Posted by: Tyler | August 16, 2009

District 9 Movie Review

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In a summer that seems to be filled with over-produced, brainless films like Transformers 2, GI Joe and X-men Origins: Wolverine, District 9 is an extremely intelligent and refreshing movie.  I would tell you that it is the first film in a long time that has had me watching it with mouth agape in pleasure and awe, but I would be lying as I’m pretty sure I had the same expression watching parts of both Star Trek and The Hurt Locker.  The same goes for the childish grin that I had during the latter half of this movie, and yet neither of those films had an effect like the “prawn’s” lighting gun and the subsequent sploosh of red where there used to be a human.  The execution of what could have been such a cheesy bit of CG but was so spot-on in practice that I never tired of it.

I think this speaks to something of what made this flick so good.  Yes, there is a lot of CG in District 9.  There is an entire race of beings completely of CG, including some of the protagonists.  Yet none of it seemed superfluous, something that can easily happen in big blockbuster movies that seem to be just excuses for big fight scenes between CG robots or humans in robotic suits.  The prawns are not Jar-Jar Binkses, they are sympathetic victims and and opressed minority.  As with all the good modern sci-fi movies that have used such effects, they have to be employed for the benefit of the story or characters, otherwise the resulting  film ends up feeling empty.

The cinematography helped a great deal in making these CG characters seem completely believable.  District 9 is shot in a style where the entire film is a framed around a documentary summarizing the events.  It starts and ends with interviews with some of the people who were observers to the entire incident, and is interlaced with security camera footage and gun-cams, and yet  director Neil Blomkamp realized that doing the entire film in this style would be off-putting, and most of the action and major plot scenes take place in a normal film style, focusing on the main character Wikus van der Merwe.  Wikus is a middle management man in the private military corporation MNU which has been charged with evicting the aliens from their current district to move them to another camp.  The history of this alternate world is filled in smoothly within the frame of the documentary, explaining as much as the humans seem to know about their mysterious guests and leaving the rest open to interperetation by the audience.  At the risk of spoiling anything I will stop with the plot discussion there, but will say that it was entirely engrossing for the length of the movie.

The main character of Wikus was, for the most part, an unlikeable, close-minded, narcissistic bigot, but he worked for the part he played in the film and the events.  They briefly show some people who seem to be on the side of the aliens, protesting outside the camp, but everyone else in the film shows nothing but contempt for the entire race and so Wikus is not playing the “hero on the side of good”, but is a believable person with misconceptions and prejudices.  Wikus sees every single alien as a criminal, and while being filmed for the documentary, he is entirely preoccupied with looking good for the camera, often asking the unseen cameraman to cut out scenes which will make him look bad.  As a character he was perfect for the message of the film, and exposes many of the feelings that the population of the city and his company hold against these unwanted and unwilling intruders.

District 9 is a gritty, dark and intelligent film, but one with enough action to satisfy the summer blockbuster crowds.  Everyone should see this movie, especially in a good theater.  It is a great summer movie, a fantastic scifi film and a great first feature for director Neil Blomkamp.

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Posted by: netbugger | August 6, 2009

Moon

This is ground control to Major Tom...

"This is ground control to Major Tom..."

I went to see “Moon” on Tuesday evening with my brother at AMC and wanted to give a few impressions.

First, it is a good movie. It’s not exactly high-brow science-fiction like “The Man From Earth”, but nor is it a monument to stupidity like “Next” (I’m not saying “Next” was bad… it had one particularily inventive sequence, just that it was pretty dumb).

When the trailer first came out for the movie, I told my brother “ok, so this movie looks worth seeing, but I’ll bet you I can nail down exactly what happens from beginning to end just from that trailer.”

I was right on all plot points. But the “twists” aren’t the reason to see this movie, it’s the job that Sam Rockwell does as this isolated babysitter of a station on the far side of the moon.

Brief outline without spoilers; Sam Rockwell is a contractor for a company that mines “H3” from the far side of the moon to provide energy for the Earth. “H3” apparently saved us all from the energy crisis and we no longer rely on Earth-based fuel sources. He’s on a three year contract to look after this mining station all by himself (I found it kind of odd that one dude was entrusted to watch over the station giving the Earth 90% of its energy, but whatever). With two weeks left on his contract, there’s an accident with one of the mining drones and upon checking it out, there’s an accident.

I won’t go any further than that.

Watching Sam interact with his robot nanny (voiced by Kevin Spacey) is interesting and I really enjoyed that aspect. Sam Rockwell just does a great job all around with this. It’s very hard to write much about his performance without spoiling things.

Wow, this has turned into a really crappy review because I can’t say anything without spoiling it…

Atmosphere is great; very good at evoking the isolation of the situation. The minimal music score is put to excellent use. The set design is very reminiscent of “Alien” giving hte habitat a very “lived in” feel.

So overall, I recommend seeing “Moon”. I would also recommend seeing it in a theater as lower-budget indy films like this need to be encouraged so we see more of them.

That is all.

Posted by: Tyler | July 14, 2009

Mercury Landing – Eyes Against the Sky

(Note: This review’s a little shorter than usual,  I only got this album a couple days ago, but I really love it so far so I wanted to write up a short post on it partly for this site and partly for an Amazon review to give the album some ratings. -Tyler)

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I’ve been in kind of a musical malaise for the past couple weeks.  I grew bored of  all the new stuff I had been listening  to, and for some reason could only find a couple old albums I had any interest in at the moment.  So a friend of mine suggested I poke around on CDBaby.com, as they have a great search engine for recommendations based on other bands you like.  I found Mercury Landing while looking for bands similar to The Cat Empire, and this album has just blown me away.  They have such a tight sound combined with the relaxing feelings of a jazz band, and a little bit of funk thrown in to spice it up.  The musicianship is constantly impressive, the bass lines and drum beats don’t let up and the keyboard and guitars are  excellent.  The singer’s voice has a distinct similarity to Scotty Morris of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, which works really well with the rest of the band.  Any fan of great fusion bands like The Cat Empire or Bela Fleck and the Flecktones needs to give this amazing album a listen.  Favorite songs of mine are “Sante Fe,” “Everything” with its sweet bass intro, and the 10 minute long odyssey that is “Danman.”  It’s available on both CDBaby and the Amazon mp3 store.

Posted by: Tyler | June 26, 2009

5 Favorite Modern Concept Albums #4

4. Star One – Space Metal

SpaceMetalStarOneThis is the only album on this list that couldn’t also be described as a “rock opera,” as the songs don’t all connect into some overarching story.  Every song on this album is specifically about some piece of science fiction that the writer, Arjen Anthony Lucassen (who you will be hearing about again on this list), has fond memories of.  These include movies like Alien, Outland, The Empire Strikes Back, and Stargate as well as TV series such as Blake’s 7.  The music fits the lyrical content, fitting into a genre which can only be described like the album’s title.  Keyboards, guitar solos, multiple singers, metal drumming, it’s all here but the lyrics are what make this album exceptional.  The first time I heard these songs I didn’t realize how closely they followed the source material, sometimes even from a different perspective than the original.  The first time I heard “The Eye of Ra” and really listened to the lyrics and how well they matched the events in the film, I was blown away.  For any fan of science fiction and progressive rock or metal, this album deserves a permanent position in your library.

Rest of the List:

#5 Coheed & Cambria – Good Apollo I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness

Posted by: Tyler | June 24, 2009

5 Favorite Modern Concept Albums #5

An Introduction:  A concept album is one in which all songs are expanding on one single theme.  Some can also be called rock operas, such as The Who’s exemplary Tommy, while others are just collections of songs all revolving around a thought or idea that the writers were focused on.  Concept albums are difficult to do well, as to make it great the songs should stand on their own, but also fit into the story or concept when heard in the context of the entire album.  They also seem to bring out the best in the artists involved, as seen in such classic albums as The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or The Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. So this list was conceived as a collection of five of my favorite concept albums that have come out in the last 10 years.  I’ll be posting a write-up on each separately over the coming weeks, so without further ado… here’s #5.

5. Coheed and Cambria – Good Apollo I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness

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Coheed and Cambria are a band with a concept so grand that it is really rather surprising how successful they have been.  Concept albums are ambitious projects that most bands seem to take on later in their career, when they have gathered a large group of fans which will have the patience to appreciate the brilliant music.  Yet Coheed and Cambria have built a career from the beginning out of a series of concept albums outlining the escapades of a group of characters in an increasingly convoluted space opera story, even taking their name from the two main characters, making them in essence a “Concept Band” (There will be another one of these on this list).  The Armory Wars, as the entire story line is called, has even been written in several graphic novels which correspond to the various albums, although not all have been accounted for yet.  This particular album is my favorite though, and contains the popular songs “Welcome Home,” and “Ten Speed (Of God’s Blood and Burial),” the latter of which is a song chronicling a conversation the Writer of the tale has with his ten speed bicycle about how to end the story (really, go listen to it or read the lyrics).  The thing about Coheed’s music is that often-times they lyrics are so convoluted you won’t know there is a story going on unless you go looking for it, and it is because of this that the albums generally work on both levels, being both great individual songs but also having some amazing flow when heard in the full context.

Posted by: Tyler | June 20, 2009

Comic Review – Outer Orbit

13948I’ve only recently started reading comics, so I haven’t quite figured out my tastes yet, but Outer Orbit was right up my alley.  Outer Orbit is a comic written by Zach Howard, Sean Murphy, and Reed Buccholz, with art by Zach Howard and Sean Murphy.  It is a science fiction tale of golden idols, sexy bounty hunters, pizza and space sheep, and every bit of it is just so bizarre and entertaining.  The two main characters are Quinn, a blue completely oblivious former pizza delivery guy, and Krunk, a big bulky green, mama’s boy former cop. The story, which is presented interestingly is largely an excuse for the crazy situations which the main characters find themselves in, and is pretty simple.  Quinn has a golden idol that everyone seems to want, including seeker robots, a flying bug bounty hunter, and a nymphomaniac female bounty hunter. The writing more than makes up for the weak story however, as it is highly entertaining and quite hilarious.  The best way I can describe the humor is by comparing it to Invader Zim if Gir was the main character rather than Zim.  Quinn has the same kind of lovable obliviousness as Gir, and somehow is able to weasel his way in and out of his dangerous situations time and time again, usually without acknowledging the peril.

As you can tell from the cover, Outer Orbit’s art is amazingly colorful.  There always seems to be colorful billboards, shop signs and neon throughout the city scenes.  Action is portrayed so that it is exciting but very easy to follow, and the characters and facial expressions are just marvelous.

Dark Horse has a 4-page preview on their website, and all 4 issues have been collected into one trade paperback that comes highly recommended.

Posted by: Tyler | June 14, 2009

Album Review – The Prodigy

The Prodigy – Invaders Must DieInvadersmustdie

The Prodigy is a band I’ve loved since I first heard “Firestarter” while playing Wipeout XL at a friend’s house in middle school. Their sound has changed so much since the their first album, 1992’s Experience, which had much faster beats, less rock influence, and more sampling. Music for the Jilted Generation was in between, and showed some of the transitional ideas, but it was the double platinum, multi-chart topping The Fat of the Land which solidified their sound in 1997. Their eventual follow up, Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned was done without much of the previous members collaborating, and it showed. That album was extremely weak, with few notable or memorable tracks, and an overall different and less polished sound. It is no surprise then that Invaders Must Die, the first album since The Fat of the Land to have all three original members, succeeds in recapturing much of the magical resonance that made that album so remarkable.

So I may not be the most objective person to review their new release Invaders Must Die, but damn it if the whole album is not just an aural onslaught of kickass beats and great music that does not let up until the end of the final instrumental “Stand Up.” Two of the tracks, the aforementioned “Stand Up” and “Run With The Wolves” feature Foo Fighters front man Dave Grohl on drums, a man who in my mind has never perpetrated a musical sin in his career (go listen to Songs for the Deaf by Queens of the Stone Age if you haven’t). Other standout tracks include “Colours,” the title track “Invaders Must Die” and “Take Me To The Hospital.”

There just isn’t much else out there like the Prodigy. They are one of those groups that manage to throw off genre stereotypes and come up with their own sound, which some may try to imitate, but none ever truly succeed.

This could be my favorite Prodigy album, and I don’t say that lightly. I’ve always been a huge fan of Jilted Generation and Fat of the Land, but the polish and sheer brilliance of all the tracks on this album far surpass anything these guys have previously done. If you are at all interested in this kind of music, this album is a must-listen, and early contender for my 2009 album of the year.

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