Monday, March 30, 2009

Epi-Cast: Episode 8 - "Ghost Dog, Captain Kirk and Dr. Zaius Get Dragged to the Last House on the Left (and then Hell...)"

Holy Toledo is that a long title or what? Only a podcast as zany and madcap as the Epi-Cast could dare pull off a half-assed flash of brilliance like that unwieldy moniker! And, in case you're a tad slow in the head, you know realize that, following a (too) brief break, the official podcast of Cam's Pop-Culture Episodes has returned tenfold! Rejoice and cower at its dazzling magnificence...
Epi-Cast: Episode 8 - "Ghost Dog, Captain Kirk and Dr. Zaius Get Dragged to the Last House on the Left (and then Hell...)"
In a sad attempt to make up for the fact that they haven't prepared a major review, Cam and Tom unload a metaphorical load of movie-loving buckshot on you with an unfocused, random blast of reviews, gossip and audio flaws. While Cam, in the left corner, takes on I Love You, Man, Knowing and The Last House on The Left, Tom, in the right corner, grapples with Bolt, Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist and Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai. Following those gruelling encounters, the duo tag-team the trailers for Where the Wild Things Are, Drag Me to Hell and Star Trek, before rambling on about the ever-present 3-D craze and how best for the Bond franchise to recover from Quantum of Solace. Toss in the "Oddball Pic of the Week" Ed Wood, and you have yourself a recipe for a glazed smile and bleeding eardrums. Godspeed!
To download, right-click and save on the green episode title above and then listen/suffer to your heart's content.
P.S.: We are also available on iTunes as well. Simply do a store search for "Epi-Cast" and PRESTO-STURGES, there we be at! Oh, and we're the film-discussion show, not the church-chatter one.

Film Review - KNOWING: Ain't Even Remotely Believin'!

Hoo boy, gather ‘round kids, do I have a tale to tell all of you! Okay, this story, called Knowing begins fifty looong years ago in Boston, Massachusetts, during those sleepy, innocent days of 1959. A recently opened elementary school there decided to take suggestions from its cheery students – kids were so much less lippy those days! - for how they should celebrate the inaugural semester. The best idea, posed by Lucinda Embry, the spooky girl at the back of the room, was to make a time capsule for future students to open. Well, everyone thought that idea was the cat’s pyjamas and began drawing adorably far-fetched visions of what the far-off year of 2009 would possibly look like. Except Lucinda. Apparently possessed, Lil’ Lucinda filled her entire sheet of paper with an endless string of numbers. A code, perhaps? Sadly though, the capsule burial ceremony got ugly when Lucinda disappeared, and was later discovered frantic and bloody-fingered, carving numbers into a closet door with her nails. Creepy, huh?

Time-warp! Now we’re in the modern day, where Nicolas Cage, playing an alcoholic, grieving astrophysics professor named John Koestler, teaches at a fantastical M.I.T. campus which, among many wonders, boasts almost zero Asian students. Having lost all faith in intelligent design and ordered determinism after the tragic death of his wife, John raises his rascally son Caleb (Chandler Canterbury) in a dilapidated house and coasts his lonely way through life. But – there’s always a “but”! – when Caleb, following the time capsule’s excavation, brings home Lucinda’s sheet of random numbers, John slowly realizes that each of the digit patterns corresponds to a real-life disaster. After surviving a horrendous plane crash, John recruits Lucinda’s daughter Diana, played by 28 Weeks Later’s Rose Byrne, to help him stop the disasters from a-happenin’. And then the aliens show up... Betcha didn’t see that comin’!

Produced and directed by visionary wunderkind Alex Proyas, who, in the past, bestowed upon us the artistically dazzling The Crow and Dark City, as well as the semi-successful I, Robot, Knowing aims for the stars, but barely clears the neighbour’s fence. My snarky comment aside, there are a number of great moments in this wonky paranoid thriller, such as the aforementioned airplane catastrophe, a hypnotic combination of CG and live action, which is one of the most arresting action sequences in recent history. Seriously, it’s that good. There’s also a cataclysmic subway crash and an apocalyptic forest fire, filled with frantic burning animals, that plays like dazzling eye-candy for the cynical and hard-to-please.

Oh, but sweet Sally Jupiter do you have to suffer to reach those moments. Aside from the films relentlessly dour tone, the plot and aforementioned alien business is truly cheesy. Looking like a Teutonic industrial metal band (“Nein! Inch Nails”, perhaps?), they frequently lurk in the background standing statue-still and looking ominous, but feel like tired leftovers from a bazillion horror and suspense films. Not to mention that their grand plan, when broken down, makes very little logical sense. Why involve little Lucinda in the first place?

The actors are decent to awful, with Cage turning in good to serviceable, if lacking in inspirationally weird, work. Rose Byrne, on the other hand, is tremendously pathetic. Often hysterical, screaming lines such as “WE HAVE TO SAVE THE CHILDREN!!!”, you’ll find yourself quickly rooting for her number to come up in Lil’ Lucinda’s lottery of numerical death. To be fair though, she does earn points for being on the receiving end of Cage’s creepiest romantic come-on since Next’s romantic scene with Jessica Biel.

The film looks pretty darn nice, though. And while I wondered why it was always necessary for John and Diana (along with the kids) to investigate every single creepy going-on in the dead of night – not to mention an early scene where the searchers could have just turned the lights on – Proyas films his pitch black night-scenes with a nice ethereal glow which gives it an otherworldly feel. Also, I feel compelled to acknowledge the score by Marco Beltrami, which is fairly subtle and haunting... Until the latter half of the picture, that is, when he doesn’t so much rip off Bernard Hermann’s Psycho theme, as haul the dearly deceased composer from the grave, attach strings to his extremities, and put on an unholy puppet show of creatively bankrupt mimicry.

Yet, despite the wildly sling-shotting quality of Knowing, I have a certain amount of fondness for the gong show I witnessed. It’s stunningly epic in scale, filled with A-level technical work and the occasional unforgettable image, and features an ending so staggeringly ambitious and bizarre that you have to admire the studio for having the balls to go through with it. Hopefully, newby studio Summit Entertainment realizes that spectacular effects can only go so far without a semi-coherent script though, because Knowing only wins half this battle...

2.5 out of 5

*Originally Printed in SFU's The Peak: March 30th, 2009.

Film Review - I LOVE YOU, MAN: Worth Hangin' Out With.

Regardless of its easy-going charm and engaging characters, I think what struck me most powerfully while watching the new Paul Rudd and Jason Segel bro-mance I Love You, Man is just how flippin’ blessed I am to have such a dependable cadre of oddball male friends. I mean, I don’t drink or “party”, hate sports, boast a number of amusing/troubling irrational hang-ups and am completely unable to reciprocate elaborate handshakes. In all honesty, it’s a wonder I don’t spend every night of my life on the couch watching X-Files DVDs with my cat Jasper...

But enough about me already, I Love You, Man features everybody’s favourite non-threateningly handsome leading man Mr. Rudd as Peter Klaven, a slightly up-tight Californian real estate agent. Well-liked and amiable, Peter’s low-key demeanour may have hooked him a gorgeous, thoughtful fiancĂ© in the endearingly named Zooey (The Office star Rashida Jones), but it’s also led to a so-so professional life (he’s struggling to find a buyer for Lou “The Incredible Hulk” Ferrigno’s posh residence) and a dearth of male BFFs. After an epiphany-inducing dinner with his quirky parents (former Conehead Jane Curtin and Spider-Man’s J.K. Simmons) and popular gay brother Robbie (SNL favourite Andy Samberg) our prissy protagonist dedicates himself to finding a new man-friend and, fingers crossed, a best man.

After a truly catastrophic collection of hideously uncomfortable man-dates, with characters ranging from a banshee-voiced soccer fanatic to an eighty-five year old chess enthusiast, Peter inadvertently winds up being introduced to a prospective pal, named Syndey Fife, at an open house for the Ferrigno estate. Played by Forgetting Sarah Marshall’s Jason Segel, Syndey is a slovenly genial giant of a man-child, obsessed with Mexican food, masturbation and the rock band Rush. Despite a disturbing early number of accidental social faux pa’s by Peter, the duo quickly grows inseparable, much to the increasing concern of patient bride-to-be Zooey. As the wedding plans slowly begin to spiral out of control, and his new friendship is put to the ultimate test, Peter is forced to find a balance between his two quickly colliding universes.

While I Love You, Man won’t win any trophies for originality - other than a potential MTV Movie Awards moon-man, that is – the film is ultimately carried on the shoulders of its two attractively charismatic leads. The always winning Rudd, whose previous starring vehicle Role Models was an unexpected comedic winner, continues to demonstrate his brilliant affinity for white male neuroticism, making simple public acts, such as leaving a voice-mail for a potential pal or coming up with a cool nick-name, into mini masterpieces of anxiety-soaked embarrassment. He may not have the over-the-top magnetism of a Ben Stiller or Will Ferrell but, for my money, Rudd is probably the most consistently stellar actor working in comedy today.

Fortunately he finds a great match in Jason Segel, who impressed with Sarah Marshall, but really comes into his own here. His Sydney walks a fine line between shaggy lovability and unbearable neediness, but Segel never wavers, displaying not only a sharp capacity for comic timing, but also a stunning level of emotional truth and heart-warming sincerity. Syndey is a truly original creation and deserves mention among classic funny-film foils such as John Candy in Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Walter Mattheu in The Odd Couple. Further, based on the actor’s work here, I would not be surprised to one day see him making the jump to a booming career in dramatic character work.

Director John Hamburg, who helmed the semi-decent Along Came Polly, does his best Judd Apatow impersonation in presenting this modern day dude-love story, with fairly robust results. The laughs, while rarely uproarious, are consistent and clever. Any movie that features references to Chocolat, Andre the Giant and former Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat is all right by me. However, I Love You, Man falters significantly, unlike the Apatow oeuvre, in regards to its astronomically gifted supporting cast. While Rashida Jones is uniformly strong, making Zooey a surprisingly plausible three-dimensional love interest, and John Favreau and Jaime Pressly kill as a dysfunctional couple in the Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? mould, the majority of the team players are forced to battle it out for pretty meagre scraps. Why cast J.K. Simmons and Jane Curtin as a married couple and then ignore them? An odd and unfortunate choice, indeed.

In spite of some regrettable creative decisions though, I’m not for a second going to dissuade you from checking out this predominantly successful feel-good trip into the juvenile heart of male camaraderie. I suspect that men will find I Love, You, Man frighteningly relatable and entertaining, while female audience members are almost guaranteed to laugh, when not nodding knowingly to one another. Love may be too strong a word, but I have no problem saying that I really, really liked this Man.

3.5 out of 5

*Originally Printed in SFU's The Peak: March 30th, 2009