Next

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Unless of course you’re Cris Johnson, who can see up to two minutes into his own future, and therefore gets as many chances as he wants to make a first impression.
So Nicolas Cage is great. I’ve always liked him. Julianne Moore is great. And I’ve liked Phillip K. Dick’s rather dark, philosophical stories ever since I was a kid rummaging through my dad’s sci-fi collection looking for something to read. Therefore, Next, starring Cage and Moore and based on The Golden Man absolutely has to be a really great movie. Right?
*sigh* No, afraid not. For one thing, the film is only very, very loosely based on the story. The original Cris Johnson isn’t exactly cut out to be a leading man, for starters, and while movieCris is, unsurprisingly, a nice, honest guy trying hard to be an ordinary person, storyCris is — not any of those things. I’m not sure why it is that so many Phillip K. Dick stories are adapted for the screen, and yet the movies never end up with anything more than a passing resemblance to the orignal, top-notch source material, but there we are.
But in the land of celluloid, Cris is a small-time magician/mentalist in Las Vegas — you know, the kind of act where they guess where people are from and make watches disappear, and which can only thrive in Vegas. He supplements his income (the cost of living there probably is awful) with a little dishonest gambling, though he makes sure only to cheat the house. He’s a nice guy, remember. But the casinos are on to him, and Julianne Moore, at the head of a truly scary FBI team, is on to him, and after Peter Falk shows up for two scenes and then vanishes, poor Cris hardly gets a moment’s peace.
He has, in fact, just enough time when he’s not running for his life to find and woo his dream girl. (This is where fifteen chances to make a first impression really come in handy.) He knows that Liz Cooper (Jessica Biel — and I imagine there are lots of men who dearly wish they could see her in their futures) will appear in a certain diner at exactly 8:10, but not the day or even whether it’s morning or evening — because somehow, when this woman is involved, he can see well beyond his usual two-minute mark. This is pretty contrived, but I was willing to go along with it for the sake of the plot.

next.jpg
Cris waits dramatically for the bus that’s due to run him over in a minute and a half.

Soon, however, I was forced to give up on the plot, which was suddenly full of FBI squads, a stolen nuclear bomb, and enough CGI effects to keep every studio in Hollywood busy for weeks. Visually, it’s really an amazing film — the stunts are also contrived, but this actually makes sense, since Cris is in the middle of things manipulating what’s going to happen next. Mercifully, they keep the number of instant replays involved in Cris’ power down to a minimum, since those would probably have made any non-precognitive human dizzy. Unfortunately, the filmmakers do stoop to using such replays for their shock value a little too often. Still, the overall effect is marvelous, and I quickly learned it was best not to think of the plot and just to sit back and feast your eyes.
Julianne Moore, though, is capable of being a very scary lady. She was certainly an excellent fanatic in Children of Men, and here she actually steps it up a notch. I don’t know her exact title, but she’s important. A few words into her cell, and teams are shutting down all communications within a two mile radius. A wave of her hand, and suddenly every lounger in sight is an agent hurrying over to her for instructions. It makes me wonder how many of those road workers that you see standing around are actually waiting for a signal from Julianne.
Though no one else really seems to belive her when she says what Cris can do, apparently even her boss is too afraid to say no to her, because she gets her way. With his (reluctant) help, she knows she can find that bomb before it goes off. Now, the whole bomb thing is still troublesome. It was stolen from Russia, we know that, but the question of who stole it is never explored. Or even mentioned. In fact, they don’t even hint at why it was stolen. Apparently, for some reason, a small group of heavily armed and well-financed French-speaking people decided to steal a nuclear bomb and plant it in southern Califorrnia. They hint at a mean and ruthless boss somewhere, but don’t expect to learn anything about him, either. The only point is that the boss knows about Cris and wants him dead so the grand plan (if there is one) won’t be ruined, and the only point of that is so Julianne and her team have someone to shoot at and Cris has some bullets to dodge. (Precognitives can dodge very well, unurprisingly, but he must have had storyCris’ super-speed as well as his future sight, because he dodges.)
I predict I’m going to give this one just two idols. And I’m right! I might have edged up close to three if I hadn’t stayed for the last ten minutes or so. The ending was — well, I’m still torn on the best adjective. I hate to go as far as “awful”, but I think I may have to. It was definitely not good, and the general mood among my fellow moviegoers after seeing it seemed much the same as mine — namely, that if any of us had the same powers as Cris, we would’ve gone to see The Invisible instead.

Fracture

Yep, you get two reviews this week! In case anyone’s actually excited by that, though, I should add that this will probably not become a habit with me. It’s just that there was a new Anthony Hopkins movie out, and how could I resist that?
He is of course playing a brilliant psychotic, because that seems to be all he does these days, but he’s a brilliant brilliant psychotic. He plays Ted Crawford, a wealthy man who seems to be some kind of aerospace engineer, but for some reason spends most of his time building machines of various sizes whose sole purpose is to move little glass spheres along shiny metal tracks and through shiny metal hoops. They remind me of a clock I had as a child, which showed the time by stacking ball bearings along little plastic tracks, but Sir Tony’s don’t seem to tell time. As Det. Flores describes one such machine, “It’s a… thing. That does… stuff.”
Sir Anthony is married to the lovely (and much younger) Jennifer, played by Embeth Davidtz. In real life, she’s 41 to his 69, so you just know they’re headed for some kind of trouble. When he isn’t making his gadgets, he’s having his wife followed, and he knows she’s having an affair. The other man is Rob Nunally (Billy Burke), who happens to be an LAPD hostage negotiator, and Sir Tony being as brilliant as he is, he figures out a way to use that little fact to his advantage.
If you’ve seen the previews, you know that he just up and shoots his wife, apparently without any concern for the consequences. But herein lies the brilliance. An open-and-shut, suspect-confessed, we’ve-got-the-murder-weapon case suddenly isn’t any of those things.

fracture2.jpg
I still can’t figure out what it does!

Enter Ryan Gosling as Deputy District Attorney William Beachum. Willy, as Sir Tony calls him when he isn’t calling him “old sport” or “kiddo”, came to LA from a dirt poor childhood in Oklahoma and is now quietly, almost bitterly, determined to succeed beyond even his own wildest dreams. He’s just maneuvered his way (through slightly underhanded means) into a coveted job at Wooton Sims, a top law firm, and he’s leaving the low-paying, overworked life of a DDA behind. He even quickly finds himself a beautiful woman, in the person of his future supervisor, Nikki Gardner (Rosamund Pike, from Die Another Day, who still looks too gorgeous to be a real person). As soon as he finishes this nice, slam-dunk case, that is.
He soon learns the error of his ways. In spite of the old saying that anyone who represents himself has a fool for a client, Sir Tony runs his own defense, and in a deliberately hesitant, uncertain sort of manner, mops the floor with poor Ryan. Now, I hadn’t seen him in anything since Murder By Numbers five years ago (where he was a homicidal maniac), so I wasn’t sure how he’d measure up as the opponent to such a good, experienced actor.
Turns out he does really well. I didn’t quite want to root for him at the beginning — he isn’t a bad guy, but he’s so focused on remaking himself he’s forgotten everything else, and you kind of want to slap him. But then, very slowly and convincingly, he remembers what the law is meant to do, even if it doesn’t always succeed, and by the end of the movie, he’s remade himself in a very different way than he’d intended, and I wanted to congratulate him.
Four and a quarter idols here. There isn’t anything new in the moral dilemma front, but it’s still an interesting struggle, and the film doesn’t beat you over the head with it as so often happens. And the ending is excellent — not a total surprise, but clever and convincing. It’s shot almost like a film noir — everything seems to be either too dark or too brightly lit, and if you look a little, you’ll find reflections and shadows everywhere, showing how easy it is to deceive the eye sometimes. So I guess we have two movies with the same moral this week, even though it would be hard to find two more different mainstream films. And I suppose the secondary moral here is to beware of intelligent men with bizarre hobbies and too much time on their hands.

InDigital

I was watching the latest episode of InDigital with Wil, Jessica, and Hahn and thinking… “You know? That music is ‘ok’ but it isn’t perfect.” It should be more of a fusion of straight-up rock (with a little clean funk), and crisp electronica. There are people talking about tech. Get it? The people are represented by the rock, and… ok, you get it.
Not only that, but the music should sound reasonable at low levels, and not stomp out the human vocal range.
It should be exciting and peppy without being blatant about it. So, a super fast tempo – that doesn’t sound rushed.
And it needs to be long and loopable… for folks who can’t get a review accomplished in four minutes. :-)
So those were my requirements for this project, and here is the result: Tech Talk
A strong ending would be good… but I didn’t hit that one here. It ends fine, but at low levels you don’t get the subtlety of the guitar fading out. Are you listening editors? Crank the ending if you use the ending!

International Graph Paper Day

It is now April 22nd, and you know that means. International Graph Paper Day. And to celebrate, we at incompetech have done some massive upgrades to our services!
Faster scripts, smaller files, better color pickers, fewer errors… just all around better!
So check it all the new goodness!
Circles, perspective, probability, and a host of others are on their way!

Hot Fuzz

Is anyone else vaguely surprised that I’m reviewing this? I am. I never thought I’d even type that particular phrase. But a friend of mine living in England (Hi, JP!) who therefore saw this movie some time ago said that I should give it a try, and I did, and here we are. And I actually really liked it.
Now, I’m not normally one for the physical or gross comedy, and there’s some of both in this film. (Actually, there are rather a lot of gross moments, so be warned.) Somehow, though, they carry it off. They take just about every good stunt and memorable moment you’ve ever seen in any action movie or cop flick — even a low-budget horror film or two — turn it upside down and take it for a spin, and it’s really a fun trip.
The stars are Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as Sgt. Nick Angel and PC Danny Butterman, respectively; and yes, they were also the stars of Shaun of the Dead. It’s the camaraderie between them that makes this movie work, I think. They even manage to be the romantic couple of the film, without being anything more than platonic.
Nick Angel is Supercop. No, literally — he has nine commendations, excels at everything from karate to high-speed pursuit to chess, and has an arrest record 400% better than any of his colleagues on the London police force. (Wait, that’s police service now, as Nick reminds us. Force sounds too aggressive.) So good for London, right? Everyone’s glad to have him around? Well, no. This is headstand number one that gets us into the plot — he’s making everyone else look bad, as Bill Nighy (Love, Actually, and I hear he’ll be in Pirates of the Caribbean III, if you’re into that sort of thing) explains in a nice little cameo as the Chief Inspector. Therefore, Nick is off to the quiet, pleasant village of Sandford, in Gloustershire, where there hasn’t been a recorded murder in twenty years. And yes, there’s a reason why they say ‘recorded’.
Sandford has been voted the Nicest Village in England for more years running than anyone cares to count, but on his first day Nick still manages to round up several hardened criminals, though most of them are actually teenagers who just shouldn’t have been drinking. Oh, and one of them is Danny Butterman, son of the local Chief Inspector (Jim Broadbent) and Nick’s new partner. But no one seems to mind, least of all Danny himself, and he and Nick are soon fast friends. Well, at first it’s more that action-movie addict Danny follows Nick like a lost puppy, asking what cool police stunts he’s done and how hard it is to make someone’s head explode, but they do eventually make it to fast friends.

fuzz.jpg
Danny gets to live his dream of flying through the air whilst firing a gun.

Nick is soon convinced that Sandford is not at all a safe place to live, but no one else seems to believe him — after all, everyone’s so happy, some of them aggressively so — like Timothy Dalton, here a much tougher guy than he ever was as James Bond. But after several gruesome deaths (I can’t even begin to choose a most gruesome), he gets Danny to believe, at least, and then things go absolutely wild.
It’s also hard to choose a funniest moment, which does a lot to make up for all the gruesome. There’s a hilarious scene where our heroes go out to an isolated farm to investigate the terrible crime of unauthorized hedge-trimming, and city boy Nick has to have the farmer’s thick accent filtered through two layers of translation before he can understand it. I’ve seen lots of British TV and movies, so I usually do okay with accents, but Gloucestershire accents aren’t easy. Maybe it’s because they’re so close to Wales. Also watch for a hysterical fight scene in a half-scale model of Sandford. For extra points, see if you can identify the actress playing Janine, the girlfriend who broke up with Nick because he was married to his job. And possibly a little too fond of his Japanese peace lily. Yes, that is a houseplant.
Three and three-quarter idols for this one. I had to dock a quarter idol for the horrific deaths, which just didn’t do anything for me, but it was a lot, lot funnier than I expected from those previews. The runaway swan (Elvis) is one of the best running jokes I’ve ever seen. I just want to know who the swan wrangler was, because I hear they can break a man’s arm. The moral of the story? Never judge by appearances. Also, never assume that a WWII sea mine is defused.

Festival!

I’ve made it back alive. In the last forty-eight hours, I’ve watched a Finnish film that made me wish for antidepressants, a Peruvian film that made me question human nature even more than I usually do, and the sixteen short films by college students that were voted the best in the state. And I went to Ben & Jerry’s somewhere in there.
The Finnish film, Laitakaupungin valot (a.k.a. Lights in the Dusk), tells the story of the lonely Koistinen, security guard at a Helsinki mall (they have Subway restaurants there, by the way), who is seduced by a gangster’s beautiful, Grace Kelly-ish girlfriend and becomes the unwitting accomplice in a bold robbery of said mall. If this film is anything to go by, Helsinki jails are terrible. Also, everyone there smokes. Everywhere. All the time. They smoke in police stations, prison cells, break rooms, and while mopping floors. You know those trailers that people fix up as mobile diners, selling hamburgers and snacks? They smoke in those, too. That’s got to be a health code violation.
Peru gives us Madeinusa (pronounced May-din-OO-sa), the title character being a teenage girl who lives in a remote Andean village and longs to see the world — or at least Lima, where her mother supposedly ran off to long ago. Judging by what I saw of the girl’s father, I don’t blame the woman for leaving, but she really should have taken her kids with her. The arrival of a young man from Lima, temporarily stranded in her village, sparks the hope that Madeinusa’s dreams might become reality. Set against the surreal backdrop of the village’s Holy Time festival, a sort of compressed reenactment of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, with our heroine playing the Virgin Mary, things quickly get out of control. The villagers believe that during this celebration, God is literally dead, and there is no such thing as a sin. So you can imagine what kind of parties they have. I’d tell you the story of how Madeinusa got her name, but the movie didn’t cover that. I’m sure it’s very interesting, though.

madeinusa.bmp
Madeinusa, her creepy father, and her jealous younger sister after she is crowned the town’s reigning Virgin.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to try to review sixteen short films, especially since several of them defy explanation, seeing as they don’t have plots. I’d just like to mention that the Coen brothers might want to put an option or something on Pinmonkey. It’s that classic boy meets girl, girl dies, boy refuses to notice and falls in love with her anyway kind of plot that they really like.

Too classifiable

In the past, I’ve had a hard time classifying the music I do. Now I have a piece that fits into 2 categories: African, and Electronica. Problem is, I only built the database with the ability to put pieces in one category.
I encourage you to listen loud.* You’ll need to in order to hear the toke bell part.**


* Please don’t sue for any hearing loss.
** I know, I know… the toke can go much much louder than that… I think it is being played with a coat hanger.

North and South Waunobe

I’ve been getting a lot of requests for marching band music recently… actually, no. I haven’t. But I did write a piece for a theater production. It is set in a small town, with a small town marching band, so that’s what you get! A bare minimum of 23 musicians, not all of whom are very good. Each part was recorded individually, and no mistakes were fixed in post.


I know, a minute thirty doesn’t seem like much… but you try to play all those parts over and over again while arranging them in your head! (it isn’t that difficult – I just enjoy complaining)