Friday, May 30, 2014

The List!!!: Seth Macfarlanes Top 5 Vocal Performances

Love him or hate him, Seth Macfarlanes had an undeniably huge impact on pop culture. With his new movie A Million Ways To Die In The West hitting theaters today, let's take a look at his Top 5 vocal performances and admire some of his best work.

In no particular order:

Stewie Griffin: Family Guy has pretty much become one of the worst shows on TV, but Stewie remains the one element that consistently delivers, with Seth able to deliver some truly outrageous lines through that unmistakable voice with just the right balance of arrogant detachment and unexplainable lovableness. To boot, Stewie seems to be the only character that's able to create believable emotional resonance that feels earned and not cheap. For any other show Stewie would be a feat, but in garbage like Family Guy, it's practically a revelation.

Stan Smith: He's a cold blooded killer, a man sexually aroused by horses and unnaturally close to his mother; he's Stan Smith and he's easily one of the most surprisingly successful elements of American Dad! Although at the start of the program he was nothing more than a cheap stereotype, Stan's now developed into a fleshed out character worthy of being put on this list, if only for terrific lines like "Looks like I just picked a bouquet of oopsie-daisies"

Roger The Alien: There's a lot of bizarre elements in programming Seth Macfarlane has a hand in (and admittedly, Seth had very little to do developmentally with the show Roger is in), but Roger tops them all. An alien obsessed with disguises, Roger brings out a new personality each episode that somehow always brings the laughs (I particularly like his female wedding planner persona that somehow has two adult kids) Even on his own, he always meshes well with the Smith clan, especially with Klaus the goldfish, with whom he generates many hearty laughs.

Ted: In the two years since it came out, Ted has remained surprisingly stupendous, it's laughs never wearing off and the dynamic between Mark Wahlberg and the titular raunchy teddy bear never getting old. That dynamic owes a lot to Seth's performance which makes the smart decision to make Ted actually lovable, thus making the twos friendship believable. And don't worry; Seth still makes Ted hilarious without making him too over the top disgusting, making Ted a nicely well made character in a similarly well made film.

Johann Krauss: Now here's one you might not actually know was Seth Macfarlane, but yes, in Guillermo Del Toro's best movie, the voice of Quagmire interacts with Ron Perlman's amazing red hero as they protect the Earth from fantastical forces. Macfarlane makes a nice addition to the cast, with a German accent we don't hear the voice actor pull out very often allowing the characters intellect to be stylized in amusing ways that clash with Hellboy's more brute tactics. But his best moment comes at the end, when he finally tells off Jeffrey Tambors character in an extremely hillarious manner.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

I Wanna See That!: The Social Network

The weight of four years came crashing around me as I watched this trailer for The Social Network for the first time in ages. When this came out, it was 2010, a time when the iPad was only 6 months old and Facebook was still relativity new. Since those times, Facebook has become way more than a site, it's become a way of life, the hub for an internet driven social existence. It's beautiful to see such progress, although one thing we've had very little progress on in that time is making moves that are better than The Social Network. There are maybe half a dozen that can truly rival it in its perfection, a fact that's hammered home by this exquisite trailer.

While the Facebook layout depicted in the opening moments is obviously outdated, it surprisingly still matches what we're accustomed to seeing on a daily basis on that site, meaning it's impact is far from lost. As this montage concludes, we're thrust into the year 2003, where Mark Zuckerberg wants to translate the whole college experience to the internet. As a rapid dash of dialogue and footage occurs, all set to the impeccable tune Creep, covered by the Vega Creep, Zuckerbergs characterization in the film  is readily apparent. Here, he is a genius who, as the song notes, "...wants control, a perfect world..."

In mere minutes, David Finchers gripping world and all it stands for is put on display, especially by the Aaron Sorkin scripted words that continue to exemplify the themes of the film. "This is our time!" Justin Timberlake announces (how weird it was to see that N*SYNC dude doing a dramatic feature!) and indeed, for those who have enough savvy to create a site like this, it is their time. The best one though may be a brief conversation where Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield, pre-Spider-Man) and Zuckerberg talk about the site. "Do you like being a joke!?!?!" Mark exclaims "DO YOU WANT TO GO BACK TO THAT?!?!"

First of all, I'm super glad they get to show off here the amount of acting talent Garfield has that isn't allowed to be put into his Spider-Man performances. Secondly, wow. That exchange alone in the trailer is so intense one can't imagine it getting any better in the feature, but oh wow, it really does. That's what makes The Social Network notable as a trailer; it's deft ability to not ruin the film it's promoting but still managing to be a superb entity on it's own.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Country Music Spotlight: Florida Georgia Line

The crisp fall air of October filled my nostrils as I exited the school auditorium. Performing in the show Hot Topic (not affiliated with the clothing store) for the first time had left me with some nervousness over how people had received the show, but it also left me feeling happy things had gone smoothly. As I entered my fathers car, the country radio station was playing, and after a few minutes, a newly released song started playing. It was Cruise, by Florida Georgia Line, and man did it hit hard.

The dawn of Bro-Country was at hand, and with the strum of their guitars and unique vocals, the duo was primed and ready for success. Yet, nobody, least of all me that October night, could have imagined how much of a phenomenon Cruise would be. Playing as a nice contrast to the wintery weather that covered the country, it's peppy lyrics about a girl and her beauty took over radio stations, and even wound up being popular enough to earn a remix with Nelly. That remix earned airtime on non-country radio stations that only sent the Country duo even further into the stratosphere of fame, to the point now where they adorn Toaster Strudel boxes.

To many, the question remained...what was it about these guys that had hit such a chord?  

Well, take a look at the music video for Cruise (above this paragraph) before we go further. Now, let's look at country music as a whole for a second; it's a genre that is predominantly filled with lyrics about consuming enough beer to kill an elephant, but always makes sure shenanigans stay within the guidelines that wouldn't elicit anything more than a "Oh you boys!" from a local Southern pastor. One or two songs hinted at more depravity (Luke Bryan's ditty What All My Friends Say namely), but Cruise was the first one to really take it to the next level. In a song like this, it was now possible to admire long tan legs and bikini tops in modern day country music. The music video above is G-rated compared to the seemingly endless lines of strippers that dance around in Pitbull's videos, but for Country music, the depiction of strip poker alone was as monumental as the Thriller music video was for Michael Jackson. In the two years since it's release, Thomas Rhett, Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan and Jerrod Neimann have popularized on the club activities that Florida Georgia Line opened the door for.

But breaking down barriers with their debut single was only the start for these two. Three more No. 1 singles awaited them, and only their duet with Luke Bryan This Is How We Roll broke that streak by settling for a platry No. 2 position (ironically, another Luke Bryan song Play It Again prevented them from making 5 No. 1's in a row) Each songs comes out, guns a-blazing, with material that easily resonates with any listener, whether or not they're from the south or not. Admittedly, they're playing it safe lyrically compared to Gary Allan and Brad Paisley, considering how damn catchy each of their songs are, I truly don't mind.

It's also hard not to mind the two dudes behind this whole enterprise, Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley. Hubbard seems to resemble a caveman on meth, while Kelley looks like an Abercrombie model wannabe. And yet, that seems to be their secret weapon; each of their songs comes from two guys who look like average dudes, which allows them to sell their relatable lyrics that might otherwise come off as trite. Also helping matters is that Hubbards extremely distinctive voice helps sell the emotions in any of their tunes, particularly in Stay, which is a song I hope they make more like in the future. 

 This is far from the end of Florida Georgia Line, who likely have years of No. 1 songs to come. As long as they keep bringing all the elements that have made them stand out so far, I'll be more than happy to be along for the ride. Love em or hate em (and many people on YouTube seem to hold an extreme disdain for the duo) there's no denying they've had an impressive mark on Country Music just since October 2012. 

And Now The Story Of A Jane Fonda Led Family, Who Lost Everything, And The One Son Who Had No Choice, But To Keep Them All Together...

As Jason Bateman basks in the financial glory and critical failure of Identity Thief, he now is gearing up for a project that steers more towards the dramatic side, though fear not! Jokes about sex, boobs and affairs still abound. Director Shawn Levy (whose bipolar career has brought us the charming Night At The Museum and the forgettable The Internship) handles this one, which I have a feeling is a bit more dramatic and heady than the slightly generic trailer indicates. Still, the cast (which has Adam Driver in it!! Hell yeah!!!) is solid enough to keep my hopes on this one, which comes out in theaters everywhere September 12th.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

So, I Was On Netflix: Don Jon

Or...Palatable Porn Predicaments

It was somewhat inevitable for Joseph Gordon-Levitt to try his hand at the whole directing thing. After all, the actor had existed on the fringes of filmmaking for ages, making several well known indie flicks like (500) Days of Summer and 50/50. While he had taken detours into more mainstream projects, even those have come under the watch of unorthodox directors like Rian Johnson and Christopher Nolan. The passionate attitude towards filmmaking directors like those carry had to have been infectious and likely helped spur Levitt’s entry into the taxing world of directing.

His first feature, Don Jon, made a splash at Sundance and while it didn’t light the box office on fire, it at least made it known that Levitt was not playing things safe. The actor has been using his clout to to further very out of the box projects through his HitRecord program, and now Don Jon was the culmination of sorts for all such endeavors. The premise (a man played by Levitt that has a porn addiction) was obviously not the kind Warner Bros. could release in April to financial success, but it was the kind of project that showed off Levitts strengths as both a supporter and creator of boundary pushing entertainment.

Thankfully, the movie itself lives up to all the credibility Levitt received with it. From the opening moments, one gets an immediate feeling of being in experienced hands, the kind of talent that can easily take an off-putting premise like this one and turn it into a watchable venture. The montage that starts the picture may actually be one of it’s highest points, as quick cuts show us all the pornographic images Don Jon surrounds himself with, all while the titular protagonist narrates his daily routine. The quick cuts between the super adult images and his outings with his family, to the gym, and to church make for an effective juxtaposition that immediately drew me into this world.

Actually, juxtaposition is an appropriate word for the film, especially in the way Levitt stages many important aspects of the feature. My favorite is the appearance of different environments in the story; Don’s apartment constantly has a seedy look, and the shooting style takes on a shaky-cam method to match the frantic emotions Don feels. In scenes centered on his new girlfriend Barbara (played beautifully by Scarlett Johansson), bright colors abound and everything’s perfect, a little too perfect. Scenes with Julianne Moores character Esther take on a more realistic vibe to match the balance Don feels around here. This attention to detail really helps the movie flourish and let it’s subtle, yet not so subtle, message hit with extraordinary results.

Levitt takes on a Jersey accent playing Don Jon, and man alive, for some reason I loved that voice of his. Somehow, Levitt uses that accent to make sure that every syllable that pours out of Don’s mouth seems to come alive with an equal mixture of bullshit and conviction, as he fends off change to his perfect little world. Once again, Levitt’s attention to detail comes into play, and thankfully such thought extends to the other cast members. Moore has a casual feel to herself, which nicely allows the brutal truths she tells Don to come across as effective without feeling intrusive. Johansson, one of the most talented actresses working today, does a great job oozing manipulation at every turn, every opportunity, every chance she can to turn Don into her dream personification of a man. She also makes sure the films only extraneous sequence, which depicts Don and Barbara reuniting in a brief cafe encounter, is bearable.

It’s a pity the aforementioned scene is in the film at all, since it feels like a cliche the whole affair is way above using. Otherwise, the movie wisely strays from what's come before and instead boldly blazes it's own storytelling trails. Perhaps the boldest thing that's accomplished is in making Don Jon at all bearable as a human being. In 2013, we saw a lot of deplorable human beings (i.e. Jordan Belfort, Jasmine), and admittedly Don isn't quite as bad as those two, but his shallow look at relationships and women certainly don't do him any favors. Still, his commentaries about sex are humorous, simply in the amount of detail he's analyzed in there that once again juxtaposes how much he knows with how much he's truly clueless about. 

There's a lot of ideas thrust into Don Jon, and admittedly, not all of them bubble to the surface perfectly, especially it's ideas on religion. However, those missteps are extremely rare in this excellent movie that doesn't shy away from digging into some heavy stuff while also somehow keeping things as loose as Don's hair is greasy.

X-Men: Days Of Future Past Review

Welcome to The Future

The X-Men face their most terrifying threat yet; Sentinels...and bad photoshop
The future is very rarely an idyllic place in the world of movies. Even family movies like WALL-E make sure it looks terrible, while R-rated movies go to the most extreme ways possible to prove just how deplorable the future is. The X-Men likely think everybody from Max Mad to Robert Neville got it easy though, as their future consists of giant adaptive robots killing every mutant in sight.
The opening scene of X-Men: Days of Future Past, which introduces us to those robots (called Sentinels), is a thing of beauty, as it beautifully sets up how miserable this future really is, as mutants are killed off in a casual manner that makes one sick. Besides setting up an impressive action and tone-defining sequence, the opening also shows off one of the movie’s greatest assets; it’s ability to make any character that pops up immediately memorable. The unique powers that comes with each of the many mutants we meet in the film are so darn cool that it’s hard not to root for them (my personal favorite is featured in that opening; Bishop, played by Omar Sy).
Soon though, Wolverine (still played terrifically by Hugh Jackman) is off to 1973, where he hopes to get younger versions of Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to help prevent the creation of those pesky Sentinels. The arc Wolverine’s undergone in six of these seven movies has had it’s ups and downs, but it all culminates nicely here, as he has to take responsibility and be more of a helpful presence to the younger versions of Xavier and Magneto. Jackman handles this thoughtful side of the character in fine fashion, while also delivering an immensely quotable one-liner and awesome fight scene in similarly successful style.
The 1973 seen in this movie is a dazzling place that sucks one in due to the insane amount of detail here. That year really wasn’t that long ago, yet it feels like an entirely different world compared to the one we have today. Thankfully, they play up these differences to their maximum potential, as everything from Pong to Richard Nixon is given time to shine.This era also gets us to McAvoy who absolutely brings it as young Xavier, a tortured soul who’s now a drug addict and a recluse. McAvoy does do an excellent job making sure his character comes off across as damaged, but not unlikable, a tough balance that he pulls off nicely.
McAvoy and Fassbender had some terrific chemistry in X-Men: First Class (for me, still the best X-Men movie) and perhaps the film’s only disappointment is the lack of time the two spend together. The one major scene they do get is gripping, but soon Fassbender does some things that feel abrupt and unwarranted; I get why they did him, but they could have been executed better, especially since they come at the cost of Fassbender interacting with the spectacular ensemble cast. It doesn’t help that Fassbender does some stuff in the finale that feels….weird and a little over the top considering the circumstances he’s acting in. Add in some questionable actions involving Beast and Wolverine, and some of the climax of this feature does slightly underwhelm, though it’s saved by some final few set pieces that being the film back to glory.
Oh, and lest I forget, the rest of the ensemble cast, by the way, is thankfully well balanced, with Halle Berry and Ellen Page getting nice cameos while (contrary to the public consensus) Jennifer Lawrence does a superb job handling all the complexities Mystique has to endure in this film. By the way, you’ve likely heard by now about Evan Peters landmark action sequence as Quicksilver. Spoiler Alert: it more than lives up to the hype.
Really, some underwhelming aspects of the finale notwithstanding (which still pale to The Wolverine, which I was overly generous with last summer) X-Men: Days of Future Past is still excellent moviemaking that shows how good storytelling mixed with superb action is an extremely potent mix.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Box Office Analysis: Sandler Slips Stupendously...So, Now What?

This past weekend, Adam Sandler had one of his worst box office openings in history. Although narrowly above That's My Boy in box office estimates, it's still an atrocious opening that shows just how far the mighty have fallen. Curiously, this isn't Sandler's first box office blunder, but it was presumed that previous recent flops Jack & Jill and That's My Boy were due to their PG and R ratings that differentiated themselves from the PG-13 rating that Sandler excels in. That makes Blended's failure even more puzzling; it's PG-13 rating seemed to prime it for inevitable success.

Of course, some minor factors likely played into it's demise (Warner Bros. might not be as equipped to market Sandler's work as his long time distributor Columbia is, while the crowded May calendar likely had a hand as well) but the inevitable has to be faced; Sandler is no longer a guaranteed draw. But don't worry Adam, this is the best thing that could happen to you. Now, unbeknownst to many audience members, another Adam Sandler movie is on the way towards the end of 2014. In fact, a gander at IMDB suggests two more are on the way.

But don't worry; they're not some updated version of The Rocketeer entitled The Farteteer. Instead, their both dramas from two very distinctive filmmakers; Thomas McCarthy and Jason Retiman. McCarthy's handling The Cobbler, while Reitman is tackling Men, Women And Children, which both feature Sandler in starring roles. If he can shine in both of those films, he may just remind us of his dramatic potential and show there's a life beyond gratuitous product-placement. Of course, there's more comedies on the horizon, with Pixels (that movie depicts Kevin James as the POTUS, which sounds like an element from a Robot Chicken sketch) coming next May, but still let's hold out hope.

After all, as Alfred said in Batman Begins, we fall so we can learn to pick ourselves up again. Perhaps by falling financially with Blended Adam Sandler can pick himself up creatively

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Let's Get The Party Started!

Well, here I am. To many of you, I've been your High School Film Critic for two years. For others, I've been an internet commentor whose presence you've come to tolerate. Now, I've decided to spread my wings and soar. Yes folks, this is my websites. I've had one or two of these over the years, but this is officially the big one. This is where I really take my love of film and pop culture to the next level.

In addition to movie reviews, which will be published on a regular basis, I'll also be doing unique columns every weekday. Here's the schedule:

Monday:  Box Office Analysis: I take a gander at just what the box office numbers from the previous weekend mean in the bigger picture. For instance, the first entry will discuss what's happened to Adam Sandler, and why his failure may just save his career.

Tuesday: So, I Was On Netflix...: We use Netflix and it's brethren for so much for our entertainment consumption at this point that I'm surprised more notice hasn't been given to this newfound way of enjoy cinema. Each week, I tackle a major movie on Netflix and review it. This week's entry? Don Jon.

Wednesday: Country Music Spotlight/Country Music Spotlight: Now, this day of the week is interesting, because I'll have interchanging columns. Every other week, Franchise will trade off with Country Music. Franchise Frenzy will chronicle notable franchises in cinema history and analyze their impact on pop culture at large, while Country Music Spotlight (which will go up this week, with an article on Florida Georgia Line) will look at a notable country music artist and their career.

Thursday: I Wanna See That!: Ooo! This is the one I'm really excited to write about! Each Thursday, I'll take a look at notable movie trailers and just why their so memorable. This weeks entry is The Social Network.

I also should note I'll be doing box office predictions every Thursday.

Friday: The List: Yeah, I know, Buzzfeed-esque articles proclaiming The Top 10 90's Shows That Make 30 Year Old Men Nostalgic For 5 Minutes have taken over the internet, but it is a unique to format ones ideas, so I might as well give it a shot. This weeks list looks at The Top 5 Seth MacFarlane Voice-Over Performances.

Well guys and gals, I'll be seeing y'all Monday, when I debut the Box Office Analysis as well as my review for X-Men: Days of Future Past (spoiler alert: it's great!!). See you guys then, and thank you for giving me your time and consideration!

P.S. Here's my Previous Work For Those Intrigued.