Saturday, April 30, 2011

Like a Phoenix Rising From the Ashes...

If you are a regular reader here at my blog site you are probably wondering when that new post is going to be arriving. Well, you'll be glad to know that the project is done. However, it won't be posted here.

Truth be told I haven't had much enthusiasm for writing anything to be published here in quite some time and I spent several months trying to figure out what it was that was preventing me from logging back on to post my latest opinions on the wacky world of entertainment. Without going into a long-winded emotional rant I can honestly say that I had accidentally driven this blog into a corner and wasn't very pleased with my actions.

Back in May of 2010 when I started this I wanted to do nothing more than post humorous reviews of movies, comics, and video games; the things I spend most of my disposable income on. The problem was that I've never had a lot of disposable income to be spread around so instead of being a site strictly devoted to personal subjective criticisms I expanded the idea to encompass a wide range of topics that suited the needs of my egotistical all consuming brain... in theory. The one thing I never wanted this site to become was predictable, but before I had even batted an eye I realized that I had developed a site that was slowly devolving into a miss-mash of themed topics that I could neatly file all projects into for convenience. "Favorite Fights", "Fashionably Late Reviews", "Play This", and so on. Rather than aim for that pure aesthetic of creative expressionism or dare I say "Gonzo" writing, I had simplified the whole experience into a mundane procedural assembly line production that lacked creativity and ultimately left me with almost nothing original to say.

I think I first noticed the problem around Halloween when I did that "Monster A-Go-Go" segment. I had a laundry list of things to do and the end product was nothing unique or personal; ok, maybe a little personal but nothing with any real passion. By collapsing an entire month of material towards one singular topic I had unintentionally opened Pandora's Box. Before I knew it I quickly relapsed with a follow-up during the month of December, creating yet another agonizing list of themed ideas. Surprise, surprise, this epidemic didn't end there and before long it surfaced once more in February. Sure, everything that was said were things I wanted to talk about, but the presentation was lacking. To make matters worse I had also noticed that every time I did something like this I would spend the following month in a sort of hibernation where I put forth the bare minimum of effort and only posted things to reassure my audience that I was in fact still alive and contemplating new topics; topics that would most likely fall neatly into one of the categories I had subconsciously structured my site around.

So what does this mean? Is this the end of the lovable Feudal Cactus and all of his exceptionally well crafted thoughts and ideas (In the dictionary I believe you'll see my picture next to the entry for "hubris")? Of course not! Don't be ridiculous! Unfortunately, it does mean that this site has got to go.

Out with the old and in with the new!

This will probably be the second to last post on this site (more on that towards the end of the paragraph) before I close it down and move on to bigger and better things. So before you all start panicking and pulling out your hair, let me remedy some of that stress by assuring you that a new blog is on the horizon. This new blog will be similar in focus to the original but the tone, presentation, and project goal will be different. Before I close the doors to this site for good I'll make sure to leave you with a message directing you towards the new material.

I hope the project is a smashing hit and I hope that the few viewers I have here will be kind enough to migrate with me to the new promised land. I've got my toothbrush already packed up and have put on my best adventuring shoes. Let's start over, shall we?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Hey, look! An Update!

Wow, has it really been over a month since my last post? Yeah, sorry about that everyone. Well you'll be pleased to know that I'm back and I've got several topics that need to be discussed here, but for starters I've got something big. Since I tend to focus so much on movies I'll be writing up a couple of game reviews that I never got around to posting and since so much time has past since my previous post (again, I'm sorry) the next article is going to be a doozy; think of Alfred Lord Tennyson length. So what is this mystery opus? Can't tell you now, but stay tuned and you'll find out soon enough.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

2010 Rewind: "True Grit"

When Oscar season rolls into town you can expect a few things: popcorn flicks are put into hibernation, several foreign language films will see a limited release in New York (meaning no one will see them), and of course there will be a historical film or two about the nazis. Over the past few years a new trend has emerged to join the ranks of these other venerated traditions, the appearance of a Coen brother film. In 2010 we had "True Grit".

Ignoring the fact that this film is based on a novel and has already been adapted to the big screen in the past with legendary screen gem John Wayne himself, the Coens take this rather simple western story about revenge and the emergence of law and intellectuals into the anarchistic wild frontier and reshape it into their own highly entertaining vision that can be enjoyed by nearly all audiences.

The film has great acting, terrific cinematography, a compelling script, and some gut busting scenes of comedy that prove once again that the Coens are masters of comic timing and are always able to pull the best line delivery from their actors.

Helping to deliver those lines is an all-star cast of dependable actors who are strangely all playing second string to a young actress who not only serves as the film's protagonist but also it's sacred cow. To say that she has acting talent seems wildly inaccurate as this girl could have stood to win the best actress award this year, if the Academy hadn't pigeon holed her into the supporting actress category. She'll probably be someone we see a lot of in the near future and I couldn't be more happy to see some fresh blood in Hollywood that didn't get to where they are by posing on the cover of a hot rod magazine.

Everything about this movie is so very perfect that it might seem odd to hear me say that I really felt like the Coens were putting their feet up and vacationing with this one. Everything is by the book and feels like so many other Coen films in the past, but even when they are slumming, the dynamic duo somehow manage to turn out material that blows most competitors out of the water. They definitely know film and are very accomplished artists; "True Grit" may be nothing new or special but it is highly entertaining and is one of those rarities that will please the cinema snobs and matinee popcorn texters alike. Check it out.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

2010 Rewind: "Black Swan"

Being an artist is tough. Aside from pursuing a career that has no security or long term prospects, the physical and mental strain it places on the individual is enough to drive most mad. Every morning artists wake up and strive for perfection and in many cases they go by unrewarded and worst of all, sometimes completely unrecognized. It's a wonder that artists don't all lose their minds at some point early in their career, which leads us to the topic of the movie "Black Swan".

Considered a spiritual successor to Darren Aronofsky's previous film, "The Wrestler", "Black Swan" observes the behave and destructive dedication that performers go through in order to reach that next level of their career.

The film follows Natalie Portman, a young girl gunning for the lead role in her troop's production of Swan Lake. In every way she's perfectly suited for the white swan position; she's humble, delicate, fragile, a perfect unblemished innocent. Unfortunately, in order to play the white swan, tradition dictates that she must also be the black swan, a symbol of unbridled sexuality and precocious adolescent lust and temptation. The audience is treated to the maddening lengths that one young girl will go to in order to achieve her goals as she slowly changes from the shy girl next door to a passionately unchecked ball of emotional confusion and sexual discovery.

Where the film truly excels is in the presentation. Mirroring her mental transformation, we are treated to a hauntingly bizarre physical metamorphosis that brings into the very question of the character's mental state and radically alters the viewer's perspective; thrashing and tearing at the walls of reality and exposing a twisted fantasy that blurs the lines of reality and psychosis.

For all the struggling artists out there and even for all of you workaholics, this film is something that needs to be seen. There's definitely a hidden message buried within the context here, about the dangers of perfection and the harsh reality of personal discovery and the nightmarish roads that we sometimes must take that will lead to our own happiness.

Friday, February 25, 2011

2010 Rewind: "The Town"

Americans love a good crime story. Perhaps they're nothing more than a twisted reflection of our inner wants and desires, but I feel like criminals intrigue us because they embody freedom. They do as they please and they're often rewarded for their efforts; the American dream in all of its shady glory. As a result, making a crime thriller seems like the easiest way to print cash but its not always the case. Criminals by their very nature are bad people, and while they may be fun to watch, we also need some semblance of humanity in order to attach ourselves towards whatever their plight is. No matter what a persons' actions may say, deep down we have a hard time sympathizing with those who step outside the boundaries of civility, which is why the great crime stories of our country's filmography tend to focus on strong character development.

Hot off the heels of his previous Boston based film "Gone Baby, Gone" Ben Affleck proves once again that what he may lack in acting skills he more than makes up for in direction. Clearly a learned man, Affleck shows all the potential of a young Scorsese with his latest film "The Town".

On the surface, "The Town" is nothing more than a movie about a bank robber who is trying to find a way out of the business. On a technical level however, there is a lot more going on. The various character relationships and goals of everyone involved spins a delightful web of suspense and white-knuckle entertainment from start to finish. Each person no matter how important or minor, is given some business and feels like a fully fleshed out individual who contributes immensely towards the overall objective of the film. Top it off with the near perfect performances with some clever dialogue and scenes of tension and you've got an instant classic.

One can only hope that we will continue to see more work from Ben Affleck along the lines of "The Town". Now if only the Academy Awards could recognize him for his efforts then we'd all be good.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

2010 Rewind: "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World"

One of the biggest cinematic disasters that await studios occurs when they try to adapt a video game or comic book to a live action full-length feature. The concern isn't that the source material is poor or that it wouldn't make an interesting film, the real challenge comes from most peoples' inability or complete misunderstanding of translating two entirely separate mediums into a film format.

Video games are a narrative that is structured around interaction. There is a large emphasis on allowing the player to dictate the event of the story; and as a result, diverges heavily from more traditional screenplay narratives. Comics are a unique visual entertainment in that they are free to play with aspect ratio and distort perspective and reality to communicate nonverbal ideas. These elements have remained a huge hurdle for movie studios to overcome and while a few comic films have broken the mold, most of them are still disasters on the scale of the Titanic, while video game movies continue to be nothing more than shameless cash-ins on popular trends. Thankfully the world was blessed by the grace of Edgar Wright, a man who can seemingly do no wrong who decided to challenge the world by bringing about the first A+ video game title that was based off, of all things, a comic book.

"Scott Pilgrim vs. The World" is one of those revolutionary films. Similar to "Fight Club" or even Oscar contenders like "American Beauty", "Scott Pilgrim" changed the way we will forever look at movies. By seamlessly incorporating the imagery and symbolism commonly found in games and comics into the visual narrative, Mr. Wright created a spectacular template of stylized high energy perfection that helped strength the dialogue and exposition.

Visuals and editing aside, it helped that the film was based on some very strong source material. "Scott Pilgrim" is a very smart of clever tale that perfectly sums up the ideologies and modern zeitgeist of a 21st century 20-something-year-old who is entangled in a post-college malaise and all the drama and hyper sexuality that kids have to go through when trying to make it in the world. Taking these common themes and projecting them through the mind of a kid who's entire life is predicated upon music, games, comics, and movies is one of the most satisfying and sensible analogy to be committed to popular expression.

The greatest strength of the movie however, is held in its marriage of fidelity and independence. Because video games and comics are not written as screenplays first it would be silly to do a completely loyal adaptation without making a few modifications. On the other hand, if you change too much then the original message and feel of the story risks getting washed away. A large portion of all film adaptations suffer from these two problems; the ones we remember as classics, like "The Dark Knight" change the stories while keeping the feel and tone of the original intact. "Scott Pilgrim" does just that; it still feels like a thorough translation of the comic while also giving the audience a completely new experience that they haven't seen before.

Normally I don’t pick favorites, but the more and more I dwell on the subject, “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” is starting to become my favorite film of 2010. Well done Edgar Wright, well done.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

2010 Rewind: "Toy Story 3"

There's a sort of bitter sweet quality involved in the ending of a franchise. On the one hand you hate to see your long time friend leave, on the other you acknowledge that all things are finite and must have a respectable curtain call.

Too movie franchises share the tragic fate of being run into the ground when corporate big wigs demand the teats of the sacred cash cow be milked dry, resulting in a final product that doesn't resolve anything and leaves the series in a state of perpetual limbo only to have it rebooted in a few years. Luckily, Pixar has a tendency to deliver Grade-A products and knows when its much beloved progenitor franchise deserves a comfortable seat at the retirement home.

Thanks to Pixar's awareness of Toy Story's age and importance to the company they put lots of work into this finally. It perfectly ties up all plot threads and gives the audience a memorable ending that both solidifies that the journey we have all grown up with is over, but also reminds us that the adventures of these individual characters will carry on long after the events of this movie even if we never get to see them.

"Toy Story 3" is an emotional experience which most live-action films can only dream of having. In many ways this movie is the greatest love letter made for a devoted fan base in history, but it also serves as a wonderful instruction manual for other film makers to learn from. Where so many have failed, this film provides the perfect template for trilogy resolution.

Honestly, this movie contains it all; in many ways it deserves to win best picture this year, but as we all know, that's not the way the Academy Awards Ceremony works. Oh well.