April 2005

Okay, you can panic a little

by Aaron on April 29, 2005

in Movie Reviews 

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is not without it’s charms and moments of inspired absurdity, but ultimately it fails to come together enough to feel like a complete film, and instead settles for rewarding the long-time fans with in-jokes, references, and nods to the original source material, as well as it’s various incarnations.  Part of that incompleteness is due to the film’s obvious aspirations to being a multi-part series, but mostly it lies in the source material itself.  Viewed as one long novelized comedy skit, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy works as a brilliant piece of absurdist satire, but as a film it might leave you feeling cheerful and amused, but still a little bit let down.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy
3 Stars

In the over 25 years of being a bestselling cult classic Douglas Adams’ book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has been adapted for every medium except film.  After languishing in Development Hell, and having been passed from director to direction, Adams’ classic is finally on the big screen.  With a script from the author himself (which had been completed before his untimely death in 2001), former music video director Garth Jennings has crafted an adaptation that fans will recognize as utterly Adams, but with entirely new characters, sub-plots, and relationships that may leave long time readers feeling a bit confused. 

The Cult Classic finally arrives

The convoluted history of Hitchhiker’s is one filled with almost never-ending revisions, additions, and complete re-writes of what came before, most of which required of the reader to hold an almost blind faith towards its creator’s intention and vision.  Originally created for a BBC radio comedy show, Adams continually tweaked and altered his creation so many times that even the Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide collection requires a substantial introduction to explain the various changes and permutations the cult classic has endured throughout it’s lifespan.  So it’s no surprise that the new film version features a good 35 minutes of material that was created specifically for the film by Adams himself. 

In what the filmmakers almost surely intend to be the first of a series of films, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy tells the story of the ultimate everyman, Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman).  A man continually befuddled and confused by the world around him, Arthur wakes up one day to find bulldozers ready to demolish his home in order to make way for a new bypass.  His day only gets worse from there as his best friend Ford Prefect (Mos Def) arrives to tell Arthur that, not only is Ford actually an alien from somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse, but that the Earth itself is set to be demolished in 12 minutes by a race out to create a new hyperspace lane.  Soon they’re bouncing across the galaxy with an on-the-run rock star styled President Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell), fellow human Trillian (Zooey Deschanel), and a manically depressed android (Alan Rickman) as they attempt to escape the ire of a race of ultimate bureaucrats while searching for the ultimate question of Life, The Universe, and Everything. 

With its absurdist Marx Brothers dialogue, distinctly British sensibility, and wild sense of high adventure, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy would seem like an easy transition to film, but there’s a reason it’s taken so long to actually get made.  Namely, there’s no real plot to the series, only breakneck paced episodes and (in what surely constitutes the majority of the text), the actual entries of the titular Guide itself.  So the idea that Adams and the filmmakers would create a wholly new plot, while strengthening the relationships of the characters should come as no surprise to those familiar with Adams’ less than reverential approach to his own work. 

So how does it work?  Only partially.  The Monty Python flavored opening sequence sets a standard that the film never really manages to reach.  In order to preserve the tone of the book, Jennings chose to make the Guide itself a sort of character, with various entries being read to the audience by the voice of the Guide (Stephen Fry), and displayed as a series of short animations.  These explanations are almost completely necessary to convey the mind-bending concepts of the Hitchhiker Universe, but only a few of the entries really connect, and the rest just stop the film in its tracks.  The character of Arthur Dent has been significantly beefed up from the novels (where he serves as sort of a dumbfounded substitute for the reader, only capable of reacting in stuttering gasps and complete befuddlement).  In the film, Dent is more of an active participant, out to find his place in the Universe and win the affections of Trillian, the adventurous girl he almost had, but lost to party crashing Beeblebrox.  And while Freeman’s portray of the constantly put upon everyman is absolutely spot on, the romantic comedy aspect of the film feels more like filler material than an essential element of the story, as do the newly created sub-plots and characters. 

Mos Def obviously had a lot of fun playing the Hunter S. Thompson-esque Guide writer Ford Prefect, and it’s almost impossible not to be infected by his madcap persona.  Sam Rockwell is perfectly cast as the completely deranged Beeblebrox, though flamboyant and egocentric madmen seem to be his stock in trade these days.  As the level headed Trillian, Zooey Deschanel makes it easy to understand why Arthur would be so hung up on her, but overall the film is completely stolen by Alan Rickman and Bill Nighy, whose Marvin the Paranoid Android and the world-designing Slartibartfast just ooze with easy brilliance perfectly suited to their roles and the spirit of Adams work. 

The design of the film is a clever mix of high-tech CGI and goofy costuming which works to give the movie a comfortable feel that should be easily recognizable and familiar to fans of British Sci-Fi.  The sets run from showroom floor clean (as befitting the newly christened ship Heart of Gold with which the main characters jet across the galaxy) to the lived in and grungy realism that George Lucas made work so well in the first Star Wars.  Jim Henson’s Creature Shop was responsible for the alien creations that pepper the film, which seems like an unlikely choice in an age where CGI characters are so readily available, but the design and execution of the various creatures lends the film a wonderful throwback quality that works in its favor.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is not without it’s charms and moments of inspired absurdity, but ultimately it fails to come together enough to feel like a complete film, and instead settles for rewarding the long-time fans with in-jokes, references, and nods to the original source material, as well as it’s various incarnations.  Part of that incompleteness is due to the film’s obvious aspirations to being a multi-part series, but mostly it lies in the source material itself.  Viewed as one long novelized comedy skit, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy works as a brilliant piece of absurdist satire, but as a film it might leave you feeling cheerful and amused, but still a little bit let down.

xXx is for exXxtremely bad.

by Aaron on April 29, 2005

in Movie Reviews 

Since audiences have shown Hollywood that even the most ridiculously inept drivel can pass as quality action fare, there’s no doubt that this cinematic train wreck will probably spawn yet another sequel of equally diminished return. Fans of incessantly awful cinema might find a timeless gem here, but only after a copious amount of heavy, heavy drinking and several swift punches to the skull.

xXx: State of the Union
Negative Stars

Lest it be thought that the following review is the work of some unabashedly elitist movie snob, let me say this: I absolutely adore action flicks. Bullets, grim heroes, and very large explosions tickle my fancy in ways even the greatest of dramatic works can’t achieve. Give me a beer, some popcorn, and some needlessly violent gunplay and I am one very happy monkey indeed. Hell, I even enjoyed The Rundown, and that starred Seann William Scott, an actor I would happily see brought before the International Court for crimes against humanity.

Oh, there but for the Grace of Vin Diesel go thee

The original xXx was made in a fairly callous attempt to kick the spy genre firmly away from its tuxedo-clad and upscale roots. Trading upper class education and high society for eXtreme sports and Hollywood envisioned street smarts, Vin Diesel’s growly charisma managed to give the film enough charm to keep it from being just a moronic 2 hour exercise in blowing stuff up.

Since the original film was a fairly successful endeavor, it is safe to say that the only thing that would have prevented this sequel from being made would have been the utter destruction of our universe, and even then it’d have a 50/50 chance of release. Hollywood proved long ago that it’s capable of existing in an airless vacuum.

Sadly, trading in Vin Diesel’s diminishing star power for the long-past faded Ice Cube is akin to trading your RC Cola for a Shasta, but in a move that should surprise only the most mind-bogglingly naïve moviegoer, that’s exactly what the makers of xXx: State of the Union have done for this incomprehensibly stupid action sequel.

This time around Ice Cube plays a former Navy Seal who is tapped to take the coveted title of xXx when a NSA facility in Virginia is attacked by unknown assailants. A returning Samuel L. Jackson, who must have some serious investments in the telecom industry, phones in his trademark performance as the gruff and wise intelligence operative who taps the incarcerated Cube to save the current slate of old, white men. Nona Gaye and Xzibit play the shady characters from Ice Cube’s mean streets past, while Michael Roof plays the tragically unhip Q to Cube’s Bond. Rounding out this sorry lot is a partially effective Scott Speedman and Willem “I can’t believe I’m actually doing this” Defoe.

Though the film is supposed to be a race-against-time action film about stopping a political coup (and settling an old score), the film takes so many ridiculous turns that it’s akin to reading Mad Libs submitted by local sanitarium patients. Plot and logic holes large enough to drive a jacked up and armored Ford Truck through take a film that could be dumb to a level of medical retardation. Remove the budget and big special effects, and replace Ice Cube with Lorenzo Lamas and xXx: State of the Union would be completely at home alongside the slew of arrestingly stupid action films that peppered cable movie channels throughout the late 80s and early 90s.  Rest asssured, those of you unwilling to pay 9 bucks to see it on the big screen will inevitably find it sandwiched between Coors and Axe ads on Spike TV.

If nothing else, perhaps film historians will one day look back and recognize State of the Union as the film that single-handedly set back race relations in America a good 15 years, as its characters are uniformly do-gooder thugs and back stabbing blue-bloods (An important lesson learned in the film is “don’t trust rich white chicks”). The filmmakers attempt a couple of clumsy stabs at showcasing the economic and social gap of Washington elites and the lower-class citizens who provide their basic services, but such moments are played for easy laughs rather than insightful commentary. Although on the surface a pro-American film, this mindless action film treads a pretty uneven political line. Chock full of class-warfare and sniping, what starts out as a PCP addled liberal conspiracy freak’s cautionary tale feels more like a Reagan era shoot-‘em-up with it’s main character’s motivation rooted more in vengeance than any sense of civic duty. Though conservative filmgoers will probably be a bit put off by the U.S. Army being portrayed as about an effective military force as Darth Vader’s Imperial Stormtroopers (who by all rights must surely be the Washington Generals of the cinematic military canon.)

Since audiences have shown Hollywood that even the most ridiculously inept drivel can pass as quality action fare, there’s no doubt that this cinematic train wreck will probably spawn yet another sequel of equally diminished return. Fans of incessantly awful cinema might find a timeless gem here, but only after a copious amount of heavy, heavy drinking and several swift punches to the skull.

The Flower of My Secret

by December Lambeth on April 27, 2005

in DVD Reviews 

Spanish film maker Pedro Almodóvar (Bad Education and Talk To Her) softens his touch, bringing out some ugly realities to disappointment in life and love.

The Flower of My Secret
1 & 1/2 Stars

Released on DVD Spring 2005

Spanish film maker Pedro Almodóvar (Bad Education and Talk To Her) softens his touch, bringing out some ugly realities to disappointment in life and love.

Spanish film maker Pedro Almodóvar, known for such films as Talk to Her, Bad Education, and Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, brings us a more down to earth story about a woman hitting a mid-life crisis, with all the bells and whistles. She gets to experience all the great shit that life likes to throw at you right at the point it is least invited.

A romance novelists, Amanda Gris is her secret identity, Leo Macias (Marisa Paredes) true name, is finding out that her life is ending up less and less like her romance novels and more like some form of nightmare. Leo finds out that her U.N. husband is no longer in love with her and has been sleeping with her best friend for years. He very seldom came home because his job required a great deal of travel and when he did come home he blamed Leo of being to sensitive and touchy about things. He would never call her, even if she had called and left plenty of messages. When she did get ahold of him he was short and impatient with her. This treatment only steamed and motivated Leo into great depths of depression and writing. She began writing the exact opposite of her romance novels and started writing about death and mystery. When she finished her first novel in it’s new form and presented it to her publisher he turned it down for content, he reminded her that she was under contract to write fluffy trashy romance novels. This request gave Leo a great deal of difficulty because the last thing she was feeling was love and romance.

Her best friend had suggested that she go and visit with a newspaper editor, Angel (Juan Echanove), so she could find a different outlet for her depression and her writing abilities. When meeting with Angel, Leo had seen an Amanda Gris book on his desk and asked who was the fan. He had replied that he was a huge fan of Amanda’s work and has a pro column on her novels. Leo had shown much disappointment and disgust towards her book, she had wanted to think about other types of writing not writing a column on how great her hidden personality is. Angel had suggested that maybe she writes a column disputing his on Amanda Gris’ novels and her ability to write; Leo, deciding that wasn’t the best thing for her, leaves Angel wishing he had not suggested it in the first place. Later on down the line Angel called her and said that her writing was so brilliant that she most certainly publish the book she had provided to him for samples and he was to help her. With a renewed since of confidence she tells her publisher to F-off and goes home ready to give it one last try with her husband.

When her husband shows up she finds out all about the cheating and the deception and in a fit of depression she makes an effort to overdose. A call from her mother saying she was going back to the village and nobody truly cared set a fire under her and she made herself throw up and get out of the apartment. Even though Leo got out of the apartment she headed straight for a bar, not a good idea. Leaving the bar in a ray of despair she runs into Angel, who takes her to her mom and drives them to the old village. There Leo is nurtured back to health and accidentally shared with Angel who she truly is, Amanda Gris. Angel had been smitten with her before, but now he can’t help himself. Knowing that her husband is out of the picture and Leo could use a shoulder to cry on, Angel puts himself right there by her side and shows Leo that life isn’t over yet.

Leo picks herself up and gets her mystery published and finds just the right pair of boots to fit her in the end.

Not a typical edgy charactered film for Pedro Almodóvar and a little slow, but certainly a great story. Most women can relate to what Leo was going through, if not in all areas then some. I get what it’s like to be disappointed in what seems so comfortable and finding it hard to leave what you know, but taking the risk and making that leap of faith is all part of life. Everyday somebody is getting the shit end of the deal, it’s how you deal with it that makes you who you are.

Heroic Duo

by Alex on April 25, 2005

in Uncategorized

Not a great movie, but a different movie
I’m so sick of movies. Maybe that’s not the best way to introduce a movie review, but it seems like every new movie is either a remake or based on one of three formulas. Hong Kong cinema is appealing to me, not because it’s better, but because it’s inherently confusing.
Cultural differences make the conflict and drama unpredictable; the actors, being entirely unknown to me, don’t bring their standard personas and catalog of typecasts to the role; symbolism that may be sorely overused in Hong Kong is fresh and intriguing to me. Now that distribution companies are finally learning to release foreign movies whole instead of editing and dubbing them (I’m looking at you, Miramax), there may be some movies worth renting.

Heroic Duo is the story of two men, Jack Lai and Ken Li.  Jack Lai, former police psychologist and master of hypnosis, was imprisoned after apparently shooting a man in his home.  As at least four people mention in the first thirty minutes, his wife was there at the time.  Ken Li is a cold and calculating detective with relationship problems.  The two come together when another detective breaks into the evidence safe at the police station, sets it on fire, then shoots himself in the interrogation room.  Before he dies, he claims he had been hypnotized and remembers nothing, sending Ken to find Jack, who is given a furlough from prison to identify Mindhunter, the only master hypnotist to use his powers for evil.  He also happens to be Jack’s teacher, but it doesn’t matter since he promptly escapes and is never mentioned again.

The movie goes on as Jack and Ken have some 48 Hrs. style interactions, then Jack hypnotizes Ken and makes him steal some jewels, and the whole thing turns into a framed-cop-on-the-run movie.  Almost.  The saving grace of Heroic Duo are the love stories.  Jack is trying to save his kidnapped wife whom he desperately loves, and Ken is trying to keep the woman he loves in spite of being a cold, angry jerk.  I know, every action movie has a love story, but Heroic Duo takes its love stories seriously.  It recognizes that they are the genesis of the plot, not something tacked on to broaden the demographic.

Breaking from the action movie formula is what makes Heroic Duo shine.  It is refreshing to see a protagonist that doesn’t need to crack wise every ten minutes.  In fact, beyond a few funny moments in the beginning, there is hardly any comedy in this movie at all.  Still, this is an action movie, and the stunt work is incredible.  There aren’t a lot of action sequences, but rather than detract from the movie that helped make it slightly more believable.  The action sequences were executed excellently and filmed masterfully, as was the rest of the movie.

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Metallica: Some Kind of Failure

by Tim Dodd on April 25, 2005

in Uncategorized

The biggest metal band of all time goes to therapy!
Egocentric. Masturbatory. Uninspired. Self-centered. Assholes. Idiots. Sissies. Pussies.


I was going to let my review of Metallica: Some Kind of Monster just be those eight words, but I figured after being tortured for 2 hours and 20 minutes by this terrible, terrible “documentary” I needed to spread a little bit of that pain around to all of you loyal Razorfine readers (lucky you!). Yes, Metallica went through two years of therapy as a pathetic way of trying to inflate their sagging careers and now my therapy after watching this atrocity is to explicitly spell it all out to you in no uncertain terms:
Metallica are a bunch of pussies.
There, I said it. Go ahead, Metallica fans, write those hateful e-mails (well, those of you who can read and write, which narrows it down considerably) about how you’ll “fukin'(sic) disimbowl(sic)” me and that “Metallica Rulz(sic) and your(sic) just jealous because you are a fagot(sic) pussy” and stuff like that. Let it all out. I won’t be bothered by it because I know it’s all just how your kind deals with the sort of revelation that this movie craps out of its putrid little orifices:
Metallica are a bunch of pussies.
After living for years under the impression that you are a big-balled member of the heaviest rock band in the universe, it must come as quite a shock to suddenly find yourself the not-so-proud owner of a huge, wet, gaping vagina. But man, their disorientation from this does not begin to explain why the members of Metallica decided to show it off on the big screen. I mean, most guys would just keep that shit private. Especially if this movie is all fake, if every moment was scripted and thought out before-hand in an attempt to carefully construct the appearance of three guys who are “rockers” but aren’t afraid to show that they are “sensitive and creative artists” as well, it doesn’t even begin to explain why they have allowed themselves to be seen as the uninspired, egocentric, asshole idiots that they are. I guess they are just too stupid to realize it.

Essentially this film follows Metallica around for two years while they go to group therapy, try to write and record an album, and act like a bunch goddamn sissies. From the outset of the film, the grossly oversized egos of Cowardly Lion-like front man James Hetfield and enemy of music Lars Ulrich fill almost every area of the screen as they battle it out for the title of Queen Bitch, leaving the true bitch, guitarist Kirk Hammett, to toss off what seems like hundreds of pseudo-psychological cliches in his fey, high-pitched voice in an attempt to quiet the tiny dust storm created by his feuding buddies. (Perhaps the best example of this is when Lars and James are arguing about a song and Kirk says, “Let’s just go in there and hammer it out instead of hammering on each other.” Jeezus.)

Dr. Phil gives James Hetfeld a prescription for some testicles

The movie opens shortly after the departure of bassist Jason Newstead, whom the guys treated like their retarded stepbrother in the wake of previous bass player Cliff Burton’s death fourteen years before. With things not going so peachy for the band, their management urged them to seek the help of a group therapist, which is undoubtedly one of the least rockin’ things a band could ever do short of staging any musical event on ice. At least Newstead understood this. In one of his brief interview segments in the movie he says that he told his band mates that this idea was “fuckin’ lame and weak”. 

And that sums up the movie for me, folks: very lame and very weak. The band members mainly come off as being very full of themselves. Their egos have been inflated by their success over the years to a size that would make Lou Reed blush. In addition to this movie being one big circle jerk for the guys, the segments in the studio where they are trying to pull together every last scrap of energy to come up with a song show the band to be very uninspired and a creatively spent force. It seriously must have come down to the record label wanting more product because with the state that these guys were in (burned out) they had no business trying to make an album. However, it’s not like this was the first time Metallica spewed it diarrhea all over the public, so if the record company said “make an album,” I guess quality was never really a concern. No matter what, it is very certain that the band will make a considerable amount of money on any weak, horrible shiny disc they have the gall to put out, so why not forge ahead, right?

Instead of me going on and on for twelve more paragraphs on things that I think are sucky in this movie, I’ll just make you an easy-to-read list of things you’ll get to see in this wonderful film:

– The boys sitting around in the studio writing some of the best angsty lyrics this side of a seventh grade metal head’s notebook

– The boys sitting around in the studio with their kids listening to the rotten fruit of another days’ labor

Lars prepares to Jump the Shark

– The boys going on vacation after only two weeks of not-so-hard work in the studio and Hetfield talking about how he missed his child’s birthday so he could go kill a piss and shit-filled bear in the tundra

– Hetfield’s god-awful attempts at singing

– The aforementioned interview clips with Jason Newstead, where he proves himself to be the only real “metal” element of the band (even though he does say “squillions of dollars”)

– Hetfield leaving for rehab (he’s a bit of a drinker) and coming back a year later, ready to rock and produce one of the finest albums ever to grace the hallowed halls of Metal (just kidding—everybody says that album sucks)

– Lars talking way too much (speaking of Lars, I noticed that things really start to go horribly wrong for the guys once Lars cuts his hair and bleaches it… I’m not sure what the connection is except maybe that if you look very dumb you get what you deserve)

– Lars’s father Torbin (whom Lars refers to as the “Metal Galdalf” on the commentary track) telling him that the recordings for their new album aren’t up to scratch

– The band’s manager (who looks like an older, crazier version of Maximilian Schell in The Black Hole) telling them that the recordings for their new album need more work

– A bunch of stupid looking, middle-aged fat guys acting like they’re still 18 years old (including pudgy, stuck-in-the-late-80’s producer and studio bass player Bob Rock—I’m pretty sure that’s his real name!)

It goes on and on. But I think alphamonkey will agree with me that the real highlight (or low-point, depending on how many beers you’ve swilled during the viewing of this atrocity) is the meeting between Lars and Megadeth guitarist Dave Mustaine, whom the boys kicked out of the band in 1983 supposedly because he drank too much. For some reason, I expected Mustaine to be a little tougher than the other guys, but guess what? He’s a pussy just like the rest of them! It was tough to sit through five minutes of him whining to Ulrich about how “People hate me because of you.” Gimme a break!!! Megadeth has sold about 15 million albums worldwide over their career. Sure, Metallica has sold like 90 million, but shit, man, bitching about 15 million copies of your album being out there is as pussified as Billy Corgan breaking up Smashing Pumpkins because their last album only sold a million. A million is a big fucking number, and to have some guy who’s supposed to be a “metal master” whining about being “number two” is a pretty big insult to my digestive system. Just further proof that being a rich rock star putrefies your brain and removes any dignity you ever had from your wretched, drug-impaired body.

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