RIP Michael Clarke Duncan

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Odd Thomas

Full disclosure: I am a MASSIVE Dean Koontz fan.

I was about 12 when Watchers was suggested to me by my always reliable and amazingly like-minded Aunt Denise who figured that Mr. Koontz was right up my alley.


I was amazed. It was upon completion of Watchers (again by Dean Koontz - no I don't make a cent off of suggesting him to you or continually mentioning his name - Dean Koontz, how dare you think otherwise - if you must know...I make dollars) that I vowed to read everything the man had ever written.

It took a bit of time, but I accomplished that goal a few years ago (the man is prolific and I was behind when I started the journey - FYI). The point to all of this exposition is that I get the man pretty well. His writing has evolved over time and he's gone off on different avenues occasionally. Over the years he's developed a fairly strong formula. He writes multi-genre tales that follow moralistic characters that usually involve a normal man and woman that must come together in order to confront something extraordinary. More often than not the supernatural is involved. Sometimes a dog. The two protagonists usually fall in love.

It sounds generic - BUT IT'S NOT. If you leave this article with nothing more than Odd Thomas and Watchers, I'm happy. I trust that after you read those brilliant novels, you could read ANYTHING of his and get sucked in the way that I was. Try Hideaway, From the Corner of His Eye, the Husband, By the Light of the Moon, Fear Nothing, Twilight Eyes, etc.

The man is truly brilliant.

I digress - as I have a tendency to do, for example, I could write about the brilliance of rainbows (double and single alike) and the loveliness of all types of flowers in their wondrous forms - but that's not the point of this article. The point is Odd Thomas.

Koontz has only ever written about one character twice. The first was Christopher Snow AKA the Moonlight Bay trilogy (which has yet to see the final installment), the second is Odd Thomas.

Odd Thomas starts out as a young man (title character - duh - yes, his name is Odd Thomas) who happens to be able to see things that most people cannot see. He see's ghosts, visions, and vicious creatures that he call's Bodachs that herald great pain, suffering, and turmoil. The more Bodachs that show up, the bigger the problem. When the first novel starts, he's a simple fry cook working in his hometown of Pico Mundo (a made up desert town that could be a number of different places North-East of San Diego). He is followed by Elvis Presley who, like all spirits in the series cannot talk to him but can issue methods of encouragement and advice by way of mannerisms, facial expressions and moods. Something bad is about to happen in Pico Mundo because the Bodachs are all over town. Someone has to do something about it - and while the lad would love nothing more than to avoid violence and live out a peaceful life, he's loathe to ignore evil no matter how he might tell you he's trying to just do his own thing or go his own way.

Please, do yourself a favor - read the book. No matter what eloquent sentence or poetic passage that I might put forth can do justice to such a read. We'd be here all night, and by then, I'd just start pounding out the entire novel on my keyboard, a devil's care to how much I plagiarized the author.

By the end of the novel you will feel hope, passion, terror and pain. You will cry, more than likely, sob. Odd Thomas will touch you and move you to heights of compassion you no longer believed yourself capable of and to a depth of feeling (that warm fuzzy stuff) you didn't think you could succumb to.

Good news for all you comes the movie.

Except it doesn't.

Koontz used to allow a lot of his early material to be made into movies. But then horrible things started happening:

Watchers was made with Corey Haim (in a role that should have been occupied by a 36-year old man):

Hideaway was made with Jeff Goldblum ('nuff said - even though I like the man):

We live in an era of unequal respect for the written word. However, it's only through so many historic misfires that Hollywood has learned: FOLLOW SOURCE MATERIAL = BOX OFFICE GOLD. Stephen King can attest to this as much as Koontz can.

There is a REASON bestseller exists. The old school method was to simply use the title and do whatever you wanted (i.e. EGO). Yet now, the more that any said popular material gains strength Hollywood has become afraid of straying from the source material. And rightfully so. What should be simple common sense has been learned through failure. So many good books have been sacrificed on the altar of Hollywood - doing whatever they want to do. Yet, when you already have a strong following right out the gate, the last thing you want to do is piss off the fans. The originators of the excitement. Again, this is common sense, but you can't have high hopes for insane, coke-heads that are given the keys to the kingdom via family-run "businesses".

Thus we come to the Odd Thomas situation.

In the years that followed so many horrible adaptations, Koontz took charge of the reigns and only allowed certain projects into the hands of the insane and Liberal wild-bunch. Mostly he allowed mini-series to be made out of his books as long as he had some control over the projects via production titles and some form of written input on the screenplays. King does the same thing now, btdubs.

However, Odd Thomas is a different development.

Stephen Sommers is in Hollywood jail. Having made the Mummy and the Mummy Returns he was once on a high, however since then he's made Van Helsing (a massive creative flop if not a financial one) and was thrown off the set of GI Joe. I don't blame him for seeking redemption. In Koontz he has seemed to found it.

Sommers' screenplay was greenlit. He brought together an inspired cast (Anton Yelchin as Odd is the stuff of dreams) and shot the damn thing. It's now done and awaiting distribution...waiting, and waiting.

The waiting has no end in sight.

Koontz himself has seen the movie and loves it. 

Read the article above and lament with me why we haven't seen Odd Thomas on the screen. It's there...ready to go!

Dredd review

I'm just going to come out and say it: Dredd is a goddamn great flick. Go out and see it and tell your friends.

This is a rare comic-book adaptation that I have very little knowledge of. I mean, I'm aware of the Judge Dredd comic books and I've read at least one issue (a Batman and Dredd team-up), but beyond the homework I've done and the last wonderfully terrible Judge Dredd movie (with Stallone of course - yes, the two are related, at least in name only), I'm mostly clueless to the world. So to be fair I can't really tell you if this is truthful or honorable to the roots of the series - it definitely appears to be, but I am without firsthand knowledge. Nor do I really care either way.

Dredd is set in a dystopian future where most of the Earth is unlivable, so the few remaining areas that haven't been destroyed are jam-packed full of people in what are called Mega Cities. To deal with the ever climbing population, the law enforcement of the time have been made capable of acting as judge, jury, and when needs be - executioner. Judge Dredd is a highly competent officer who is tasked with breaking in a rookie that happens to have psychic powers. They respond to a call to one of the city's various HUGE urban complexes (think a city within a giant building) and thus enter a Die Hard situation when the building's drug lord locks down the place and tasks the residences to kill the Judges (all to stop them from stumbling on to a massive drug manufacturing plant within the building).

The following film is a collage of badassery that is gloriously violent, fun, and unrelenting. Dredd is a hard kick in the teeth to anyone making an action-movie in our completely PC and disapproving of blood and gore culture. It is the ethereally gorgeous child of classic Verhoeven fare like Robocop and Total Recall (the original, dumbass). Steeped in 80's tradition with all the sensibilities and look of a modern film, THIS is the action movie you've been waiting for with bated breath.

Furthermore, the casts rocks all kinds of shit. I've been a huge fan of Karl Urban's for years. The guy is truly a chameleon whether he's playing Bones in the new Star Trek series, rocking an awesome Tommy Lee Jones impersonation in the Lonesome Dove prequel Comanche Moon, or playing a proud warrior from Rohan in the Lord of the Rings series - he's a damn fine actor. Insisting on wearing the helmet throughout Dredd is another profoundly humbling action (Dredd in the comics has never taken off his helm) in the history of this man's credentials.

Meanwhile, Olvia Thirlby takes the role of the psychic Anderson and runs with it. She should be most films this role would be. She's innocent and untested so of course she's supposed to hesitate and dwell agonizingly on every right decision she makes (i.e. executions) that is perhaps questionable to the Liberally-leaning viewer - except she doesn't. Sure, she's scared and unsure at times, but the mission itself is a huge testing ground for her character so instead of playing the victim, she steps up and builds on her role and allows her trials to strengthen her instead of making her constantly question herself. Her continuing resolve and growing maturity allows her relationship with Dredd to be vastly interesting and satisfying. The two truly compliment each other, and I'm left thinking - if I were Dredd - that I'd want her to watch my back any day of the week. That says a lot...usually I find female law enforcement officers to be a joke, ESPECIALLY on film. Not here.

Of course, I can't end this review without talking about the director. I'm left remembering how I felt about the Dawn of the Dead remake by Zach Snyder. Within fifteen minutes of that movie, I realized I was watching something amazing and needed to remember who the director was so that I could follow his career - and I have, JOYFULLY.

Pete Travis directed Dredd, and while I am unfamiliar with his previous work, I resolve to remedy that immediately. This guy made a phenomenal action-flick that was (by all accounts) true to it's comic roots while being highly entertaining in the face of a studio system that said it could not be done. He took a sub-genre character and storyline and put together a film that is both fun and interesting. The pace is smooth but fast, the look is perfect for the setting, and the characters and actors soak up the atmosphere in a way that is almost contradictory. It's rare that you get both, a well made film and good performances. It's usually one or the other. There is a drug in the movie that's called slo-mo that makes the brain feel like everything is happening at 1% it's usual rate - this is shown in the trailers. A shitty director would have used this a ton, but Travis uses it fleetingly. However, when he does use the effect it's impact is gold. You're almost left wanting more - which is exactly how it should be.

As if you couldn't tell, I loved Dredd. This is EXACTLY the sort of movie I want us all to support. I wants me a sequel! So go out and see it! NOW! I am the law!

10 / 10

Sunday, September 30, 2012

End of Watch review

End of Watch is this generation's Colors. But moreover, it adds fuel to the fire by being something more of a Lethal Weapon buddy comedy with the serious overtones that made Colors a classic gritty, urban melodrama showing life on the streets from behind and in front of a badge. 

That being said, I'd like to take a quick side-note and talk about the "found footage" element behind this movie and all movies in general. First off, it should be noted that End of Watch does not maintain the constant found footage staples. The movie uses the idea generously but it's clear the filmmakers didn't want to be beholden to the limited types of camera angles and viewpoints - so it strays a lot. Especially by the last reel, the movie develops a more classic approach almost entirely abandoning the found footage technique. In a sense, it can't be labeled under the genre. So the question becomes, why do it in the first place? If I loved the technique this is the part of the review where I criticize the sloppiness and/or laziness of the director. However, I loathe the technique. I think it's a done deal and while it had it's time and maybe still can have it's uses in the future, most films do not fit into this style and don't need to. Not to long ago, I covered this ground with Chronicle. Certain movies can benefit from found footage, most can't. More often than not it diminishes the film overall, taking a movie that could easily score an A or B down a few notches. 

It's a bummer but it's a reality, End of Watch would be a better film without the gimmick. 

Still that's about all the negativity I can pound out on the movie. The story is simple but tight with interesting characters and good performances. Stories can generally be broken down between either being plot-driven or character-driven. This is absolutely a character-driven story that takes us into a world few of us are ever exposed to. But just so you know, the basic plot revolves around two LAPD Officers that are more like brothers than partners. They're sort of the current rock stars of the city and consistently make big busts. The problems come along when they flare up on the radar of the Mexican drug cartel and are very quickly targeted for execution. While it's not very realistic (the chances of two beat cops coming under the cartel's purview and then being worth enough heat for them to put a hit on are nil to none), the plot serves as both interesting and adrenaline-fueled.

What really makes this movie fun, worth watching, and believable are the performances turned out by Michael Pena and Jake Gyllenhaal. They have a naturalistic camaraderie that is always welcome in these types of movies and is interesting and fun to watch. You believe these guys are friends and would want to have a beer with them. Personally, I can very much relate to the bromance relationship these guys have and I think it's truly a rare thing. So it's investing to watch their lives intertwine as the drama heightens and the tension winds itself around the brutality and evil that is slowly encircling them as the climax drives itself to it's obvious conclusion. The ending is pretty riveting and traumatic. It's not glossy or pretty and strives to be something close to real.

I remember after Shooter came out everyone couldn't hype up Michael Pena more. Personally I felt he was overrated and nothing special. But he keeps hitting it, and with this performance, I feel he's transcended the hype and proven himself to me. Not that he ever had to or cared to. Ha.

7 / 10

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mumford and Sons get's my soul!

The question has been posed to the ages: Are you a Beatles fan or Elvis fan? Sure you can be both, but you have to be one more than the other. It's just inherent.

My answer: Mumford and Sons.

They have quickly become my favorite band of all-time. It just is. From the beautiful lyrics to the haunting and insanely soulful melodies combined with the acoustic nature of their music I am just completely and irrevocably all-in.

I want you to love them the way that I love them. But I also want you to buy their new album! It is completely and ridiculously amazing. Please check it out.

A few years ago when I was going through a rough patch I came across "A White Blank Page" and it totally expressed how I felt at the time. That wasn't my initial meeting with the band, I had just started listening to their songs via YouTube...but man, oh man did that song hit at the right time. Funny thing, there's a new song that hits me where I live now, enjoy:

And for old times sake:

Looper is coming Part Deux!

Remember this date: SEPTEMBER 28th.

This is the date Looper comes to theater's. I want you there opening weekend...I MEAN IT.

I'm very excited for this movie as I think it's a true example of awesomeness and originality. It takes place in the future. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a hit-man who is hired to kill people sent back through time. Meaning, he get's a time and a place, shows up, person appears and he kills them. The drama starts when the mob sends back his older-self played by Bruce Willis.

If that was it, I'd probably still be sold on this movie. But it's everything else that get's me excited, the look, the sound, the feel, the visual fabric of the flick. Emily Blunt is in it. The design work of the world and the weaponry. Gordon-Levitt's make-up job to look more like Willis. Emily Blunt is in it. And I also read an article about how Gordon-Levitt spent mucho time studying the early works of Willis in order to sound like him and act like him, that means he watched Die Hard for hours upon hours. That is fucking awesome.

Did I mention Emily Blunt is in it?

Tell me that doesn't look badass...really digging the intensity between Bruce and Joseph.

Can't wait...mark your calenders - NOW!

Tell me that's NOT an interesting weapon design!

Dude, you slapped a fiiiish!

It's hard to tell if this is something I should post, or would usually post? It's Twilight-related and beyond my one fair review of a Twilight movie (Breaking Dawn Part I) there's nothing Twilight-centric about this site. However, the following video is insanely funny - so it's going up. What's crazy about this is how well everything matches up and that these guys do this A LOT.

Beyond questioning whether I would post this or not, the biggest problem I had was picking a good quote for the title!

Solomon Kane review

Solomon Kane is a movie that I had heard about - what feels like - ages ago. It looked interesting, perhaps good? I don't know what the hold-up was. Usually when a movie is shelved and unreleased it's because either the studio doesn't know what to do with it and/or they lack faith in it. Cabin in the Woods is a movie that was famously held-up mostly because the studio had no idea what to do with it. Well, that was stupid because regardless of how well the movie did, it was brilliant and deserved to be shown to the general public. Regardless, Solomon Kane is now finally seeing a limited release, even though I saw it a week or so ago via on-demand.

It's a known property, Kane being the creation of Robert E. Howard, the man behind Conan the Barbarian. They're very similar in the sense that they both tell tales of flawed, sword-wielding men who must battle all types of supernatural and occult-based foes. However, I feel like Kane is the more interesting property which is funny since he's not very well known.

The movie starts out with Solomon Kane being one of the worst Captain's you'd ever want to follow while exploring the world and treasure hunting. He's cruel, evil and violently vicious, but he seems happy about it so it's all gravy. Until he faces off with a grim reaper of sorts and he's informed that his soul is destined for Hell. Kane escapes the reaper and finds sanctuary in a monastery in England for a while until he's ordered to leave and travel home as part of his atonement. Along the way, Kane meets a family bound for the New World and journey's with them. The inevitable conflict comes when a supernatural force happens across the band and innocent blood is spilled. Kane must choose to do nothing and keep his soul safe or attack and risk an odyssey into Hell. What would you do? Well of course Kane goes on an ass-kicking spree and eventually encounters the Big Bad's of the movie in the face of an almost Hamlet-like recreation that has much to do with his own past and how he became the man he was and is.

For the most part, Solomon Kane is a helluva flick. It's a good amount of fun while staying true to the intensity and seriousness of the subject matter, what with religion, history, faith, and the will to do violence all being key elements in the plot and the character's motivations. It's filmed fairly well and sprinkled with surprisingly good actors and performances.

There are some giant leaps of logic within the story and some of the set-pieces are rushed and/or don't make sense. The visual style is decent but feels copied like a better filmmaker could have done something more interesting with the same script - it's not bad, just uninspired. Yet overall, it's a good time at the movies. 

In many ways, this is exactly what Van Helsing should have been like and even looked like! They definitely could have made a corny, campy trip into Kane's world with this movie, but I'm happy to report they didn't stray. Sure, there are moments of ridiculousness (like all movies) but it's not drenched in stupidity.

7 / 10