Thursday, June 30, 2011

At the Movies – July 2011 – Part 2: Hollywood Films

Romance and Rom-Coms:

Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks) – Romance – Jul 1
Summary: The film is about a middle-aged man who loses his job and returns to college to both get a degree (which he needs) and reinvent himself, only to meet a woman that evokes new feelings within him. Filmmakers: Tom Hanks is writing (with Nia Vardalos, the star and writer of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which Hanks produced), directing, starring, and producing the film. He has a good group around him with composer James Newton Howard (Charlie Wilson’s War), cinematographer Philippe Rousselot (Sherlock Holmes) and production designer Victor Kempster (Miami Vice). Cast: Along with Hanks, the film stars Julia Roberts and featuring supporting work from Rob Riggle, Rita Wilson, Cedric the Entertainer, Taraji P. Henson, Wilmer Valderrama, Pam Grier, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Bryan Cranston. Expectations: Tom Hanks has directed a few episodes of TV in the past (I liked his work on the episode Crossroads from Band of Brothers a lot) and the feature film That Thing You Do! (which was ok). The film looks like a typical Hollywood style rom-com that will live or die on the chemistry and charm of its stars. Thankfully, those stars happen to be Hanks and Roberts who played off each other well in Charlie Wilson’s War. I will not be rushing out to see this (though, I feel like it is made for an older audience than myself), but I will probably rent it. Check out the trailer.

Friends with Benefits (Will Gluck) – Rom-Com – Jul 22
Summary: The film is about two young people that want sex but without all the complications of a relationship (trying to avoid the clichés of Hollywood rom-coms…right). But, they discover it is not that easy (I mean, this is a rom-com after all, of course they are going to end up liking each other that way). Filmmakers: Director Will Gluck makes his third feature here, hoping to springboard off the success of his last film Easy A (though I thought his first, Fired Up!, was funny too). Taking nothing to chance, Gluck is working again with his team from Easy A: cinematographer Michael Grady and production designer Marcia Hinds. Cast: The film stars Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, each coming off critical acting acclaim in 2010 (for The Social Network and Black Swan, respectively). The supporting cast is great too with Patricia Clarkson, Jenna Elfman (has she been in anything lately?), Bryan Greenberg, Richard Jenkins, Woody Harrelson, Andy Samberg (who hopefully has some scenes opposite Timberlake), and Emma Stone. Expectations: In Hollywood, they always come in twos. Earlier this year we had No Strings Attached, and now we have Friends with Benefits – both being R-rated rom-coms about trying to have an emotion/girlfriend-boyfriend free sexual relationship. That being said, this looks really funny. The cast is great, Gluck makes funny stuff and it will probably be different enough to support itself as a unique film (we already just watch the same 15 or so films over and over with different names, casts and filmmakers anyway). Check out the trailer. Review.

Serious Films:

Crazy, Stupid, Love. (Glenn Ficarra & John Requa) – Dramedy/Romance – Jul 29
Summary: The film is about a man whose life beings to unravel due to a marital crisis. He finds himself alone, trying to manage his relationship with his children. Then, he meets a guy who seems to get all the girls, so he asks for his help in finding a new love interest. Filmmakers: Directing partners Glenn Ficarra and John Requa make funny films that center around characters with social or emotional issues (I liked their directorial debut I Love You Phillip Morris and they wrote the very funny Bad Santa). They have a good and fitting crew on the film with comedy composers Christophe Beck (The Hangover: Part II) and Nick Urata (who worked on I Love You Phillip Morris), cinematographer Andrew Dunn (Precious) and production designer William Arnold (Punch-Drunk Love). Cast: The cast is great and probably the highlight of the film with Steve Carell starring, Emma Stone (who is in three movies this summer), Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, and Marisa Tomei co-starring, and Kevin Bacon, John Carroll Lynch, Liza Lapira, and Analeigh Tipton supporting. Expectations: Initially, this was on my to-rent list, but the trailers have looked really good and I have upgraded it to the probably-going-to-see-in-theatres list. The cast is fantastic, and the aesthetics looks really good (which is a big draw for me). Ficarra and Requa look to have made a film that is going to be both funny and emotionally compelling. Check out the trailer. Review.

Fun Movies:

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (Michael Bay) – Action – Jul 1 (Jun 29)
Summary: The film is about a Cybertronian spacecraft hidden on the Moon. Both the Autobots and Decepticons want to reach it first to learn its secrets. Let the race for survival begin. Filmmakers: Action-director Michael Bay returns for his third installment in the franchise (because despite the second film being utterly terrible, it made tons of money). Steven Spielberg is also back as the film’s executive producer (aka collecting money for attaching his name). Bay is using a crew his is familiar with, including composer Steve Jablonsky (who scored the first two Transformers), cinematographer Amir Mokri (new to the series, but shot Bad Boys II for Bay) and production designer Nigel Phelps (who worked on RotF and Bay’s The Island and Pearl Harbor). Cast: Almost everyone is returning from the first two films (except Megan Fox who compared Bay to Hitler and did not like being objectified by him), and new to the cast are Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (replacing Fox), Patrick Dempsey, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Alan Tudyk, and Ken Jeong, making for a pretty solid group. Expectations: Everyone is saying (promising) that Dark of the Moon is going to be better than Rise of the Fallen (but that is not saying much, more than 99% of all movies that have come out since are better than Rise of the Fallen). Personally, any interest I had in this series died with the second installment (fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me). But, advanced reviews tout the film as being lots of fun with great action, although completely mindless and pointless. So fans of the first two films will probably enjoy this one too. It marks a sad day for cinema fans though, as it once again reminds Hollywood that quality actually does not really matter in terms of making money. Check out the trailer.

Horrible Bosses (Seth Gordon) – Comedy – Jul 8
Summary: The film is about three friends that work for terrible bosses. Thus, they conspire to murder each other’s boss with the ultimate goal of finding happiness in their lives. Filmmakers: The film has a mixed group of filmmakers working on it. Director Seth Gordon made the awesome documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters but his first feature film was Four Christmases, which was not that well received. Actor John Francis Daley (Bones, Freaks and Geeks) makes his feature screenwriting debut with writing-partner Jonathan Goldstein. Very good composer Christopher Lennertz (who does excellent work on Supernatural) is scoring the film, ok cinematographer David Hennings (Very Bad Things) is shooting it, production designer Shepherd Frankel (worked on Four Christmases) is designing it, and (hack) director Brett Ratner (Rush Hour 3) is producing it. Cast: The cast is great though, starring Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis and co-starring Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Spacey and Colin Farrell. The supporting cast features Lindsay Sloane, Donald Sutherland, Jamie Foxx, John Francis Daley, Bob Newhart, Ioan Gruffudd, Julie Bowen, Wendell Pierce, and Ron White. Expectations: The film has a ton of very funny people in it, which should translate into a funny movie (it has Charlie Day in it, after all, how can it not be funny?). The trailers have been good. The only question that I have is can Seth Gordon make good on the quality of his documentary work in his feature work (he has done so in TV, directing good episodes of Community, The Office and Parks and Recreation). Check out the trailer. Review.

Winnie the Pooh (Stephen J. Anderson & Don Hall) – Comedy – Jul 15
Summary: The film is about just another ordinary in Hundred Acre Wood. Winnie the Pooh sets out to find some honey, like always. But when he stumbles upon a note from Christopher Robin, he is convinced that he has been kidnapped by the evil “Backson”. Thus, he rounds up the gang to set out and save him. Filmmakers: The writing and directing team of Stephen Anderson and Don Hall have a good background at Disney, working on the films The Princess and the Frog, Meet the Robinsons (which they wrote and directed), Brother Bear, The Emperor’s New Groove, and Tarzan. Cool composer Henry Jackman (X-Men: First Class) is scoring the film with songs by Zooey Deschanel (actress and member of the band She & Him), cinematographer Julio Macar (Home Alone) is shooting it, and production designers Paul Felix (Bolt) and Patrick Sullivan Jr. (Memoirs of a Geisha) are designing it. Cast: The film features the voice work of the actors that typically do the voices in the series (like Jim Cummings) and John Cleese as the narrator and Craig Ferguson talking over the voice role of Owl. Expectations: The film looks to be the best family film of the month. It has a great aesthetic to it, mixing both the classic feel of the series with modern animation technology. It has received very positive reviews in its advanced screenings. Fans of Winnie the Pooh should be in for a treat of a film. Check out the trailer.

Cowboys & Aliens (Jon Favreau) – Sci-Fi/Western – Jul 29
Summary: The film is based on the loved indie comic book about a posse of cowboys that is all that stands in the way of an alien race that arrives in Arizona in 1873 to take over the Earth. Filmmakers: Iron Man director Jon Favreau is a good choice to make the film as he has a good handle on action and garners good performances. The writing team behind Mission: Impossible III, Star Trek, Transformers, Fringe, and Lost (Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof) wrote the film and are producing. Favreau has a very fitting crew with composer Harry Gregson-Williams (The Town), awesome cinematographer Matthew Libatique (who shot Iron Man 2 for Favreau) and production designer Scott Chambliss (who worked on Star Trek). Steven Spielberg is the executive producer.  Cast: If the crew did not have you excited for the film, this cast certainly will, as it stars Daniel Craig (James Bond) and Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones). The supporting cast is very good too with Olivia Wilde, Paul Dano, Sam Rockwell, Keith Carradine, Walton Goggins, David O’Hara, Abigail Spencer, Adam Beach, and Clancy Brown. Expectations: Being a fan of both westerns and sci-fi films, this is particularly interesting. It looks to be a very fun film to watch, and hopefully one of the best action films of the summer (which has been good so far with X-Men: First Class, Super 8, Thor, and Fast Five). The cast is awesome, and Jon Favreau has done good work recently with the Iron Man franchise (but I would argue has not yet made a great film). Check out the trailer. Review.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

At the Movies – July 2011 – Part 1: Independent Films

Art-House Watch:

Terri (Azazel Jacobs) – Dramedy – Jul 1 [LA/NYC]
Summary: The film is about an awkward teen that does not fit in at school. As he struggles with life, he befriends the school’s guidance counselor. Filmmakers: While director Azazel Jacobs has made a few films prior, Terri marks his first to receive wider distribution (probably due to John C. Reilly starring, its strong showing at Sundance and having producers who have done indie hits in the past with Half Nelson and Blue Valentine). Jacobs is working again with D.P. Tobias Datum (who shot his last film Momma’s Man; Datum is starting to get some indie recognition for his recent work, including: this film, Amreeka and Peep World) and first-time production designer Matt Luem. Cast: Newcomer Jacob Wysocki (who some will know from Huge) stars alongside Reilly in what could be a breakout performance. Creed Bratton (from The Office) and up-and-comer Olivia Crocicchia (from Rescue Me) feature in supporting roles. Expectations: Coming off good reviews from Sundance and SXSW, Terri looks to be a moderate indie hit. It seems to be more of a drama (and sort of a sad commentary on teenage life), but with some funny moments. Reilly is finding a good place for himself recently taking his oddball comedy to smaller films (like with last year’s Cyrus). Check out the trailer.

Project Nim (James Marsh) – Documentary – Jul 8 [limited]
Summary: The film is about a chimpanzee (minkey) taken from his mother at birth and placed with a human family. Nim is taught to communicate through sign language and treated as a human child. It is a rare glimpse at an animal that we tried to make human, and what we learned about his true nature and our own. Filmmakers: The film is by excellent documentarian and director James Marsh (Man on a Wire and Part 2 of the Red Riding Trilogy). Working with Marsh are composer Dickon Hinchliffe (Winter’s Bone and worked with Marsh on his installment of the Red Riding Trilogy), indie cinematographer Michael Simmonds (Big Fan) and newcomer production designer Markus Kirschner. Expectations: Documentary fans should expect a lot from this film – first it is by the man who made Man on a Wire and second it won the Sundance Best Documentary award. Based on the trailer, it looks interesting but I feel like I already know how the story goes, as if it were nicely structured for Hollywood (hope everyone got the Peter Seller’s reference above). Check out the trailer.

Another Earth (Mike Cahill) – Sci-Fi – Jul 22 [limited]
Summary: The film is about an ambitious young student and an acclaimed composer who cross paths in a tragic accident on the night that the discovery of a duplicate Earth in the solar system is made. Filmmakers: Writer-director Mike Cahill makes his feature debut with the film, having previously directed the well-received documentary Boxers and Ballerinas. Cahill is also taking up the jobs of producing, lighting/shooting and editing the film. Newcomer Darsi Monaco is doing the production design, while the score is by underground media group Fall on Your Sword. Cast: William Mapother (Lost) and Brit Marling star, highlighting a mostly unknown cast. Expectations: Another Earth turned some heads at Sundance, how could it not with such compelling imagery, but the critical response has been mixed. I am excited to see it just for the photography, but the story and philosophical themes also strike me as being quite compelling (probably will not see this in theatres but definitely Netflixing it). Check out the trailer.

The Future (Miranda July) – Dramedy – Jul 22 [LA/NYC]
Summary: The film is about a couple that feels a bit stuck. They decide to adopt a stray cat, which is the first step to their perspective on life drastically beginning to change (even having an effect on time and space). Filmmakers: Writer-director-star Miranda July returns with her second feature film; her first being the acclaimed Me and You and Everyone We Know. July has a good crew on the film with wonderful composer Jon Brion (who worked on many of P.T. Anderson’s films), documentary cinematographer Nikolai von Graevenitz and newcomer production designer Elliott Hostetter (who did set-dressing for True Grit and The Tree of Life). Cast: July stars with Hamish Linklater and a group of lesser known actors. Expectations: The Future is yet another high profile film to come out of Sundance. With fans of Me and You and Everyone We Know having a lot of anticipation, it received mixed reviews from critics. It looks very indie-quirky stylistically and should appeal to fans of that type of film. Check out the trailer.

Sarah’s Key (Gilles Paquet-Brenner) – Drama – Jul 22 [limited]
Summary: The French film is about a journalist in modern-day Paris who finds her life becoming intertwined with a young girl whose family was destroyed during the Vel d’Hiv Roundup in 1942. Filmmakers: Writer-director Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s past films have never been well received by critics, but that is not the case with Sarah’s Key as it played very well when it opened in France last year. He has a good crew on the film with composer Max Richter (Waltz with Bashir) and frequent collaborators cinematographer Pascal Ridao and production designer Francoise Dupertuis (Molière). Cast: The film stars Kristen Scott Thomas (as she continues to make films in France) and co-stars Melusine Mayance, Niels Arestrup and Aidan Quinn. Expectations: The subject matter is similar to another French film The Round Up, which could see distribution in the States this year, but Sarah’s Key garnered more praise among critics. It looks to be a good drama with Scott Thomas giving a powerful performance at its center. Check out the trailer.

Ironclad (Jonathan English) – Action/Adventure – Jul 26
Summary: The film is about a small group of Knights Templar in 13-century England who fight to defend Rochester Castle against the evil and tyrannical King John (I guess they needed to finish what Robin Hood started?). Filmmakers: Writer-director-producer Jonathan English has made two previous films (both awful), however Ironclad is his first to receive a decent distribution (most like due to the name stars) and has surprisingly played well (but not amazingly) for critics. The crew on the film is respectable with TV and videogame composer Lorne Balfe (who has been getting some film work lately, like Megamind), cinematographer David Eggby (Euro Trip) and production designer Joseph Nemec III (Terminator 2: Judgment Day). Cast: The cast is quite good given the B-movie vibe this has with James Purefoy starring, Paul Giamatti, Kate Mara and Brian Cox co-starring and supporting work from Jason Flemyng, Charles Dance, Derek Jacobi, and Mackenzie Crook. Expectations: Ironclad (despites its terrible title) looks to be a fun period action film – probably a little cliché and cheesy (the music in the trailer really does not help) and with some iffy special effects, but entertaining. Plus, the cast is pretty great. Check out the trailer.

The Devil’s Double (Lee Tamahori) – Biography – Jul 29 [limited]
Summary: The film is about a man who is forced to be the body-double for Saddam Hussein’s sadistic son Uday. Filmmakers: Director Lee Tamahori is known for making action films (including the worst James Bond movie), so it should be interesting to see how he handles drama. The crew is not well known but talented with composer Christian Henson (Black Death), cinematographer Sam McCurdy (Centurion) and first time production designer Paul Kirby (though he was the art director on Batman Begins and The Brothers Bloom). Cast: The film stars Dominic Cooper and features Ludivine Sagnier, Philip Quast and Jamie Harding in supporting roles. Expectations: The film has received mostly positive reviews in its advanced screenings and Cooper is a great actor looking to give a tour de force dual performance. I think it should be a good drama and an interesting look into the Hussein household. Check out the trailer.

The Guard (John Michael McDonagh) – Comedy – Jul 29 [limited]
Summary: The film is about a confrontational small-town Irish policeman who has to team up with an uptight FBI agent to investigate and stop an international drug-smuggling operation. Filmmakers: Writer-director John Michael McDonagh makes his feature debut directing his second produced script (the first being Ned Kelly). Working on the film with McDonagh are Tucson-based Americana/alternative country band Calexico scoring (which seems like an odd choice for a film set in Ireland), British cinematographer Larry Smith (Bronson) and Irish production designer John Paul Kelly (Bloody Sunday). Cast: The film features an excellent group of actors with Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle starring and supporting work from Liam Cunningham, Mark Strong, Rory Keenan, and Fionnula Flanagan. Expectations: The film looks very funny in an awesomely offbeat and maybe even crass way. Knowing nothing else, one would expect something good with actors like Gleeson, Cheadle and Strong involved. The film has seen critical acclaim on the festival circuit, receiving an honorable mention at the Berlin International Film Festival for Best Debut Film. I am not sure if I will catch this in theatres but I am certainly going to rent it. Check out the trailer.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Beginners (2011) – Review

Review: Beginners is sad and honest, with a wonderful naturalistic/minimalist aesthetic. Writer-director Mike Mills structured the film to jump around in time to tell the story – both narratively (this is what happened then and is happening now) and emotionally (how Oliver got to be the way he is). While the film has a certain indie quirkiness to it (which is sort of standard for this type of film), Mills seems to put a premium on exploring the emotions of his characters in a very authentic fashion (though, there is somewhat of a typical Hollywood narrative formula at work as well). The audience can connect with Oliver, because he feels real and his emotions genuine. Mills is not afraid to explore Oliver’s loneliness and deep sadness (the fear being making a depressing film that isolates the audience), and it works both due to the emotions feeling substantial and tangible and to the humor and quirky charm that is sprinkled in throughout (plus a very cute Jack Russell terrier that gives his perspective, almost God-like, when things are not as they should be). The characters of Oliver’s dad Hal and his friend Anna also have a lot of life and kinetic energy that they bring to the film, which helps balance out the stunted Oliver. However, despite the loneliness and deep sadness of Oliver, the film has a refreshing and un-abating optimism to it – it is never too late to make a change or start over (as can be seen both in Hal, Oliver and Anna). It is the kind of optimism that is naïve, but necessary and brings a smile to our faces (we need and crave this type of optimism in our own lives). In addition to the narrative, the film has a very important and socially relevant (and political) message in relation the treatment of gay men and women (or just being different in someone’s eyes). The film compares what it was like to be Gay or Jewish in the 30s/40s/50s in connection to today. (Not to go off on a tangent but) it is ridiculous that even today all Americans (and humans) do not have the same rights under the law. The film has a very accepting and loving affinity to its characters (be them gay or straight), which makes it endearing and promotes such a positive vibe (even outside the narrative). Beginners is an excellent film with great characters and emotional resonance.

Technical & acting achievements: Mike Mills has had a successful career making music videos (a style that lent itself very well to a number of the sequences in this film) and also made the narrative film Thumbsucker (which was received with mixed criticism, and is not a film I liked much). Beginners is his best work to date as it shows his skill in writing very true characters and handling an interesting narrative structure. I, for one, am looking forward to what he does next. The composing trio of Roger Neill, Dave Palmer and Brian Reitzell produce a great score that works well with the emotional journey that Oliver embarks on. Kasper Tuxen’s cinematography is also very good, exhibiting a very natural look. Mills and Tuxen’s shot composition is also excellent – which it needed to be as Oliver’s job is in art and Hal’s is as a museum director, thus giving the film by way of its characters an artistic imperative. Shane Valentino’s production design is wonderful, playing off the indie charm and artistic minimalism to create fantastic sets (much like his work on Somewhere). The cast (comprised mainly of four actors) is fabulous. Goran Visnjic emotes so much empathy and love (though, tapered a bit with mistrust due to a life of being viewed as an outsider, which is a bit of a theme for all the characters – a mistrust of the good things in their lives, except Hal). Christopher Plummer has such grace and love for his character. He is brilliant as Hal. Melanie Laurent (in her second ‘American’ film) once again steals our hearts. She is able to play her character as being everything we would want in a partner (loyal, loving, cute, interesting) while still feeling authentic (no easy task; she is definitely a star to watch). Ewan McGregor is very good as well (probably his best performance in a long time). His character Oliver is so toned down that all his happiness feels a bit jaded as we can see the destructive sadness within. He uses his eyes so well.

Summary & score: Beginners is a special film in which optimism preservers in spite of it being engulfed in loneliness and sadness. 9/10

Monday, June 27, 2011

Movie of the Week - Downfall

This week’s movie is Downfall (2004).

The drama is about the last days of Hitler’s life in his bunker in Berlin as told by the accounts of others that were there, specifically his personal secretary (twenty-two at the time) Traudl Junge. Directed by German filmmaker Oliver Hirschbiegel (who also did Das Experiment, The Invasion, which was his failure at delivering a film within the Hollywood system, and Five Minutes of Heaven), the film is a brilliant look at the absolute lunacy of those days in the bunker, the Nazi empire crumbling around it. What is so compelling about the film is the range of emotions that it elicits in the viewer. It is about maybe the most hated man in history, and yet there are moments of compassion and humanity amongst those of villainy, hatred and spite. Hirschbiegel sets out to create a full character and not just a caricature, which is the most common approach when dealing with Hitler. The aesthetics of the film are also quite brilliant. The work of composer Stephen Zacharias, cinematographer Rainer Klausmann and production designer Bernd Lepel is all top notch. However along with Hirschbiegel’s direction, it is Bruno Ganz’s performance that elevates this film to being one of the best of the decade. It may even be the best performance of the decade. Alexandra Maria Lara is also very good as Traudl Junge, and the rest of the cast is excellent as well. This is a film that truly engrosses its viewer, as we see Hitler the man and the Fuhrer the leader (each terrifying, but the man is actually relatable on a human level outside the deeds and politics, due to the amazing performance of Ganz, the work of Hirschbiegel and the performances of those around him who believe in him) – a leader who sees his dreams (be them what they are) collapsing around him. It is a must see for fans of character dramas and films about WWII. Check out the trailer.

Available on Blu-ray, DVD and to Rent

Friday, June 24, 2011

Shadow of the Colossus - PlayStation 2 Essentials

Genre: Action-Adventure
Rating: T
Developer: Team Ico
Composer: Kow Otani
Release Date: October 18, 2005
Platforms: PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3
Co-op: No
Split-Screen: No
Game Summary: Armed with nothing more than a sword, a nameless hero and his horse travel to a land of forgotten legend. Vast, desolate, and serene, this land holds many secrets, one being sixteen colossi who together have the power to bring mortals back to life.
Wrapped in black cloth a lifeless body lies draped across the forward portion of a horse. With little time to spare, our hero hurries to harness the power of all sixteen colossi and save the woman he loves.

Review: I have never played a game as captivating and immersive as this. Expertly crafted visually, audibly, and aesthetically, Shadow of the Colossus has earned a spot as one of my all time favorite PS2 games, and for that matter, one of my all time favorites on any system.

Shadow of the Colossus is unlike many others. Rather than bombarding its player with hundreds of small battles, henchman, ect. the game only encompasses sixteen boss fights (Don’t get me wrong. You won't feel cheated). Each boss fight is more astonishing and intense than the last. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I won’t say too much. The less you know going into the game, the better it will be. But essentially, each boss fight is a puzzle, and you must somehow find a way to take down each colossus, usually by climbing up them and stabbing them to death.

In-between boss fights are periods of travel where you and your horse explore the desolate and beautiful lands while searching for the next colossus. This time between battles helps to pace the game. As well as this, it gives the player time to appreciate the extraordinary environment created for this game. Lakes, oceans, plains, deserts, and mountains, all finely detailed and sparsely speckled with wildlife, transport the player to a captivating, new world.

The game is an absolute work of art. For the time of its release in 2005 its graphics were practically unparalleled. Even by today's standards it is hard not to marvel at the sheer enormity of the game and the level of detail that was put into its environments, as well as the colossi. Many of the colossi are enormous, towering hundreds of feet above the protagonist and look, sound, and move as if they were so. It is rare for a game to successfully establish monsters with such weight and presence as in the game. I was also amazed at how well your character interacts with the colossi while climbing up them. No matter where your character is situated while climbing, he dangles, trips, and falls in the the exact way you would expect someone to while climbing a three-hundred foot tall giant. Impressive!

To top off the game is a well written score by Kow Otani . His compositions match the game perfectly. The soundtrack includes forty-two different songs, aiding to the mystery of the world and the intensity of each boss fight.
*Kow Otani is a well established japanese composer who has delved in anime, films, and video games; however, he is most famous for scoring such films as Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995), Godzilla, Mothra and KIng Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out attack (2001), and Like Asura (2003).

Shadow of the Colossus is phenomenal game. I could go on, but the only way to really understand the greatness that is Shadow of the Colossus is by playing it. Every game enthusiast should play this game!

Enticing story
16 great boss fights
Stunning visuals

Sometimes it is difficult to get on you horse?

Score: 10/10

If you like this game you may want to play
1. Ico.(2001)
2. The Last Guardian.(TBA)

These are other games developed by Team Ico.

CyHi The Prynce – Royal Flush 2 Mixtape (2011) – Review

CyHi The Prynce – Royal Flush 2
Probably the least known name on Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music roster (until his recent signing of D’Banj), CyHi The Prynce is a great young MC out of Atlanta. His first mixtape as a part of West’s label was Royal Flush, which was decent but not a standout. Royal Flush 2, however, has a lot more to offer – from great features from Yelawolf, Pill, Pusha T, Trey Songz, B.o.B, and Big Sean to solid tracks from J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Kanye West, and No I.D. (the sound of the album is good with many great samples).  And, Prynce’s flow, lyrics and intensity have never been better. He certainly places himself on par with the bigger names in G.O.O.D. Music with this mixtape. It is my favorite album he has released to date. It is well worth checking out. 3/5

Editor’s Song Picks:
1)      Woopty Doo – Featuring Big Sean, produced by Kanye West and No I.D.
2)      Bulletproof – Featuring Yelawolf, produced by J Rob
3)      Thousand Poundz – Featuring Pill and Pusha T, produced by Paper Boy Fabe

Available by Digital Download

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Random Axe – Random Axe (2011) – Review

Random Axe – Random Axe
The underground hip hop (super) group Random Axe is made up of producer Black Milk (who produced the album in its entirety) and rappers Guilty Simpson and Sean Price. The album consists of fabulous indie/90s-style tracks that will appeal to the more diehard of hip hop fans. While none of these songs will probably get much (if any) radio play, Random Axe still has a few great tunes that should draw new fans in and open their eyes to the underground/indie sound. The three artists work really well together, complimenting each other’s style. Both Simpson and Price deliver forceful lyrics that are poignant, powerful and at times humorous, while Black Milk’s beats are soulful but bombastic and get your head nodding. Overall, the album is just a great piece of hip hop and well worth checking out. 4/5

Editor’s Song Picks:
1)      The Hex – Produced by Black Milk
2)      Random Call – Produced by Black Milk
3)      Monster Babies – Produced by Black Milk

Available on CD and Digital Download

Bad Meets Evil – Hell: The Sequel (2011) – Review

Bad Meets Evil – Hell: The Sequel
Eminem and Royce da 5’9” appeared together on Eminem’s The Slim Shady LP on the song Bad Meets Evil promising a sequel; twelve years later we get Hell: The Sequel. Eminem and Royce da 5’9” complement each other very well on the album. It is at its best when they go back and forth trading rhymes. The production is also very good with Supa Dups, Eminem, Bangladesh, DJ Khalil, The Smeezingtons, and Mr. Porter (who handles most of the production work), giving the album a fluid sound. The song Lighters produced by The Smeezingtons, Eminem and Battle Roy is a little out of place, as it has the sound of something that belongs on the radio top of the pops (but they have to sell albums to the masses somehow), especially with the chorus sung by Bruno Mars. Along with Mars, the album features Mike Epps (as Mr. Porter turned a sample of a stand-up performance into a beat) and the recently signed to Shady Records Slaughterhouse (a group in which Royce da 5’9” is a member). Overall the album will appeal to fans of Eminem’s stuff and I think Royce da 5’9” brings a lot to the album as well. Every song on the album is solid and it should be among the best hip hop albums of the year. 4/5

Editor’s Song Picks:
1)      Fast Lane – Produced by Supa Dups
2)      Echo – Produced by DJ Khalil
3)      Welcome 2 Hell – Produced by Havoc

Available on CD and Digital Download

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

TV Series of the Month - Rome

This month’s series is Rome (2005-2007).

The show is about the last days of the Roman Republic, focusing both on historical figures like Gaius Julius Caesar, Marcus Tullius Cicero, Marcus Junius Brutus, and Mark Antony and fictional characters created to show the underworld and day-to-day life in Rome. The show came at the end of HBO’s first dramatic golden period (with shows like Deadwood, Six Feet Under, Band of Brothers, The Sopranos, and The Wire), ultimately being cancelled (like Deadwood) because it was too expensive to produce. However (unlike Deadwood), the writers and producers of the show were able to give it an ending. Rome’s creators are Bruno Heller (who now runs The Mentalist), William MacDonald (who is trying to get a The Saint TV series on the air) and John Milius (who has written many classic films like Red Dawn, Conan the Barbarian and Apocalypse Now). The show though somehow seems better than the sum of its creative contributors. That is probably due to the phenomenal cast: Kevin McKidd, Ray Stevenson (both of whom I will forever enjoy thanks to this show), Polly Walker, Kerry Condon, James Purefoy, Tobias Menzies, Indira Varma, Max Pirkis, Ciaran Hinds, Lyndsey Marshall, Camilla Rutherford, Simon Woods, David Bamber, Kenneth Cranham, and many more. The acting and technical aesthetics (some of the best sets in TV history) are what makes this show so special. It is a must see for fans of the more recent cable shows Game of Thrones and Spartacus: Blood and Sand and those who (like I) love the best that HBO has to offer. Check out the trailer.

Available on Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming, and to Rent

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Green Lantern (2011) – Review

Review: Green Lantern is funny, entertaining and features good work from its principal actors, but has a weak story, pointless and shallow characters and promotes wow over quality. Director Martin Campbell does a few things right. The film is for the most part entertaining because Campbell gets good performances from his cast – Hal Jordan is a lot of fun with his joking side comments. And, Campbell has the film ever moving forward with fairly tight pacing. He does not let it lag (which is something overly needed when the story and characters are poor, as with this film). Visually, the film has a decent look to it and the action mostly works well. The main villain being a blob of smoke is sort of weak though (the filmmakers probably should have remembered how much it did not work in Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer and reimagined the look for GL’s villain). Really though, it is just Hal Jordan, Carol Ferris and maybe a few side characters, the good action, light tone, and the quick pace of the film that makes this as entertaining as it surprisingly is, given that it is a fairly bad movie (probably the most fun and entertaining film I will give a five to this year). But, it is hard to overlook just how painfully insubstantial and tired the story really is and that many of the characters (like Hector Hammond) have no depth and are merely there to fill scenes and forward the plot. Sinestro could have been a great character – they had the right actor and even the right set up initially, but he is good guy until the end (only for a reveal during the credits that nope, wait a minute, he is a bad guy after all, I mean you do not hire Mark Strong and then have him not be the bad guy right?), which makes the end reveal make no sense and feel forced. This film also does not benefit from having a number of great super hero films come before it, a few even this year (with X-Men: First Class and Thor). If this had come out in the early days of new comic book movies (let us call it circa 2000-2002), it probably would have been received better. Green Lantern is maybe still worth a trip to the theatre or a rent just because it is a fun film, but ultimately it is pretty disappointing (especially given the talent involved).

Technical & acting achievements: Martin Campbell does his best work when the script is good (which is something that one could say about all directors, but Campbell is not a director to make a script his own, rather he will just shoot what is on the page in a compelling manner). The script for Green Lantern is far from good. It fails the talent of the actors and technical artists/filmmakers. But, Campbell is the director and should take the blame for the film not working (and writer/producer Greg Berlanti for creatively blundering away what could have been a great film). James Newton Howard’s score is fairly standard for the genre and has some okay moments, but overall is only passable. The production design by Grant Major is also only okay. There are a few interesting sets (though the secret lab space seems to make no sense and just be oddly grandiose and sci-fi-like for the fun of it). Dion Beebe on the other hand does good work (though, for one of the best D.P. in the business, this is probably one of his lessor films aesthetically, but he sure does a good job lighting Blake Lively, something any leading lady can appreciate). The cast for the most part is good, even with not much to do or character to work with. Geoffrey Rush (in a voice role), Temuera Morrison, and Taika Waititi (who is pretty funny in it) do good work, while Tim Robbins just sort of hams it up (and seems like he is only there for a paycheck). Mark Strong is severely underused and wasted and Peter Sarsgaard actually does pretty good work playing a character that is written with no humanity and not providing much more than a plot devise. Blake Lively is (maybe a little miscast as it seemed as though she was supposed to be the same age, or at least close in age, to Hal) strong and works well in the film. However, the best part of the whole film and the primary reason that it is enjoyable at all is Ryan Reynolds. He is very funny, charismatic and pulls off the action well.

Summary & score: Green Lantern is not much more than a throwaway summer blockbuster – big on spectacle, small on quality. 5/10

Monday, June 20, 2011

Movie of the Week - Vicky Cristina Barcelona

This week’s movie is Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008).

The comedy is about two best friends Vicky and Cristina who travel to Barcelona for the summer, each with their own ideas about relationships and love. Those ideas and what they want for their lives are called into question when they meet a handsome painter Juan Antonio, who takes an interest in both of them. The film is written and directed by Woody Allen (and is the final entry in his so-called Scarlett Johansson trilogy, with Match Point and Scoop). Allen’s dialogue, characters and scenes are fabulous and among his best. Working on the film with Allen are Spanish cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe and production designer Alain Bainee (both new to Allen’s films).  Their work gives the film a wonderful immersive aesthetic, especially the brilliant shot composition and use of light and locations. There is a beautiful look to the film with messy relationships occupying space in the grand setting – much like the work of the artists in the film. Allen always uses found music to score his films. Here, he uses Spanish guitar music and the song Barcelona to great effect. The cast in the film is excellent – Johansson and Rebecca Hall star (as Cristina and Vicky respectively), while Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz (for which she won an Oscar) co-star. There are also great supporting parts from Patricia Clarkson and Chris Messina, and tying it together is the playful narration of Christopher Evan Welch. The film is a must for fans of Johansson, Hall, Bardem and/or Cruz, and well as Woody Allen fans. His work in Europe (for the most part) continues to be very good (as can be seen with his recent film Midnight in Paris). As one of my favorite films of 2008, I love the dialog and dynamic between the characters. Check out the trailer.

Available on Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming, and to Rent

Friday, June 17, 2011

Chiddy Bang – Peanut Butter and Swelly Mixtape (2011) – Review

Chiddy Bang – Peanut Butter and Swelly
Chiddy Bang, made up of MC Chiddy and producer Xaphoon Jones, burst onto the scene in 2009 with their hit Opposite Of Adults, off The Swelly Express mixtape. Since then, they have released a fantastic mini-mixtape Air Swell (which everyone needs to have a copy of) and two EPs (Opposite of Adults and The Preview). Peanut Butter and Swelly is good, but probably the weakest of their releases (as all the really good stuff is probably being saved for their debut album Breakfast due sometime in 2011). The album does feature the typical hip hop/electronic/club pop sound from Jones, with great lyrics and rhyming pattern from Chiddy, but some of the tracks just do not have the same repeat appeal of almost all the group’s previous output (or maybe I just do not like their newer sound as much, but really I think it is more that some of this is B-side stuff). And that is just it, the sound on the album is mostly the same, but sort of different too, as the sonic sensibility of the group evolves. The mixtape also has a few good features on it including Mac Miller, Train and The Knocks. While not quite as good as their other two mixtapes, Peanut Butter and Swelly is enough to hold fans over until Breakfast finally comes around. 3/5

Editor’s Song Picks:
1)      I Can’t Stop (Freestyle) – Produced by Flux Pavilion
2)      Heatwave – Featuring Mac Miller, Casey Veggies & Trae The Truth, produced by Xaphoon Jones
3)      All Over – Featuring Gordon Voidwell, produced by Xaphoon Jones

Available on digital download