangover the most outrageous and ballsiest comedy of the decade, where Chinese mafia bosses, strippers, and returning Mike Tyson's prized tiger are all a part of the growing process for this trio of outgrown frat-boys.

5. Star Trek - The MVP of the summer movie season is J.J. Abrams, the director who breathed new life into the presumed-dead Trek franchise, by bringing style, swagger, and depth to our favorite characters from the original U.S.S. Enterprise. Chris Pine doesn't resort to the speaking style of William Shatner, but the cocky attitude, and the charm he displays are still seen thought the movie. Simon Pegg is hilarious as Scotty, and Karl Urban is inspired casting, playing the no-nonsense medical officer Lennard "Bones" McCoy. The surprise standout is Zacary Quinto as Spock. Instead of letting the pointy Vulcan ears act for him, Quinto digs deep to expose the conflict raging between his cold logic and his human emotions.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Taylor Swift - the voice of a generation!? Bullshit!!!!

When Taylor Swift performed with Fleetwood Mac at the Grammys on Sunday, she - for all intentional purposes - sucked.

Now, she's taking heat for it, as she should - it wasn't a good performance at all. In comes Swift's record company, dubbing her, the "voice of a generation."

“I think [the critics] are missing the whole voice of a generation that is happening right in front of them. Maybe they are jealous or can’t understand that,” Borchetta said, “but obviously the people that she talks to are engaged with her. No one is perfect on any given day. Maybe in that moment we didn’t have the best night, but in the same breath, maybe we did,”

Voice of a generation?
Voice of a generation!?

Radiohead, U2, Coldplay, Eminem, Springsteen, Jay-Z, etc.....those are bands and artists who spoke to me and many others in this generation! Taylor Swift was fortunate to have Kanye West act like his dickish self and make her America's Sweetheart overnight! It's the main reason why she won Album of the Year! Without the outburst, she's just another tweener-bopper with a hit record.

Don't elevate this flavor-of-the-month garbage with that of Bob Dylan, or John Lennon, or The Boss, or Thom Yorke.....real artists who changed the face of music as we know it.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Dear Kanye West

Dear Kanye,

When you lashed out on poor country-pop superstar Taylor Swift at the MTV VMA's last year, you had pretty much cemented yourself as the world's biggest jackass. Like an uncle we expect to get drunk and make a scene at Thanksgiving dinner every year, your proclamation that "Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time!" was somewhat expected, because if you don't win for something (or in this case, the person you were pulling for doesn't win something), the world must stop for you and listen to how royally rat-fucked....again.

Then again, when you've made three critically acclaimed rap albums (The College Dropout, Late Registration, and my personal favorite Graduation), and earned your place as one of the best MC's to rock a microphone, then I guess you have every right to bitch and moan about how you've become music's version of Scorsese (let's be honest, you did get screwed over the last few years). Still, we all believed that your latest temper tantrum was the latest in people telling you to keep your ego in check and to shut the fuck up, and no harm would come from this.

That was, until last night, when Swift won sympathy votes from the Grammy voters for your outburst, and picked up the ultimate prize: Album of the Year.

Kanye, this could have all been avoided: your no-show at the Grammys this year, your dumbassery to steal the spotlight from Ms. Swift last year, the President of the United States himself calling you a jackass - all of this could have been avoided, if you had just kept your mouth shut. If you hadn't tried to make Taylor feel like crap onstage and make her America's sweetheart overnight, your girl Beyonce would have walked away with AOTY for I Am...Sasha Fierce. Now, we're stuck with this lovely, but awful live singer (let it be known that Swift and Fleetwood Mac don't mix).

Music today has become polluted with balls-less artists, marginally-talented teen queens and endless dance-club pop/hip-hop records, and I still consider you one of the best musical artists to come around in the new century. But you just gave Grammy the go-ahead to announce what we already knew to be the truth: huge record sales and mediocre talent talk, artists who put out quality work that pushes the genre and the industry as a whole can go straight to hell.

Thanks, Kanye.

Jonathan Holmes