gijoeWhen this movie was first released in August, it was pretty much roasted by most critics, and the early buzz I read was even worse, which was on a “worst movie of the year” level. I was initially ready to see it opening weekend, as I’d resolved to see all the big summer blockbusters this year, but I lost my enthusiasm for it early on and waited until this week to see it. My judgment? It’s not bad. It’s certainly better than the Transformers sequel in that G.I. Joe has a semblance of an actual plot going for it. Humans are also essential to the story, whereas in Transformers, it was basically all giant robots fighting, which I admittedly didn’t have a huge problem with, though I was pretty sure I didn’t need two and a half hours of it. G.I. Joe is probably a bit overlong at nearly two hours, too, but it’s got a lot of last minute character drama in the third act that makes up for it, which they fortunately play pretty straight. Like Transformers, I found G.I. Joe to be a pretty honest, unpretentious movie in that it knows exactly what it wants to be and doesn’t bury itself in camp to make up for its obvious flaws. I wasn’t much of a fan of the 80’s incarnation of G.I. Joe, when the action figures got miniaturized, and certainly wasn’t a fan of the cartoon upon which this movie is based, but the movie is more than passable summer popcorn movie fare, with some good action scenes and just the right amount of humor. It exists in roughly the same universe as Speed Racer in that the physical world it depicts is almost complete fantasy, with its own laws (or lack thereof) of physics, but then most action films play fast and loose with the laws of physics, anyway. The acting is mostly good, especially by Sienna Miller as the Baroness and Marlon Wayans as Ripcord. (With regard to the latter character, I was initially worried he was going to be used strictly as comic relief, but that doesn’t turn out to be the case at all.) It’s hard to evaluate Channing Tatum’s work in the movie because he’s not really given much of a character to play, and any hopes that Joseph Gordon-Levitt would take his villain role and do something akin to what Heath Ledger did with the Joker are sadly dashed by Gordon-Levitt’s pretty standard performance. Christopher Eccleston is just hammy, and Dennis Quaid is, too, for that matter, but Quaid nevertheless gets away with it. G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra is certainly no classic, nor is it in any way essential viewing, but neither is it even close to being as bad as some would have it. It’s only a movie, only a movie, only a movie…and it’s a pretty entertaining one for the most part. And what’s wrong with that?

MONKEY RATING: THREE G.I. MONKEYS

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

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startrek2009First of all, let me assure all old school Star Trek fans, that is, fans of the original series and the six movies that followed it, that the new J.J. Abrams directed Star Trek, which forms a prequel to the series and the movies, is almost unfailingly respectful to its original sources. Longtime fans will have a great time spotting references to the series and previous films, which are woven into both the narrative and the background. In fact, the movie leans so heavily on its original sources that I wonder what audiences completely new to the Star Trek universe will make of it. I imagine what they’ll see is an attractive young cast, headed by Chris Pine as James T. Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Spock, in a super fast paced sci-fi action adventure that pits the crew of the USS Enterprise against Nero (Eric Bana), a Romulan bent on a spectacular and particularly heinous revenge. Pine is good as an immature Kirk, but Quinto really nails it as Spock. Out of the rest of the crew, Karl Urban, John Cho and Simon Pegg make the best impressions as Dr. McCoy, Sulu and Scotty, respectively, while Zoe Saldana as Uhuru, who is quite good, appears to be playing a different character altogether. Anton Yelchin rounds out the cast as a very young and very awkward but still charming Chekov. The pros? The visuals are quite stunning, and Abrams is simply one of the best action directors around, able to stage sequences that are thrilling while also inspiring genuine awe and wonder. The story is also clever enough that it gives filmmakers the license to go their own way with the Star Trek story. The cons? Though the fate of worlds hangs in the balance, and though there’s a lot of excitement generated in general, there’s a curious lack of suspense to the proceedings. Also, while most of the other films and TV episodes revolved around some great philosophical idea or question, audiences will find precious little of that in this version of Star Trek. Judged as a summer blockbuster, Star Trek is pretty terrific. Judged against the series and other Star Trek movies? Well, it’s no Wrath Of Khan, that’s for sure, but I’d rank it just below The Voyage Home: Like that latter film it’s a crowd pleaser, though it possesses an action bent rather than a comic one. So, all in all, I was mightily entertained by the new Star Trek, though I strongly hope the next film includes a return to the intellectual and philosophical underpinnings that endeared audiences to the original Star Trek in the first place.

MONKEY RATING: ONE TREKKIE MONKEY

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

Just a friendly reminder that the third season premiere of 30 Rock is Thursday night, October 30 on NBC, 9:30 PM EST. Owing to the wonder of the Interweb, I was able to catch a sneak preview of the premiere episode, and it’s good, it’s good. It’s called “Do Over,” and it picks up a few months after the wild second season finale, with Devon (Will Arnett) still running GE, and Jack (Alec Baldwin) looking to reclaim the mantle. Meanwhile, Liz (Tina Fey) is looking to adopt a baby and ends up having to field a visit from a very anal retentive adoption agency representative (Megan Mullally) to the chaotic set of her variety show, “TGS with Tracy Jordan.” Tracy himself is busy glorying in the success of his porn video game, irking Jenna (Jane Krakowski), who feels entitled to some of the profits. And if you don’t know who all these people are, well, you should go rent or buy the previous 30 Rock seasons on DVD, and catch the hell up. 30 Rock‘s won the Emmy for Best Comedy Series two years in a row, but it still hasn’t caught fire with TV audiences, and if you’re one of the people who hasn’t been watching it, well, then I blame you. Seriously, this is the best TV comedies ever, with great characters, endlessly quotable dialogue and if you watch it, then you’ll see more of that woman who’s been doing that killer Sarah Palin impression on Saturday Night Live the past few weeks. Also, you’ll laugh. A lot. So tune in tomorrow night on NBC, or else watch it online, but watch it.

http://www.nbc.com/30_Rock/

Bullwinkle Assassinated!

September 19, 2008

Yeah, it’s not modern rock related, I just think it’s funny. You can click it to enlarge it, by the way.

Source: http://blueherald.com/2008/09/bullwinkle-assassinated/

If you haven’t already heard, Shirley Manson, lead singer of one of my favorite bands, Garbage, will be joining the cast of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles this coming fall, according to a Reuters report published May 28, 2008. She’ll be playing Catherine Weaver, CEO of Cyberdyne, the tech company that eventually develops Skynet, the artificial intelligence supercomputing system that becomes “self-aware” and attempts to destroy humanity. No word on what this means with regard to future Garbage releases, though it does seem to scuttle plans for recording a new album sometime this year, as reported last July in Billboard magazine. As of this writing, there’s no announcement at Garbage.com, their official site. Cheers, however, to Shirley Manson. Now I’ll have to start watching that show on a regular basis.

First of all, if you’re a longtime Speed Racer fan like me, odds are you’re reading this already having seen this movie. Granted this version of the 60’s Japanese animated TV series comes over three decades or so after I really would have appreciated seeing it, but now that it’s here, I have to say, I liked it a lot. It’s best when Speed (Emile Hirsch) is racing the Mach 5, his family’s way-tricked out car, against all variety of wild and exotic adversaries, with names like Snake Oiler and Blackjack Benelli, each with their own way-tricked out cars. He also races against, and then with, the mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox), and is supported on and off the track by his girlfriend/helicopter pilot Trixie (Christina Ricci), his race car engineer Pops (John Goodman), Mom (Susan Sarandon), younger brother Spritle (Paulie Litt) and mechanic Sparky (Kick Gurry). Chim-Chim, the family’s pet chimpanzee, is also part of the gang, though I have to admit, he was so oddly drawn in the original series that I wasn’t sure what he was; my friend Curt thought he was just some “really weird looking kid.” The movie is perfectly cast for the most part, and the Speed Racer universe, as re-interpreted by writers/directors the Wachowski Brothers, is as laws-of-gravity-and-physics defying, bizarre and colorful in its own way as the TV series and the manga books from which it first sprang. The live actors are almost perfectly integrated into the largely computer generated backgrounds, vehicles and action, so much so that the green screen work that looked so obvious and distracting and just plain fake in other movies is nearly undetectable here, as all the elements onscreen are put together seamlessly. The cinematic world of Speed Racer is a riot of color, richly and freshly imagined with a lot of wit and style, while staying fundamentally true to its sources. The races are thrillingly staged, and they electrified the mostly young audience with which I saw the movie. The movie doesn’t fare as well with the scenes between the races, where the “Speed Vs. the Man (aka the corporate sponsors who are corrupting the race world)” plot gets played out. The scenes in particular where Royalton (Roger Allam) tries to tempt Speed into racing for his evil corporation are the biggest yawns: Not many kids are going to understand, much less care about, underhanded corporate dealings, and certainly not in the terms and at the length in which Royalton goes on about them. Speed’s scenes with his parents also tend to fall flat, but fortunately there’s real spark in the scenes with him and Trixie. The other problem with Speed Racer is that at 135 minutes, it’s almost fatally overlong by at least half an hour. When the movie works, it definitely works, though, and so it’s worth a look, especially for Speed Racer fans, and fans of the Wachowski Brothers, who, after the dud that was The Matrix Revolutions, have produced a flawed, but mostly entertaining and possibly groundbreaking piece of cinema.

MONKEY RATING: TWO MONKEYS

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

Flight Of The Conchords

April 22, 2008

“Do they smoke grass out in space, Bowie, or do they smoke Astroturf?”

If you are already a fan of Flight Of The Conchords (Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement), the folk/soul/funk/hip-hop/rap/reggae/
rock/pop novelty band from New Zealand, then you don’t need me to tell you this self-titled full length album (following their Grammy Award winning EP, The Distant Future of last year) is awesome and hilarious and that you should get it immediately. (Something I could not say while I was a DJ on public and college radio because that’s “a call to action,” which is against FCC public radio regulations. But this is a blog, so I can say whatever the hell I want.) While the album sadly doesn’t include every last song from their HBO show, of which this basically serves as a soundtrack, it’s got most of them, many of them re-recorded and expanded for this release, including “Think About It,” “Ladies Of The World,” “Robots,” “Boom,” “A Kiss Is Not A Contract,” “The Most Beautiful Girl (In The Room),” “Business Time” and “Bowie.” What hearing the 15 tracks collected here in one place really underscores is how amazingly varied the duo’s musical range is, not to mention how motherflippin’ funny their lyrics are. And by the way, if you’re sad that “If You’re Into It” and “Not Crying” are absent from this album, be sad no more, as they’re included on their EP, The Distant Future. As for the rest of the songs, like “Frodo,” “Sellotape (aka Pencils In The Wind)” or “Bret, You’ve Got It Going On,” well, maybe they’ll end up on the next Flight Of The Conchords album. We can only hope. The second season of their HBO series will begin airing next January. Until then, the album will just have to do.

http://www.myspace.com/conchords

Touted on the cover as the first DC Universe direct-to-video release to get a PG-13, Justice League: The New Frontier is definitely not for younger viewers, owing to some light profanity and some fairly graphic violence for an animated feature starring Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and the like. Those caveats aside, this is an entertaining, heavily nostalgic and beautifully animated 75 minute adaptation of Darwyn Cooke’s graphic novel of the same name. It’s set during the 50’s, so all the superheroes featured have the uniforms they had during that period, and there’s a heavy dose of post World War II art design reflected in the animation, which, for me, anyway, was one of the highlights of watching the movie and one of the major reasons I’d recommend it. Justice League: The New Frontier features the origin stories of the Flash, the Martian Manhunter and the Green Lantern, but it assumes you already know the other heroes in the cast, what they do, where they came from, what their powers are, etc. The plot revolves around a new threat emerging called “the Center,” which eventually threatens the entire world. It takes an appropriately scary and weird form, and it’s up to the Justice League, who have largely been disbanded and discouraged from practicing their superhero ways by an increasingly paranoid Cold War era U.S. government (save for Superman, natch), to come together and defeat it. The impressive voice cast includes Kyle MacLachlan, Lucy Lawless, Neil Patrick Harris, Keith David, Kyra Sedgwick and Jeremy Sisto, who is particularly effective as Batman. Again, Justice League: The New Frontier is not recommended for young kids, owing to a mature storyline, historical references that will go over their heads and often explicit, bloody violence, but for older comic book and superhero fans, this is great stuff.

MONKEY RATING: ONE (CAPE WEARING, CRIME FIGHTING) MONKEY

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

This is the new video from Lo-Fi Sugar, a very talented singer/songwriter from Los Angeles, California (and who also happens to be a very nice person!). She’s recorded and performed with famed electronic music pioneer Paul Van Dyk, and is generally on the rise of late. Her debut EP, The Divine Edit, is available via iTunes, eMusic and Rhapsody.

http://www.myspace.com/lofisugar