Movie Review: ULTIMATE AVENGERS

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Movie Review: ULTIMATE AVENGERSMarvel Studios
2005
PG-13

“Are you really Russian, or are you just trying to make an impression?”

In 1945, in one of the last battles against the Nazis, Super Soldier Steve Rogers, a. k. a. Captain America, stumbles upon an alien plot to help the Nazis build a nuclear warhead to take out the United States. The Captain manages to stop the bomb and destroy it, but at the cost of being hurtled into the Atlantic Ocean and put into suspended animation within an underwater glacier. Flash forward 60 years, and the top-secret Government agency S. H. I. E. L. D., led by General Nick Fury, has found the body of Steve Rogers, and retrieves him in order to duplicate the lost Super Soldier serum to build a new army of super soldiers to take on the lingering alien threat. Only, the Captain is still alive, and the government is getting impatient for results. Now, Steve Rogers finds himself a man out of time, and leading a group of cocky, hot headed modern heroes against the extraterrestrial threat. Only thing is, the aliens aren’t the biggest threat to the Avengers…

As a comic book geek, I do believe that we’re experiencing a neo-Renaissance of sorts with movies and cartoons based on comic book properties. The release of this direct-to-video animated movie based on the first storyline in the uber-popular (and kick arse, I might add) Ultimates comic is, in my not-so-humble opinion, quite spectacular. It’s not perfect, mind you, but realize what it could have been if it was made in, say, the 80s…or even the 90s. I shudder to think…

The animation is top-notch, with a style like that of the late lamented X-Men: Evolution cartoon. There are some noticeable instances where the CGI and traditional animation don’t mix too well, mostly with the scenes involving S. H. I. E. L. D.’s flying machines. Otherwise, it’s pretty smooth and tight. Story-wise, it sticks pretty close to the source material, albeit a bit toned down (anyone who’s read the Ultimates know what I’m talking about…somehow I don’t think Captain America kicking Bruce Banner in the nuts would’ve played out too well). Still, it doesn’t skimp on the explosive action, or the rather deep characterization with the Marvel icons. Steve Rogers trying to adjust to the future present he’s stuck in with almost all ties to his past gone is handled really well. Also, Bruce Banner as the obsessive yet brilliant scientist trying to find a way to control his Hulk alter-ego is nicely done. And call me crazy, heretical, or whatnow, but I personally prefer the Ultimate version of Nick Fury rather than the regular continuity version. The obvious Samuel L. Jackson design works for him. Seriously…

Sadly, this movie’s only 73 minutes long. Not really a full-length movie, but still very satisfying. Well done. I’d like to see more Marvel-based DTV movies like this in the future, perhaps with more obscure characters. Maybe an animated miniseries based on the Alex Ross / Mark Waid opus Marvels. In the extras, for all you George Perez freaks out there, there’s an interesting 25-minute documentary entitled “Avengers Assemble!”, which features interviews with Perez and a couple of others involved with the Avengers comic in various incarnations. In any case, check this nifty gem out…

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Movie Review: TRUE GRIT (2010)

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Movie Review: TRUE GRIT (2010)Paramount
2010
PG-13

“You must pay for everything in this world, one way and another. There is nothing free except the grace of God.”

Following the murder of her father by hired hand Tom Chaney, 14-year-old farm girl Mattie Ross sets out to capture the killer. To aid her, she hires the toughest U.S. marshal she can find, a man with “true grit,” Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn. Mattie insists on accompanying Cogburn, whose drinking, sloth, and generally reprobate character do not augment her faith in him. Against his wishes, she joins him in his trek into the Indian Nations in search of Chaney. They are joined by Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, who wants Chaney for his own purposes. The unlikely trio find danger and surprises on the journey, and each has his or her “grit” tested.

I normally don’t watch straight-up westerns. Usually, the genre would have to have a healthy dose of sci-fi or horror mixed in to get me interested. That, or Clint Eastwood. That guy’s just awesome. So, it’s rare that I would actually plop down money to go see a straight-up western movie in the theater. It was the matinee pricing, but still.

When it came to this remake of the John Wayne classic True Grit, there were two things going for it: it was a Coen Brothers joint, and it starred Jeff Bridges. Still, I held off for a few weeks after it was released…because it was a western. Yeah, yeah, terrible person I am, being all comfortable with my personal movie preferences. How do I live with myself?

Anyway, not being familiar with the original movie, beyond that it’s lauded as one of John Wayne’s finest performances, and that he was playing against his usual type of movie character – and that he wore an eyepatch – I really don’t know just how this remake holds up to the classic. Neither do I care. I’m just getting that out of the way, as I’ve had a lot of people ask me if it’s as good as the original since watching this version. I also don’t foresee myself watching the original any time soon. And that’s enough talking about that. Let’s get on with it, shall we?

As a whole, I found True Grit to be rather enjoyable, a good way to spend an afternoon with the guys. Good period piece settings, the story kept me engaged with just a bare few minor lagging moments, and it’s gritty without going overboard, I thought. The main thing that made this enjoyable was the cast. All of them were fantastic, from the main actors down to the very minor characters. Jeff Bridges is a joy to watch here as the grumpy and perpetually drunken Rooster, and whenever he has to go off screen or there’s a scene without him, it makes me sad. Matt Damon as LaBoeuf as the polar opposite of Bridge’s Rooster works well. Very amusing moments with those two together. The big surprise, though, was the performance of Hailee Steinfeld as the 14-year-old with a vengeance streak. Surprise because the actress is actually 14 here, but she gave a much, much more professional performance, holding her own against Bridges, Damon and the other actors that spice up the story. I honestly thought they got a younger 20-something to play the part, until I did a little research after watching this. Very impressive.

Overall, I found this True Grit to be enjoyable. Good story, great cast. Hasn’t made me want to watch more westerns, but I can think of worse things to do on a weekend afternoon.

Movie Review: TRON: Legacy

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Movie Review: TRON: LegacyWalt Disney Pictures
2010
PG

Twenty-eight years is a long time to wait for a sequel. Especially a sequel to a movie that was considered a box office flop when it was first released. I of course speak of the 1982 movie Tron, a sci-fi flick Disney released at a time when the company wasn’t doing so hot, but was still actively innovative and imaginative none the less. The original Tron was a perfect example of Disney being much more than catering to kids — the effects and production was pretty cutting edge at the time, and the story was a bit darker in tone (something Disney never shied away from, really). Problem was, Tron was released against the soon-to-be pop culture juggernaut that was E. T.: The Extra Terrestrial. Yeah, looking back it seemed like a stupid move, but really who could have foreseen that at the time?

Anyhoo, as with a lot of other genre movies, Tron grew quite the cult following over the decades, so much that we finally have a sequel that, in my not-so-humble opinion, not only recaptures the spirit of the original, but builds upon it, giving the world of the Grid a deeper depth and dimension. And no, that has nothing to do with the 3D effects.

(Just a quick side note, here; I wrote the rough draft of this earlier in the morning, and later that same evening had a rather spirited discussion about the original vs. the sequel with some of my fellow geeks I hold in high esteem; I only bring this up because I realize there’s going to be cries of blasphemy and high amounts of nerd rage after what I just wrote…and I make no apologies…love you all)

The story begins several years after the events of the original Tron: Kevin Flynn is telling the tale of his adventure in The Grid to his young son, Sam, before heading out to work on his new creation. It would be the last time his son and the world sees or hears from him again. Flash forward twenty years, and Sam is a somewhat reckless young adult, channeling his inner angst and inherent intelligence and genius to playfully sabotaging his father’s (and his, as he’s also the majority stock holder) company’s efforts to become the next big corporate playa’s. OS / Linux fans will get a kick out of that opening bit, there. After his latest escapade, he’s informed that his estranged father might still be alive, which leads him to the old arcade, where to a soundtrack of vintage 80s rock he’s zapped into The Grid. Immediately he’s taken into the games, and must battle his way out, facing not only a corrupt A. I. master, but also his long-lost father. Oh, and there’s also only eight hours before the porthole between this and the real world closes. And the A. I. wants to conquer the real world as well. So, no pressure or anything.

I’m only going to say upfront that, as far as the original Tron goes, I have an appreciation of the film and its impact on sci-fi film history, but I don’t consider myself an ubergeek about it. Not like I am about, say, Star Wars, Star Trek or Doctor Who. I think it’s that kind of low-grade geek appreciation that perhaps allowed me to enjoy Tron: Legacy much more than a lot of others. Overall, I thought that Tron: Legacy was a fantastic sci-fi cyberpunk fantasy, one that immediately drew me in and held me there for over two hours, unwilling to move despite the protests of my bladder. It’s rare that I just lose myself in a movie like that. I’m not saying it’s the greatest movie ever; far from it. I’m just saying that Tron: Legacy provided one of those rare instances where everything came together and worked to that end.

There’s a lot I can write about, which has the potential to go on for hours. To keep things relatively brief, I’ll say that I found the plot to be deeper than just the surface points. The father / son dynamic is refreshingly subdued in the angsty drama, where I strongly believed the bond those two shared. There was even a surprising depth to CLU, the A. I. antagonist that, aside from providing the obvious “I’m my own worst enemy” dynamic (if you’ve seen the movie already, you know what I’m getting at…and if you haven’t, that’s technically not a spoiler, so quit whining), there’s a certain flashback scene where you actually start to feel kind of sympathetic for him. Kind of. The acting was great, and the effects were just stunning. Tron: Legacy is probably the first movie I would recommend seeing in 3D. Which is something in itself, considering my general disdain for what I normally consider an overpriced and unnecessary movie gimmick.

So, obviously I completely enjoyed Tron: Legacy. Haters are gonna hate, I realize this; but what it comes down to is that it made me forget I was in a movie theater. And I’ve seen it twice. And I haven’t double dipped in the theater in over a decade. At least it isn’t a remake…

Movie Review: The TRIPPER

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Movie Review: TRIPPERCoquette Productions
2006
R

“But I’m a Republican!”

A bunch of neo-hippies gather together in the middle of a Redwood forest for a weekend of music, drug and sex-fueled debauchery. There to harsh on the fest attendee’s mellow are local rednecks, disgruntled loggers, an unscrupulous promoter…and a homicidal maniac dressed as former President Ronald Reagan…

In this volatile political climate nowadays, it’s like everyone who has any kind of ties to the entertainment industry considers themselves a political expert, using their “art” as a mouthpiece to voice their opinions on the government and such. There’s a difference between political and social satire and thinly veiled soapbox propaganda. The Tripper falls somewhere between the two. At its heart, the movie is a deliciously raucous slasher flick brimming with dark humor. As writer, director, co-producer and actor, David Arquette has gleeful fun with the material, as any horror geek should. A psychotic maniac mowing down hippies and rednecks dressed up like Ronald Regan — brilliant. Loved it to death (no pun intended). That in and of itself would have prompted me to check this out, no matter who was doing this. The actors chosen for the rolls brought some serious meat to the movie, and not in the “kill fodder” sense. Not a bad apple in the bunch, and everyone seemed to have real fun with the rolls they were given. Jason Mewes plays essentially himself, and that’s a good thing. Jamie King was great as the girl trying to escape her past and trying to stay sober in the middle of the drugs and craziness. Thomas “The Punisher” Jane was a great choice as the local Sheriff, as was Paul “Don’t Call Me Pee-Wee” Reubens as the show promoter.

I should point out that the majority of the movie was shot on location in the redwood forest, during an actual festival held there, which resulted in some really beautiful scenery. And the contrast between this and the brutality of the kills is very effective. And kudos on taking the time to build up the characters to make ’em more than just redshirts.

As far as the political soapboxing — well, it’s there, but there’s little of it, and taken care of at the beginning. That’s what I was worried about, having to sit through a bunch of Bush hating bandwagon crap. But no, outside of the “Bush is the worst President!” whining at first, followed by a shot of rednecks gushing about how great Bush is, the political sentiments are more tongue-in-cheek. Really, the only character I found annoying (besides the hippies; you can bet I was cheering their demise on with gleeful abandon) was the ex-boyfriend of Jamie King’s character –basically stuck in 80s Wall Street mode, with a license plate that read REDS8TS and toting a pistol because he loved Charlton Heston. And he was abusive. Imagine that.

I guess someone can look at The Tripper as a blatant slap against Republicans. I, however, found this a refreshing take on the slasher horror genre amidst movies full of cannibalistic mutated hillbillies. If you find yourself taking this too seriously…well, the word “therapy” springs to mind. Otherwise, great slasher horror that goes beyond the sum of its parts. Recommended…

Music Review: INDEPENDENT OPPOSITION – Liar’s Paradise

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liar's paradise
INDEPENDENT OPPOSITION
Liar’s Paradise
Independent
1999

From the mind that brought us Red Rum Trance and Graphic Verses came Liar’s Paradise in 1999. I met the guy behind theses and other experimental industrial noise offerings at Cornerstone ’99, who gave me a copy under the pretense that I’d review it and also buy a copy of Red Rum Trance from his website. Weeeeeeeeell, never really got around to ordering that disc. Sorry, man. Please don’t get violently angry, I was meaning to, it’s just…well, um…I was abducted by a mob of angry Grace College students shouting “I am FULL of Christ’s love, you moron!” while they dipped me in tar and stuck Chick Tracts to my body. Yeah, that’s it…

Anyway, as I wait for the lightning to strike, Liar’s Paradise’s theme is, well, liars. And the poor schlubs who get stabbed in the back by them. Without delving too much into the personal life of the guy, let’s just say this was inspired by just such a relationship. Some of the best stuff comes out of those, sad as it may be. The music, and for some that word may be a stretch, is a swirling and surreal mass of electronic noise with spoken word narration that cuts through the crap and presents everything in a sardonic manner that works wonders. Like, say, on the track “You Have The Right”, it starts off “You have the right to eat filth, you have the right to be a pig…this is your right, you have a choice.” Obviously not meant for mass consumption, but really great to throw on late at night for a spooky ambient background soundtrack…

Music Review: ILLUMINANDI – Demos I & II

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ILLUMINANDI - Demo 1 ILLUMINANDI - Demo 2
ILLUMINANDI
Demos I / Demos II
Independent
2001 / 2002

Illuminandi is a Polish metal band. What kind of metal, it’s hard to say. You see, they have a style that mixes the European power metal style with classical violin and cello instruments throughout, resulting in a hybrid that works very well. Visions of Believer’s Dimensions done with a more power metal stance come to play.

Demo I / Demo II, in case you haven’t realized, is a CD comprised of their first two demos. The first demo is four songs long- “…I O Tym Drugim…”, “Nie Lekaj Sie”, “Kielch” and “Alleluja”. Translated to English, the titles are “…And About The Other…”, “Don’t Be Afraid”, “The Cup”, and “Hallelujah”, respectively. While the sound quality is definitely demo-quality (meaning, kind of low, which is usually expected for independent DIY releases), the music comes through nicely. The band sure does a nice job, playing tightly and mixing the metal and classical styles evenly. The vocals are generally clean sung, with both male and female singers (“Alleluja” is entirely female vocals, which sound great). The lyrics are all in Polish, but after reading the English translations I can assure you that they are quite Biblically based. On Demo II, the band has improved a lot, with better sound quality and more melody in their songs. The vocals have improved as well, and the entire band couldn’t be tighter. Well, they could, but it’s not an issue here. They’s tight, y’all. There’s only three songs here, though- “Kto Mnie Wyzwoli…?”, “The Light” and “…Wiec My…”. “The Light” is the only English song here; the other two are translated “Who Will Save Me…?” and “…So We…”, respectively. “The Light” involves a choir, which is a great addition. “…Wiec My…” is absolutely heavy, with double bass drumming and grunts with the clean vocals adding a death metal flavor to the song.

I would highly recommend anyone who’s a collector of Christian metal (or just metal, period) to look into Illuminandi.

Music Review: IMPENDING DOOM – Nailed. Dead. Risen.

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IMPENDING DOOM - Nailed. Dead. Risen.
IMPENDING DOOM
Nailed. Dead. Risen.
Facedown Records
2007

Death metal, pure and simple. Okay, okay, sure there are some I’ve read that try to lump this in with the whole “deathcore” style, and they might have a bit of a point with the fact that there are breakdowns hither and yon (and the fact that it was released on Facedown Records). But, let’s take them genre-Nazi blinders off and face the facts, my wanna-be poser brethren (and siseren): This is DEATH METAL. This is gut-churning, guitars down tuned to Zb riffing, blast beat-your-face-off drumming, vocalist gonna vomit up something from deep in his bowels kinda brutality that, thankfully, seems to be getting a resurgence as of late. The songs sometimes seem a bit too simplistic in their execution, but I cannot complain much because I haven’t had a good solid dose of this kind of death metal in a long, looooooooong time. Add to this the good production, an album cover that is probably the coolest I’ve seen in quite some time, and lyrics that are straight-forward about their faith in Christ Jesus, and the end result is a big, stupid grin on my face and a pleasant throbbing in my head that I haven’t experienced since discovering Mortification’s Scrolls Of The Megilloth back in the day. Good start, can’t wait to hear more stuff from this band. Recommended.

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