The Lookout

This time there is a “the”. Except the title is meant to refer to main character Chris Pratt, and he never actually is a lookout. More a hapless distraction.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (from Third Rock from the Sun, now attempting to leap the gaping chasm between child actor and actor actor — he’s 26, but he looks young) plays Chris, once a high-school hockey star from a wealthy family. But wealth and popularity couldn’t save him from a horrible accident, though a little common sense would have. He takes his girlfriend and another couple out driving in his convertible, along a country highway at night, to show them the fireflies. Of course, since fireflies are pretty pale, he had to turn the car’s headlights off so everyone could see them. So we’ve got a country highway, dark, fast-moving convertible, no headlights. Now, I like watching fireflies — I spent many hours doing that as a child — but I never imagined anyone liked looking at them that much.
Two of the car’s occupants die. Four years later, Chris is left with crushing survivor guilt, several large scars, and a brain that no longer quite functions as it should. He falls asleep without warning, cries without reason, and throws fits without much provocation. Oh, and he has to write down everything in his little notebook. I mean everything. A typical entry: “I take a shower, with soap.” Because he would, literally, forget to shower if he didn’t see the note. He isn’t as badly off as the guy from Memento — he recalls his name and can drive himself to work, but he’s much worse than me, and my bad memory is nearly legendary. I’m not sure it’s such a good idea for him to be driving, since he still seems to have some trouble remembering that cars come with headlights, but that’s the state of Missouri’s problem.
He goes to classes to try and improve his cognitive functions, and holds a job cleaning at a rural bank in a faded farm town. His roommate is Jeff Daniels (who plays Lewis, no last name; as one character points out, he kind of looks like Larry Flynt, minus the wheelchair), who was blinded years ago because of his own foolish teenage escapades, and now dispenses fatherly advice to Chris and tries to deal with his tantrums, since Chris’ own family seems to prefer to pretend that nothing’s happened. Every day is very much like the next for Chris, but that’s what happens when you live by the list.

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Chris meets the smooth-talking Gary.

But you know one day has to end up different, or this wouldn’t be a movie, at least not a big-budget one. Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode, but don’t let the name fool you) insinuates himself into Chris’ life, offering a friendly ear and some very convincing sympathy that never turns into the pity that Chris hates. The food, alcohol, and pretty girls don’t hurt, either. Chris gets very friendly with ex-exotic dancer (Isla Fisher) Luvlee Lemons. That’s not a typo, that’s her stage name. Why she’s still using her stage name, I can’t even guess. Granted, she’s about as sharp as a bowling ball, but still. Could her real name possibly be worse?
Gary, of course, is up to no good. He knows that the fall harvest money will soon be coming through for the farmers, and he also knows that rural banks are frequently light on security. He also knows all the right buttons to push to get Chris to listen, since he had the foresight to follow him for some time. Before Chris quite knows what’s happening, he’s agreed to help Gary and his scary friends with their robbery plans.
And they are scary. One looks like he used to pull the wings off flies as a boy, and tends to look at Chris as though he were some sort of bug. One, who everyone calls Bone, looks like he skipped tormenting insects and went straight to humans because they scream. He barely speaks, preferring to stand menacingly in the background, wearing all black and dark sunglasses. He looks kind of like Keith Richards, only more so.
Now, I went into this movie expecting more thriller, but the bank robbery stuff doesn’t really get going until the second half. But don’t get me wrong, I liked that. It was a great character study and exploration of what brain damage can do to a person, and I thought Joseph did an excellent job. There’s a scene where he tries to persuade the bank manager to let him work as a teller instead of just a cleaner that made me tear up — it seemed so real, and it was heartbreaking to think that such a simple dream looked so impossible.
It was also a convincing portrayal of how Chris (or anyone) could be pulled in to something like that. Gary is a serious manipulator, probably without any conscience, and much more frightening than Bone could ever be in how he can use people’s weaknesses against them — and Chris’ weaknesses are worse than most. In his desperation to get his old life back, he grasped at any lifeline, and this one turned out to be illegal.
This one gets four and a quarter idols. It has a couple of weak points in the script — the fate of Luvlee, for instance, is weak, which is a shame since the actress did such a good job with the part. The acting was uniformly very good, from the kind yet tactless police deputy who feels obligated to look after Chris, all the way to the case worker assigned to him, even though she was apparently only there for some hot chocolate and some exposition. But overall, the story holds your attention and has some very good, subtle touches — pay attention for some tantalizing hints of what Chris was really like before the accident. And please, please drive safely to and from the theatre. All these car accident movies are making me jumpy…

Shooter

Not the shooter, just shooter. Really, Shooting would be a more accurate title, because that’s what happens most here. Everyone has a gun! I must be the only person in the U.S. who doesn’t have a gun these days. I know I’m the only one without a cell phone.
I was a little leery of this one. For one thing, the main character is named Bob Lee Swagger. Gah. I refuse to call him that. And hearing the critics say that Mark Wahlberg is the best he’s ever been just isn’t on a par with hearing that, say, Matt Damon is the best he’s ever been. But now I see what the critics meant — he spends much of his time brooding, and he is very good at brooding. Thankfully he doesn’t just brood, or I would have gotten very tired of that, but when he did talk, I often wished I could ask him to repeat what he’d just said. He mumbles.
Anyway, the gist of the plot is pretty simple. Mark is a Marine sniper, on a mission with his partner in Ethopia. He also shoots with one eye closed, even though I’m told the really good shooters never do that. Anyway, things go horribly awry, after Mark has a chance to demonstrate his shooting prowess, of course, and instead of pulling them out, the government leaves them, since they’re not supposed to be in Ethiopia. Mark’s partner, who is just a nice guy looking forward to going home to his wife, predictably gets killed. He also gets killed pretty gruesomely, and let me just add here that I was a little unnerved by how many people in the theatre were ready to laugh at people getting shot in the head or their arms blown off. It was creepy.
Thirty-six months later (no, I don’t know why they don’t say ‘three years later’, I’m just quoting the caption) Mark is living an isolated life in the mountains, Unabomber style. I didn’t see any manifestos in progress, but I’m sure there was one somewhere. Then Danny Glover (he has great presence, as always, even though he never goes above a hoarse whisper), Elias Koteas (from Zodiac, and my fellow House fans will remember him as Jack Moriarty), and some nameless g-men show up to recruit him for a top secret mission. The president is in danger, and as a good soldier, Mark needs to help them out by using his extreme long-range sniper skills to tell them how the attempt could be made.

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Mark, Danny and the gang take time out for a quick game of Diplomacy.

Since this question is answered within the first fifteen minutes, you know things have to go horribly wrong somewhere else. Before you know it, Mark is shot and on the run in Philadelphia, accused of being the assassin. Only it isn’t the president who’s dead, but rather the unfortunate foreign dignitary who was standing next to him on the podium. So you know Mark’s innocent, because our hero would never miss his intended target. The plot thickens!
Well, really it just becomes your standard action-movie plot, though not as mindless as some. Mark finds a pretty girl to dress his wounds (Kate Mara) and she is (willingly) dragged into his schemes to clear his name. Honestly, I’m sure she’s a good actress, but all she really got to do here was look worried and be scantily-clad. Part of her helping Mark involved her dressing like a hooker, except I’m pretty sure even hookers don’t dress quite like that anymore. It attracts too many police officers.
Anyway, my favorite character was FBI agent Nick Memphis (Michael Peña). Just three weeks out of the academy, he’s helping guard the president while stationed on a street corner that looked like it had first been allowed to run down for decades and was then the site of a major gun battle. So it was probably in Camden, New Jersey, which is just across the river from Philly. I don’t know if they really would have had security that far out, but I’ve been to Camden and Philadelphia, and I’m not sure anyplace in Philly looks that bad.
But the point is, Nick is there, on the edge of the action, when a bleeding Mark Wahlberg knocks him down and takes his gun and his department-issue car, earning poor Nick the label of “Disgraced FBI Agent”. The captions on the news even call him that, which might be edging on libel. Nick isn’t as slow as his superiors seem to think, though, and he’s immediately suspicious of the assumption that Mark is the shooter. In spite of being hoplessly idealistic about the law as the last bastion of all justice, Nick has a healthy dose of skepticism when it comes to the people actually enforcing the law, and sets himself the task of uncovering the conspiracy.
In short, it’s a good action film, though not much else. There are all the usual improbabilities you generally find in these “one lone person against a government” sort of movies — no worse than usual, no better. There’s no character background or development, unless you count Nick seeming a little more confident near the end. And they don’t really take advantage of having good actors as villains in order to give them a little depth. There’s never any question of having to make difficult moral choices in trying to serve the greater good, or even of them trying to justify their evil. They’re just baaaad.
Poor Danny Glover is pretty much wasted. Ned Beatty at least looks like he’s having fun as the corrupt senior senator from Montana, but he doesn’t get any acting challenges either. Two and three-quarter idols for this one. It’s an excellent weekend action flick, but there’s nothing more to it than that, and there could have been. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go check my backyard for camouflaged snipers, because this movie has taught me that they’re everywhere.

Major Overhaul: Impact – none

Ok, if everything went well, you should notice no difference in how you get music from my site. However, it is all changed. The backend is a full-blown database, which means easier updates for me, and more music online in the long run.
Here’s some that have been waiting in the wings for too long… In order from longest at 3:18 to shortest at 9 seconds.

Premonition

When you go to the theatre every week, you can bet that you stay up-to-date on all the latest trailers. I’d seen the preview for this film several times, and it looked good — even Yahoo movies told me I’d probably like it. And does anyone not like Sandra Bullock? I mean, seriously. Besides, the only way I would have agreed to review Dead Silence is if someone brainwashed me into thinking it was a comedy.
Sandra (I just feel like I have to be on a first-name basis with her) plays Linda Hanson, Everywoman. She’s a housewife living in a nice house in a town that’s never named, with her hardworking husband and 2.4 adorable children. Er, I mean, their two adorable daughters. She even has the same kind of coffee mug my mother does. The only thing missing is the faithful dog with soulful eyes. She drives her kids to school, cooks, cleans, and somehow manages to look terribly pretty without looking like her personal stylist has just finished with her. I don’t know how she does that. Oh, and she also lives the days of the week out of their usual order. I don’t know how she does that, either.
Poor Sandra is equally confused. She lives through the nightmare of a police officer appearing on the doorstep with the news that a loved one is dead — in this case, her hardworking husband, Jim — only to discover the next morning that Jim is alive and well and eating Raisin Bran in their nice, homey kitchen. Her efforts to figure out what’s happening only confuse her more, and every time she wakes up (sometimes every time she turns around, it seems) it’s a different day, and not the day she was expecting. At one point she prefaces a question to her husband (on one of his “alive” days) with a faintly helpless, “If tomorrow is Wednesday”, which gets about the reaction you’d expect, and I really feel for the poor woman.
In fact, you’ll feel for Sandra through this whole movie. Her reaction to the news of her husband’s death is heartwrenching, her efforts to make sense of it all are realistic and tense, and the camera work really pulls you in. I’m often a little leery of handheld cameras, because they all too often end up as a distraction, but here it gave a feeling of being in the room with the actors, just as it should. In spite of the fact that it’s filmed like a horror movie at times, it’s really a very homey picture, revolving around friends, family, and what it means to be married with kids and a mortgage.

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Sandra waits for all her nightmares to come true.

Unfortunately, the film loses its way a little towards the end — or the beginning, depending on how you look at it. A wise old priest appears from nowhere to explain things, and it all seems rather forced. I’d heard that Groundhog Day originally explained Bill Murray’s plight as being the result of a curse placed on him by an ex-girlfriend, and I’m very glad they took that out. It’s better unexplained. And since this film is being compared to Groundhog Day a lot, it’s a shame they didn’t learn from that example on this point.
Aside from that, though, it was a good film. Sandra carries the whole thing pretty much single-handed, but she can do it effortlessly ’cause she’s Sandra. Not that the supporting cast isn’t good — Peter Stormare, for instance, has a fun little part playing the only psychiatrist in town, which probably explains why he has such a cool office — but it’s all about Sandra’s struggles. I’d never seen Julian McMahon, who plays Jim, in anything before (he was Victor Von Doom in Fantastic Four), but he seems like a good actor. He just needs to do something with those perfectly horizontal eyebrows of his. They’re distracting.
So the bottom line is three and a quarter idols. Almost three and a half. It’s spooky, but not overwhelmingly so, intelligent, and very entertaining. So go watch Sandra now. Just be careful of some of the flashbacks — the director was unfortunately very fond of fading to pure, blinding white instead of black, so watch out for retinal damage.

Updates all-around!

I’ve not been posting much music – but I have been making some. There’s about 12 pieces in the works right now. Also, working on updating the back-end database.
I’m in the middle of making the switch from Sony’s Acid to Apple’s Logic as my main music compositing framework, so I’m spending a lot of time learning that beast of an application. As a friend of mine said “[Logic] is really intuitive after you’ve used it for a few months… and… by… that… I mean… I guess it isn’t intuitive at all.”. Yup.
So in the meanwhile, there is an awesome review of “300” you can read.

300

Q: What do you call one hundred Persians at the bottom of the ocean?
A: A good start.

I like Frank Miller — he’s been at the forefront of getting comics and graphic novels recognized as serious work, and I’m glad of that — so I was looking forward to this film. And now, though I may be a lone voice crying in the wilderness, I have to say that I didn’t really like it. Sigh.
In 480 B.C., King Xerxes of the Persian Empire attempted to invade Greece. A force gathered from the various Greek city-states of the time went to Thermopylae (literally hot gateway), the only pass through the mountains the Persians could use, and held off the Persian hordes long enough for Athens to prepare for a naval battle. They fell after three days, betrayed by a Greek who lived nearby. Their sacrifice made Thermopylae into a byword for tactics, determination, and courage.
That’s the real story in a nutshell. It sounds grand enough to me — what more could you want, than these few overwhelmed soldiers fighting and dying to defend their homes and families, for their own honor and for the sake of their comrades?
Apparently, you want giants, pseudo-samurai, battle rhinoceri, a frighteningly androgynous god-king that travels around on his own portable staircase, and redundant voice-over narration that made me want to yell for the projectionist to turn the sound off. (Don’t even get me started on the wrinkly ‘priests’ covered with boils who keep control of the young, beautiful oracles and can only be bribed with huge amounts of gold. I think maybe they were early Ferengi. This was more a sci-fi movie than anything else.) You also want faded-out color, grainy film, and a hugely annoying obsession with slow motion.
Honestly, isn’t that done with yet? Ever since The Matrix, every action film that also wants to be considered ‘artistic’ resorts to the slow motion thing, and it’s driving me crazy. This film was just a few minutes shy of two hours, but it would have only been ninety minutes if the action had just gone at normal speed once in a while. Entirely undramatic sequences still got the slow treatment, for no reason I could see except to remind the audience that they’re watching something Grand. Once it almost turned into a music video, and I seriously considered leaving the theatre.

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Leonidas shows off his six-pack, and Gorgo laments her unfortunate name (and wardrobe).

Anyway. Gerard Butler plays King Leonidas, leader of the Spartan troops. You can tell he’s king because his beard precedes him by a good half-hour. He’s also the spokesperson for Democracy in Action against the horrible Xerxes, whose troops are all mistreated slaves. Never mind that historically, Sparta had only a few elements of what we would call democracy, being instead more totalitarian, regulating everything down to the length of a man’s hair; and the Persians were enlightened despots who valued truth and justice above all things, and generally won the respect of those they conquered.
There was at least a good female role, in Lena Headey as Leonidas’ queen, Gorgo. Yes, Gorgo. I’d wondered why no one called her by name during the film. But she’s as strong a character as any of the men, fighting a political battle to rally the reluctant Spartans to her husband’s aid. (Maybe she should also try to get some kind of railing around that giant hole in the middle of the town square.) She gets a far better inspirational speech than any of Leonidas’, strangely, but I was just glad to see that women weren’t completely neglected as I feared they might be. Dominic West is playing a bad guy, a career politician and Gorgo’s main opponent. I’m not used to him as a bad guy, so this was kind of strange, but he is a good actor.
I have nothing bad to say about any of the acting, which makes the movie’s faults seem that much more awful. It goes so far over the top striving for glory that it just slides down into the valley of ridiculousness on the other side. Life was brutish and short then, and I didn’t need three slow-motion decapitations to prove that. (There may have been more than three, but I sort of stopped looking.) The rare scenes where the film succeeded in moving me were the small, human scenes. The Spartans discover a burned-out village, and a terrified child passes out in Leonidas’ arms. Two soldiers tease each other and boast in the pauses between combat. That’s what I was hoping for from this movie.
Instead, I got a movie to which I can only give two idols, darn it. It was at least visually stunning, when it wasn’t lapsing into Matrix-land, and those brief moments of simple humanity really do shine, in spite of all the tedious fighting in between. Yes, after the first few minutes of it, I can only say it lapsed into tedium, I’m afraid. The best advice I can give you? Take the money you would have spent here and go buy a copy of Gates of Fire, by Stephen Pressfield. It’s just as blood-spattered, but underneath that blood you’ll find real human beings, and it’ll make you cry for them.

Zodiac

So for this one, I did a little research. There were two things involved in this film that I really didn’t know anything about: the real-life Zodiac killings, and Jake Gyllenhaal. I’d heard of both, but really couldn’t pick either one out of a line-up, so to speak. I wasn’t even born when the killings began, and (like just about everyone else I know), my history class in school barely made it up to World War II, so my knowledge of anything after the Battle of Britain is a little shaky. I’m not sure we would have covered serial killers anyway.
A quick check of Jake’s career revealed that I hadn’t seen him in a movie since his debut in City Slickers at age ten, so I still didn’t know if I’d like seeing him as the star of a major motion picture. (No, I haven’t seen Brokeback Mountain. Yes, I know it won three Oscars.) As it happens, I still don’t quite know what he’s like as the star, because he isn’t, really. He doesn’t start carrying the picture until the last forty minutes or so. The rest is all Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards as the police detectives in charge of the case, and the scene-stealing Robert Downey Jr. playing Paul Avery, a crime reporter who drinks too much, smokes too much, and does all the other bad things you expect from one of Robert’s characters. He also (at least at the beginning) looks like he’s in search of a trendy coffeehouse where he can recite his latest poetry.
For those of you as clueless about the Zodiac killer as I was, here’s the summary: in 1969, three northern California newspapers received letters from a man claiming responsibility for three murders and one near miss in the area. Also included was a cryptogram which supposedly contained his identity, though of course it didn’t or we wouldn’t have this movie now. It was mainly badly-spelled rantings about why he was killing people, but it was scary enough. The media focused its attention, and a new serial killer was born. Read all about it here.

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The Chronicle cryptogram, described by a random
person in the film as “not looking very Christian”

Jake plays Robert Graysmith, the political cartoonist for the San Fransisco Chronicle when the whole mess began. Graysmith’s 1986 book Zodiac was the basis for this film, and considering how much of this movie shows Graysmith staring wide-eyed, looking like a lost, hopelessly confused puppy, I’m faintly surprised he wrote a book about anything. But he likes cryptograms, and forms a slightly awkward friendship with Avery over this, and slowly, Graysmith’s interest in the Zodiac morphs into obsession.
Being based pretty closely on real life, I was expecting that the film wouldn’t feel polished, but it was still jarring at times. You’re going to get sick to death of captions that say things like, “2 1/2 weeks later, Vallejo, California”, for instance. Leads are discovered, sound promising, and then vanish at breakneck speed without being resolved one way or another. That must be how real investigations go all the time, but I don’t pay to watch them. On the other hand, the film does do a nice job of showing how the case affects all those involved. Graysmith and Avery lose the most — the former a marriage and (I think) a job; the latter quits his job and eventually smokes himself to death. There’s nothing like watching Robert Downey Jr. sitting in a bar, alternating puffs of his cigarette with breaths from his oxygen tank.
All in all it was a fun ride, and I give it three and three-quarter idols. The acting is uniformly top-notch, the story moves along at a good pace and keeps the audience’s interest, and movie fans like myself will have the added bonus of spotting all the classic movie posters around. I’m also always glad to see Brian Cox, here playing flamboyant attorney Melvin Belli and having a great time doing it; and there’s a fun cameo by Clea DuVall, who I really miss seeing on Heroes. One warning, though: the ending is tantalizingly ambigous, so if not knowing drives you crazy, watch out. Just like real life, there’s no pat solution.

All over the board… again.

Netherworld Shanty
First I must say, I like this one. A lot. Too much. The idea for this piece was “If purgatory had a marching band”. So, there’s a very badly played tin whistle, an accordion, a bassoon, and a bunch of other stuff. I’m pretty sure the melody is catchy – and the fact that it is stuck in my head is not just the result of mixing the piece for hours… Like Great Cthulhu, this piece is wonderful, horrible, and awesome. You mind will forever be marred by it.
Phantasm
I’m not going to lie to you – this piece made me ill. No joke. That being said, the music that causes me the most trouble tends to be the music that everyone loves. If you don’t have a subwoofer – you won’t experience the pain inducing aspect of this piece. All of the bass notes are the same volume. I guarantee it. You can tune your equalizer with this piece if some notes are louder or softer. Careful not to get sick, though. This thing has a power. Be careful with it.
Lasting Hope
This has a sort of similar purpose as the last piece, only it won’t make you sick. This is one of the first things I’ve done with a choir. It has an almost organic synth, and some neat – if sparce – percussion. This was mixed entirely on a Mac. One day, I hope to switch to all-Mac production, but right now – I’ve too much invested in software on the other side… and just enough things aren’t available.
Perigrine Grandeur
This piece started on my dry erase board as the rhythm you hear in the first 2 measures. But that’s all I really had. It shows. The agogo was the next thing that made it into the mix… and then the hammer dulcimer. The who what? Hammer dulcimer. Yes. It is the thing that sounds like a guitar. I put it through a distortion unit and a guitar amp simulator. The result is an odd World-music hybrid that sounds like it belongs in a Cirque show on the strip in Vegas. I gave it an odd name figuring it would be hard for people to find. That’s just me being mean.
This piece used to have so much more in it… but I cut it back to the bare bones. It had bridges and multiple melodies, and just a lot of stuff… but it became difficult to listen to and the coolness of the original 2 measures was lost.