Monday, January 31, 2005

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Films viewed on cable are marked with an asterisk (*). Ranked one * to five ***** stars.

If you've cared to follow the career of Neil Young in the last ten years or so, you pretty much know what you're getting, especially when he hooks up with Crazy Horse- roughly eight songs per album, two shortish acoustic ballady type things and the rest plodding 10 minute long extended jams. Young hasn't completely lost his knack for melody, so this helps keep things from becoming a total waste of time, but the man seems to be on autopilot and after a while it becomes tiresome- I didn't even pick up his 2002 effort Are You Passionate?, because I had simply grown bored with his output. 2003's Greendale, on the other hand, looked promising because it wasn't "just another Young record", but a couple of less-than-enthusiastic reviews dampened my interest. Fortunately, a friend came to my rescue and sent me a copy, and I was able to listen for myself...and my initial suspicions were sadly founded. Nearly every song clocks in at no less than 5 minutes, they all meander, and the CD sounds like essentially every other Young CD since, oh, Ragged Glory. My favorite cut was the quiet, mostly acoustic "Bandit", in which Young seems to be reflecting on his life and is kinda touching. Difference is that unlike previous efforts, Greendale is a concept album, or to be precise (and as Young is quick to let us know in the bonus features of the DVD) not so much the dreaded "C" word as a group of songs with recurring themes that tell a story of sorts. Apples, oranges. First came Greendale the CD, then Greendale the elaborate stage performance, and finally Greendale the movie...and I suppose they all compliment each other well enough...oh yeah, there's also Greendale the trade paperback, which I haven't seen yet so I really don't know how well that ties in. Anyway, "Eco-fable" Greendale is essentially the story of the Green family, who lives in a fictional Greendale, California. There's a Grandpa (boy, is there ever- Young mentions him in almost every song, constantly), a Grandma, Mom, an adopted son, another son who's an artist, a daughter who starts out as a cheerleader and becomes an eco-activist, a guy running around in a white hat, red coat and red shoes who's supposed to be the Devil, and selected other residents of the town. Adopted son Jed accidentally shoots a city policeman, which causes an uproar and brings newspeople to the Green's Ranch, where they cause Grandpa to confront them, suffer a heart attack, and die, daughter Sun (Sun Green, geddit?) starts her activism and eventually hooks up with a strapping young hunk named "Earth Brown" and heads for Alaska, with the FBI on her heels, the Devil dances around a lot, and Jed waits in prison for his fate. Directed in grainy Super-8 by Young, using his "Bernard Shakey" pseudonym that he also used for previous efforts Journey Through The Past, Rust Never Sleeps and Human Highway, it's sloppy, self-indulgent and goofy as hell- the actors, which include longtime pedal steel player Ben Keith as Grandpa, longtime Young album cover designer Gary Burden, longtime Young illustrator James Mazzeo (The Zuma album cover, among other works) as the artist Green and Young's wife Pegi as Mother Green, don't act so much as they lip-synch the words Young is singing in the soundtrack. The film's broken up into chapters which correspond with each Greendale song, which makes this a long-form music video. It does ramble, but after a while I got interested in the characters and wanted to see how it turned out. Can't say that I got any satisfaction on that count, either- at the very end we get a reprise of the very theatrical stage presentation, in which Young and the Horse perform the embarrassingly earnest album closer "Be The Rain", with the sexy young Sun lip-syncing ecological catchphrases that Young sings in the chorus, dressed in camo fatigues, as the Horse choogles along. Despite the fact that this is really a mess, like many of Young's best songs there's something just under the surface, an honesty of imagination if you will, that makes this watchable in spite of itself. I don't know if I would care to see this again anytime soon, but I'm glad I got to see it just the same.

WHOO-hoo-hoo! Y'know, there are just some films that you just have to throw your hands up and go along for the ride, and The Core is a great example of that. This movie showed such a blatant disregard for the laws of physics and science as we know them, that the website Intuitor: Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics named it the "Worst Physics Movie Ever", and added "This movie is so bad we finally had to force ourselves to quit writing and post the review." So I thought, what the heck- I'll check this out. May be good for a giggle. Well, actually, I didn't get so many laughs, but I was never bored. Even though very little of what actually happens here makes a whole lot of sense, they do everything with a sense of purpose and the actually pretty good (Hilary Swank! Delroy Lindo! Stanley friggin Tucci!) cast wisely kids the material. Reminded me a lot of those great old drive-in Sci-fi flicks of yore, which set out to entertain and nothing else. Man has bollixed upthe Earth's core, throwing the "electromagnetic field" off-kilter and causing chaos and carnage. The government recruits a group of scientists and military personnel to take a specially designed ship that can burrow through the Earth like a mole, in order to set off atomic charges at certain points around the Earth's core, theoretically correcting the planet's rotation. Whew! Like I said- dumb movie, but it was fun to watch, and not always for the wrong reasons!

Speaking of dumb movies, here's the sequel to the not-terrible 2002 video-game-inspired flick Resident Evil. You can tell from the title. Heh. Anyway, zombies are running wild, the shady super-secret Hive, acting in tandem with the government, seals off "Raccoon City" (what names...) and it's up to JB Show fave Milla Jovovich, along with a motley crew of police and special forces soldiers left stranded, to rescue a scientist's daughter and get out of town somehow- or just stay alive. Complicating matters is the fact that the Hive did some sort of enhancement surgery on Milla; now she's a superhuman ass kicking machine of destruction. Even though it's not as bad as the run-of-the-mill video game movie, it's still nowhere near as good as the first Evil flick- and that one wasn't all that good. Of course, I always like to watch Ms. Jovovich go through her paces, but your mileage may vary.

By now, I'm sure you're thinking "God, JB, don't you watch any good movies? Not bad good, but good good?" And all I can say is "Sure"...but this isn't quite it, although I will say that I had a great time watching this good-natured, often clever and inventive stoner buddy comedy. Harold is an uptight, anal Asian junior investment banker, Kumar is an east Indian med school prodigy who has absolutely no interest in becoming a doctor like his dad and brother. They share an NYC apartment, and a love for the ganja- and it's while sitting around smoking weed and dealing with the munchies that they see a commercial for White Castle hamburgers...and decide right then and there that they want some sliders more than anything in the world. So, they set out, but problem is that the nearest White Castle is miles away, in New Jersey. Lucky me, I've got a Castle only about 10 miles away. Anyway, undaunted, they set out on an veritable odyssey, vowing not to give up until they get some square burgers. Of course, frequent, often surreal hilarity ensues. See, I liked the equally dopey, but equally clever and often unfairly maligned Dude, Where's My Car?, and this is the follow-up from its director Danny Leiner, and you can tell- it has an almost identical tone, combining weird animal stunts (the pair ride a cheetah, comparable with the ostrich hijinx in Dude) with animated sequences and a lot, but not too much, low-grade fratboy humor. Probably the worst offender on that score is the "Battleshits" game which Harold and Kumar are forced to endure from two lovely Princeton students, as they hide out in the women's restroom from the campus police. Gross and disgusting, but at least it's new to me and it was funny because of that. I really enjoyed the performance of Kal Penn as Kumar; he has an easygoing, laidback goofiness, reminiscent of Owen Wilson, but he's also capable of firing off a sharp, funny line or facial reaction. Like Dude, it's no landmark in cinematic comedy, but it is a fun romp and I liked it a lot. You'll never see Neil Patrick Harris in the same light after viewing this, I'll tell you that!

Almost finished! More later, including at least one bona fide classic.

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