Friday, May 29, 2009

Jeff’s Movie Review: Pixar’s Up (2009)

Well the results are in; Up has definitely earned its lofty spot in the Pixar Canon of Great Movies.

It’s a wonderful movie. A breathtakingly stunning, flyaway fantasy fit for the whole family. Up never really aims for a higher purpose (like WALL-E did) but its imaginative storytelling, endearing characters and dreamlike visuals create what’s certainly the year’s most enchanting film.

The movie’s first 10 minutes function as a life story. It would have made a fantastic short on its own. Inundated with previews, I went into the theatre ready for a gruff, cranky old man. Instead, we’re introduced to a youthful Carl – and his gap-toothed wife, Ellie. We see them build a life together. Then Ellie passes.

If that sounds heartbreaking, it’s because it is. If it doesn’t, then I didn’t do the prologue justice.

Grumpy Carl and a stowaway, the chubby “Wilderness Explorer” Russell embark on the South American adventure, young Carl and Ellie never took. They pick up a few travelling companions on the way – Kevin, a gawky bird, and Dug, a goofy dog (“Squirrel?”).

Up is certainly sentimental – there is more than one opportunity for waterworks (just ask Emily) – but still fun. I’ve used the words “sentimental” and “heartbreaking” here… and while it’s definitely those things, I want to stress that it’s also whimsical and heartwarming.

It’s guaranteed to lift your spirits (and perhaps exercise your tear ducts).

Verdict:
4 Schaibles
To date, the best movie of 2009.

What’s the Best Pixar Movie?

So Emily and I are itching to go see Up this weekend, Pixar’s latest masterpiece (or so the reviewers have claimed… I’ll let you know). It got me thinking about Pixar’s impressive track record and again, because everyone loves a list, I decided to rank them.

I’ll let you know where Up slots in later this weekend.

1. WALL-E (2008)
For my money, one of the two best animated films of all time (the other being Pinocchio). Tackles love, loneliness and humanity’s ugliest pitfalls. Not bad for a faceless robot.

****
UPDATE:
2. Up (2009)
Read my Up review.
****

3. Toy Story 2
(1999)
Better than the original. What would it be like to be a toy and find out you’ve been mass-produced? Those answers and more. Toy Story 3 comes out next year… anticipation mounting.

4. Finding Nemo
(2003)
Pixar’s underwater fantasia puts The Little Mermaid to shame. I’ve got a soft spot for Father-Son stories and this is a great one. Ellen DeGeneres’s Dory is one of the Pixar canon’s most endearing characters.

5. Toy Story (1995)
Pixar’s first demonstration of what computer animation could accomplish. Features one of the scariest villains of any movie – Sid, the psychopathic next-door neighbor.

6. Monsters, Inc.
(2001)
Those monsters that haunt your closet are actually pretty funny. Plus, Monsters, Inc. has one of the best, most imaginative chase sequences this side of Jason Bourne.

7. A Bug’s Life (1998)
I’m guessing that this would rank at the bottom of most people’s list since it certainly boasts the least imaginative plot – misfit on a journey finds redemption – but it’s one of the first movies I watched with my niece and we both loved it.

8. The Incredibles (2004)

Undeniably entertaining, The Incredibles only ranks down here because a.) something had to; and b.) it’s one of a million super hero-themed movies to come out in the last five years.

Haven’t Seen: Ratatouille or Cars.

So I now open it up to my loyal readers, what’s your favorite Pixar movie? Participation is required.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Jeff’s Movie Review (x 6): Sorry for the Delay…

Since my last post, I’ve seen six movies (only three in theatres - we're not made of money). Rather than do a separate, 300-word post on each (which I’m sure nobody would read anyways), I’ll just hit you some quick hits:

Star Trek
Emily and I saw this opening night. The only disappointment? I only saw one dorky couple dressed in their Trekki jumpsuits. The movie was great, although I wonder how long JJ Abrams can get away with the whole time travel thing.

Verdict:



3 ½ “Schaibles”



Monsters vs. Aliens
Saw this one with my niece a few weekends back. The theatre charged me $13.50 for an adult ticket! I don’t care if it’s 3D, that’s excessive. It was OK, but Bolt was definitely better. Bob – voiced by Seth Rogan – had his funny moments.

Verdict:

"2 ½ Schaibles"





Terminator Salvation
Emily and I weren’t expecting to be wowed… we just wanted to kill some time. The Terminator franchise lost me a few years back (I never bothered to see the last one). Christian Bale did his Batman growl. CGI Arnold was ridiculous. Action scenes were good though.


Verdict:

"2 Schaibles"





Synecdoche, New York
Emily and I needed two takes to watch this one. After our first attempt, I said to Emily, “I have no idea what’s going on. But it’s very artsy so it must be good.” Synecdoche, New York is the directorial debut of Charlie Kaufman, known for his screenplays – Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Adaptation. If you liked those, you’ll probably like this.

Verdict:



2 “Schaibles”



Les Misérables

We’re two months from our honeymoon. Emily’s particularly psyched to see Les Misérables in London. In preparation, we rented the non-musical feature film starring Liam Neeson. So now I know the story (and I don’t have to read, yay!). It was pretty good.

Verdict:



2 ½ “Schaibles”



Paul Blart: Mall Cop
I’m a Kevin James fan; he’s funny. I am not a fan of Paul Blart: Mall Cop. Kevin James was not funny. Obviously this was never going to be worthy of Academy Award consideration and my expectations were tempered. But it’s a one-note comedy… Newsflash: Kevin James is fat. If you think that’s funny, you won’t after 90 minutes of the same recycled punch lines.

Verdict:

1 “Schaible”

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Because Everyone Likes Lists

This is how the Top 25 Most Played list on iTunes looks right now. This is by no means an all-time compilation; I’ve only had my work computer for a little over a year.

If you’re so inclined, feel free to leave hate messages or question my mental state.

1. Arctic Monkeys – When The Sun Goes Down
I love the Arctic Monkeys… and they have an album coming out this year!
2. Beck – Lost Cause
Such a great song, it’s on my Top 3 most frequently played playlists.
3. The Killers – Spaceman
This Saturday, Mohegan Sun, The Killers… I’ll be there.
4. Matt Costa – Mr. Pitiful
A few weeks ago, I was playing this on a loop. Couldn’t get past it.
5. Coldplay + Jay-Z – Lost+
Actually surprised this one is so high on the list.
6. Akon – Right Now (Na Na Na)
No surprise here… it’s regular feature track during the Werschaible’s nightly dance parties.
7. Akon, Lil Wayne & Young Jeezy – I’m So Paid
Had a bit of an Akon kick a few weeks back.
8. Johnny Cash – Hurt
A Classic. Genuinely heartbreaking.
9. Vampire Weekend – Oxford Comma
Among my favorite songs of 2008.
10. The Coral – Dreaming Of You
Love the baseline. It picks me up.
11. The Killers – A Dustland Fairytale
I’m really hoping they play this on Saturday. They seem to be playing it at half their concerts.
12. Flo Rida – Right Round
Good song to listen to at the gym.
13. The Killers – When You Were Young
Would definitely be higher on the list if my listening history went back more than a year.
14. Colin Hay – I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You
Great song… in the vein of Cash’s Hurt, though obviously not that good.
15. Bob Dylan – Forever Young
This song has been made into a children’s book… when the time comes, I’ll buy it.
16. Bon Iver – Skinny Love
If you’re not listening to Bon Iver/Justin Vernon, you’re an idiot.
17. The Velvet Underground – Pale Blue Eyes
Love the Velvet Underground’s soft stuff (this, Sunday Morning & Perfect Day).
18. Kanye West – Good Life
Another great song for the gym.
19. Belle & Sebastian – Another Sunny Day
Rapidly climbing… I’m probably listening to this daily.
20. Bill Withers – Ain’t No Sunshine
Again, would be much higher on the all-time list. Bill Withers is the man.
21. The Cure – Friday I’m In Love
Sing song fun! I rarely dawn my Robert Smith eye shadow and brood.
22. The Doors – Light My Fire
The Doors = another recent phase. The only person cooler than Jim Morrison? Val Kilmer.
23. Sugar – If I Can’t Change Your Mind
A single in 1992, I “discovered” it 15 years later.
24. Thom Yorke – After the Gold Rush (Live)
Fantastic cover. Neil Young’s music, minus his somewhat suspect voice.
25. Joshua Radin – Only You
Our wedding song. It squeaks into the Top 25.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

In Case You Didn’t Hear…

The series is over, the Celtics won, Eddie House and Brian Scalabrine rained threes (6 of 7 combined), Kendrick Perkins dominated the paint (14 points, 13 rebounds), Stephon Marbury inexplicably continues to play (12 minutes, two points), Joakim Noah and Brad Miller fouled out, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce combined for 43 points… and I was there.


Thanks Grimey.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Game Seven Baby!!!

Has the Chicago-Boston matchup been the best postseason series ever? I don’t know. It’s the best I’ve seen.

What I do know, is in a few hours (plus overtimes?) it will be over. This epic marathon/heavyweight bout (and hopefully Joakim Noah) will be put to rest. And the best part? I’ll be there!

A friend from my Boston Globe days, and a season ticket holder, got me a seat. Regardless of the outcome, I’ll be forever indebted to this great man.

If Rajon Rondo drops a quadruple-double, I’ll be there.

If Ray Allen nets a buzzer-beating trey in the seventh overtime, I’ll be there.

If Kendrick Perkins introduces his elbow to Brad Miller’s douchebag face, I’ll be there.

And if Paul “The Truth” Pierce guzzles a Red Bull and shakes off exhaustion for 40 points, I’ll be there.

I’m geeked out for this. After six games, seven overtimes, heroes, villains and flagrant fouls, what’s tonight got in store for us? I can’t wait.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Jeff’s Movie Review: X Men Origins: Wolverine

Undoubtedly, X Men Origins: Wolverine will top the box office (until it’s obliterated by Star Trek next week) and make someone a shit load of money. It shouldn’t. It’s crap.

During the first three installments of the franchise – two of which were good – Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine shreds the bad guys with adamantium claws with no knowledge of his origin. You see, Wolverine was shot in the head with an adamantium bullet and will henceforth have no memory of X Men Origins: Wolverine.

If it’s that easy, someone please shoot me in the memory lobe.

It’s an action movie… and not a good one. There were a few cool scenes but they were all so empty. By the time Wolverine squares off against the dreaded, genetically-altered Weapon XI, the ultimate mutant killer, I had already completely lost interest.

There is no drama, no suspense. It’s the same old, tired action movie.

Emily liked it. I am flabbergasted.

And don’t get me wrong, I like comic book movies. The Dark Knight was awesome. Iron Man was very good. But this one was completely void of a brain. Wolverine is completely charismaless; he growls a lot.

On the bright side, next week: Star Trek.

Rating:
1 ½ “Schaibles”



On a related note, one of my biggest pet peeves is when people cheer/clap/boo/etc. at a movie theatre. The projectionist appreciates your support. I do not. You’re an idiot.

Years back, I went to see one of the X Men movies with some friends (I think it was the second one). During one scene, Colossus has a three-second cameo. The geeky twat in front of me swooned, yelped and applauded this defining moment of cinematic history. Had it not been for my good Christian rearing, I would have booted the moron in the back of the head.

Jeff’s Music Review: Playing For Change

The brainchild of Grammy Award winning producer Mark Johnson, Playing For Change is meant to “inspire, connect, and bring peace to the world through music.”

A few months back I spotted this YouTube video (below) for the album’s opening track, the Ben E. King classic “Stand By Me.” I loved the audio/video mix of street musicians from across the globe. And with that, I’ve patiently awaited the album’s release.



Up next, a pair of Bob Marley tracks: “One Love” and “War/No More Trouble” (the latter featuring Bono and Mr. Marley himself). “One Love” is excellent, with a fantastic vocal arrangement and simple bluesy/reggae instrumentation. “War/No More Trouble” could have done without the celebrity cameos.

Peter Gabriel’s “Biko” is a highlight, as is the choral rendition of “Love Rescue Me” (U2). The album closes on a particularly high note with Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.”

Is this album going to bring peace to the world? Obviously not. But Playing For Change is certainly a testament to the power of music. The album is a great listen and it’s energy is undeniable.

Verdict: B+