Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Equalizer

My friend brought to my attention yesterday that we have been on quite a run with old man action movies lately. We've seen 3 Days to Kill with Kevin Costner, The November Man with Pierce Brosnan, A Walk Among the Tombstones with Liam Neeson, and now we were about to cap it off with The Equalizer and Denzel Washington. Also I had another buddy of mine call me up a few months ago about The Equalizer and he told me that it was testing through the roof with audiences; so it just further confirmed to me that all of the previous films we have seen to this point simply served as an under card to the latest offering of freshness from Antoine Fuqua. You do know that the last time these two teamed up in Training Day that it eventually led to Denzel getting his first Academy Award for Best Actor (lead) don't you? Isn't it crazy that it basically took him beating up Ethan Hawke to finally get that award? I guess that shows how much Hollywood execs hate the Hawke.

The Equalizer is about an older black man named Robert McCall (Denzel) who leads a rather boring and routine life in the city of Boston. Everyday he gets up early, goes to work, helps his buddy lose weight, and then goes to a late night diner to read a book and relax. And every night at that diner a young and pretty prostitute named Teri(Chloe Grace Moretz) asks him about where he is in the book to strike up a conversation. They eventually become friends as he encourages her to chase her dreams instead of sticking with the life she has fallen into; but one night after a run in with her Russian pimp Slavi, she stops showing up to the diner. Denzel soon learns that she is actually in the ER due to a brutal beating put on her by Slavi  and he decides to reach back into the past that he has promised to forget to confront him about it. And this is where the badassness begins!

Now I'm sure part of it is actually just nature taking its course but Fuqua did an awesome job making Denzel look like he is harmless and past his prime early on in this film. All of the clothes he wears are old men clothes from Sears, Inc. and he is finally starting to look like he is a retired grandpa. But as the movie progresses and he becomes the man he was years ago, you start to see the Denzel that you've grown to love. People, myself included were openly cheering for Denzel after each badass exchange he had with the Russian villains. Just imagine slightly overweight black women yelling "Get em Denzel! That's right baby!" Are you going to tell them to be quiet? I didn't think so! So you may as well join in!

When watching this film you must go in realizing that this is a fantasy revenge flick similar to that of The Crow; so just let go of reality for a bit and allow yourself to enjoy the ride. Denzel represents what we all wish we could be in today's society, and as it gets more and more over the top, you just get more and more into it. It's as if Fuqua saw Tony Scott's over stylized Man on Fire and said to himself "I can make this movie 1000 times better!' And that's exactly what he did.

Fuqua is on point as usual with The Equalizer as he sets the stage for the dark and grim culture that Denzel all of a sudden finds himself in with his use of dark lighting and set pieces. And I have to throw out the fact that Moretz looks dangerously hot in this movie.

I rate this movie as TIGHT and I suggest that you go live vicariously through Denzel.

Friday, September 26, 2014

A Walk Among the Tombstones

In a 12 hour span I managed to convince a girl not to sleep with me by offending her with my awful jokes, promised to impregnate another if the DJ played Erotic City, and had a half a beer spewed in my face as if I had just won the pennant! I was going to replace 'just won the pennant' with an awful joke about Jennifer Lawrence and the private photos of hers that were leaked online but I am still barely human, so I held back. Anyway the point is, this is what happens when movie critics aren't confined to the dark rooms they normally spend the majority of their time in; the sun does weird things to our bodies and we don't know how to interact with people anymore!

I'm not saying that we will turn into the monsters that wreak havoc in A Walk Among the Tombstones but I'd expect a Rain Man freak out at some point if were are not properly monitored. Speaking of Tombstones and monsters, didn't the previews for this movie look like a refreshing break from the last 20 movies Liam Neeson has made? Sure he plays another cop who looks way too serious all of the time but this movie seemed a bit darker than some of his previous work. Yes I realize that in Taken his daughter was being sold as a sex slave but this movie felt as though they were going to take it to another level a la Se7en.

In Tombstones, Neeson is an unlicensed private detective who is hired by a drug trafficker to find the people who kidnapped and killed his wife. Even though he paid the ransom they asked for, they still brutally murdered her. As Neeson starts asking around and digging deeper into the case, he finds that this was not an isolated incident and that these killers have done this before and more than likely will continue doing so until stopped. Neeson is introduced to a seedy underworld as their victims all seem to have one thing in common and its up to him to track them down before they take out their next target.

The premise had potential but Scott Frank (writer/director) fell into the land of cliche's and totally whiffed on the execution. For some reason Neeson teams up with a smart and quick witted homeless black kid to help him with the case, which is ridiculous on so many levels. I will say that the kid did provide a few funny moments in the movie but it felt too much like a weaker version of  Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis in Die Hard 3. Also the reason why Neeson left the police force has been done to death at this point; I seriously got this movie confused with The November Man for a minute or two while watching it. And Frank's attempt to pay homage to or directly steal from The Godfather at the end with his shoot out scene fell completely flat.

The fact that you know who the killers are and what they look like early on takes away from the suspense. And the fact they just look like a couple of normal scrubs who look bored because it's the NFL's off-season didn't aid in their creepiness. Even Neeson was openly mailing it in in a few scenes and if he doesn't care then neither should you.

I rate this movie as WEAK and I'd suggest waiting for HBO to run it before the new season of Girls.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Maze Runner

Not to sound like a whiny rich kids from Vampire Weekend but I just came back from Cape Cod and for overall health I am certainly glad to be back in the safety of Austin. After days and days of eating, drinking, and dancing myself to sleep every night, I was starting to turn into a pale butterball like everyone else in that state! Have you ever been to Cape Cod? Their kids menus serve portions that would normally fill up a NFL linebacker! This is why the obesity rate is so high in our country, even with all of the education and the availability of healthy food, we still choose to eat ourselves to death by chomping down Biggie sized Wendy's fries instead of actually cooking healthy vegetables! It's just easier to do so.

Well the same goes for Hollywood when it comes to making movies these days; why make something original when you can just reboot or re imagine a successful movie or franchise from back in the day. It's even trickled down to writers. The Hunger Games just completely ripped its idea from Battle Royale and The Maze Runner's author looks like he really loved Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Running Man; he was just smart enough not to include a Richard Dawson or a Jim Brown in his teenager version of his story, so that he can keep all of the revenue and not have to pay anyone any royalties. With that said, I have to admit that I also loved The Running Man as a kid so consequently I was secretly looking forward to seeing Runner.

In case you're not a 14 year old boy and you're not already familiar with the story, let me catch you up to speed. Runner starts off with our hero Tommy waking up in a speeding elevator that is shooting him upward and into an encampment ground. Once it stops, he finds himself stuck in a community of abandoned teenage boys who have all had their memories erased and are surrounded by a giant and dangerous maze. He is then introduced to the group's leader in Alby who shows him around, tells him all of the rules, and breaks down the Glade's (their nickname for the grounds) culture. Their main rules are for everyone to pitch in, to never hurt one another, and to never under any circumstance enter the maze unless you're a runner. And for a while everything is ok until a situation arises where Alby's life is in danger and Tommy decides to enter the maze to help save him. It's at this point when everything in their environment begins to change and they must decide whether it's best to stay in the Glade or to risk finding a way out in the maze.

I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by some of the fairly dark themes and events that take place in this movie. It was like a return to the 80's when PG movies had Gremlins killing old men or when old people were attempting to kill a little kid in San Antonio for his video game (Cloak n' Dagger). There's a random death scene at the end that seems a little unnecessary but I think that's more of a statement on our fear of the unknown and the desperate measures we will take to keep things simple and safe in our lives.

The Grievers are creatures that are planted all throughout the maze and they are there to take out any kid that dares enter it. They look pretty cool and Tommy's first night in the maze is fairly intense as he tries to avoid them. Thankfully the movie puts its focus there and not on some silly love triangle, but by judging from the amount of people that were in the theater that's probably what kept this movie from being the next Hunger Games or Twilight. I guess its always been that way though, I don't really remember there being too many girls in the theater when I went to see The Crow but the few that were there were definitely marriage material. Dammit! See I knew I missed my window!

I have to say that some of the CGI action scenes towards the end didn't really come out that well but I mostly attribute that to it being the director's first action adventure movie. Overall though I'd say that he did do a really good job with creating a suspenseful movie and I rate it as barely FRESH.

***spoiler alert***

Someone please explain to me why Alby had to basically suffer two gruesome death scenes! Just one death no longer cuts it for Black characters these days??? What's next, instead of teasers for the sequel at the end of the credits reel, they just decide to show the gruesome deaths of the Black character's parents too? My goodness.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Austin City Limits Day 3 Preview

I know that at most music festivals only the headliners have enough time to do what has become the tired and played out tradition of the forced encore. I’m sure that it was cool back in the 80’s when Prince or Michael Jackson would put on such an awesome performance that everyone in the venue was literally begging them for more. But we must remember that this was also the age when screaming girls would pass out at the beginning of shows (why don’t we see this anymore) , people would raise lighters during a slow song thinking that it was cool and adding to the atmosphere, and you would also brag to your friends about which concerts you were going to. Concerts?!?! I’m so happy that we just call them shows now; I mean I’m sure there was a time when people would pay money to see Andrew Lloyd Webber and his pals perform but then and only then could you call it a concert! But I digress, only one rant at a time.

The first hipster band that comes out on stage, rolls their eyes while letting out a disgusted sigh, and says “Ugh! We don’t do encores” is instantly my new favorite band! Seriously, most bands don’t put on a good enough show these days to even deserve our fake applause for more. We only do this because in most cases  they’ve left us so underwhelmed that we just want them to come out and play their most popular song to help make up for it. And why didn’t Jay Z’s song Encore put an end to this lame trend like his song Death of the Autotuner did to T-Pain’s career?  I’m just saying, I really hope a few bands read this and take it to heart; do something different that doesn’t include the stupid misspelling of your name. Speaking of…

The first band I will check out is Haerts; a ridiculous little pop band that is nowhere near as cool as the lovely ladies from Seattle (Heart) are but they give it their best try. There’s really nothing too memorable about them or their sound so I will probably just pop in for half of Nostalgia’s set too. Nostalgia is a dramatic emo band whose music would be the perfect soundtrack to an indie Danish love film. In either case you’re really just choosing a band to provide you background music as you try and figure out your plan for the day. They both play at 11:30 on the Miller Lite and the RetailMeNot stage respectively.

M0 is a ”cute in the right light” foreigner who can sing and has pretty catchy songs that you can dance to. She plays on the Honda Stage at 12:15.
Next up is Vic Mensa, he is a stoned hip hop artist out of Chicago who brings a smooth flow whether he’s rapping or singing, that matches his beats which are dripping with RnB flavor. It’s a style that reminds you of the fun and love able Pharcyde from back in the day. But to simply put him in this box isn't fair to his music or his style because he has a few jams that have thumping house elements in them and he can still switch it up and have a song that’s drowning in 808 beats. Please show up and check him out to help support creativity in hip hop. He comes on at 1:00 on the RetailMeNot stage.

AFI was the music industry's idea of rock for kids in the late 90's and early 2000's. I think I was still in my angry and fresh out of college old man phase in regards to music then, so I never fell for the trick. But if you want to take a trip down memory lane, by all means stop by the Honda Stage at 2:00.

Kongos is just a lot of instruments on stage that don't quite make you want to punch yourself. So as you can see, I don't think too highly of them but I'd pop in for a song or two. They play the Samsung Galaxy stage at 2:00

Bernhoft is probably the most interesting option of this time slot with his soul pop music; Euros singing soul always intrigues me. I'm not saying that it's the greatest thing in the world but he can really sing and I'm just wondering how far he'll take it in regards to borrowing Motown's sound. To the point of coming on stage with black face? Let's hope not. He plays the BMI stage at 2.

Jhene Aiko has been experiencing the ups and downs of life in the music industry since she was a teenager. But now it looks as though she has finally found her niche' as she has the female Anthony Hamilton/T-Pain thing going on by always appearing on other people's tracks but not quite seeing her solo stuff blow up. She definitely has the talent to blow up though as the little I have heard of her sounds promising. If I were you, I'd pop in just to hear something other than indie pop for a change.

Cults is just Lo-fi rock with a female lead and Fitz and the Tantrums sounds like they should be more fun live than they actually are. Neither option is that great but at least Fitz is indie pop that you can shake your booty to with Michael and Noelle sharing the vocals duty. Their band uses a lot of keys and they have weird streaks in their hair, so at least you have that to entertain you. The Cults come on at 3 and Fitz plays at 4.

Phantogram may be the best show of the day. Their songs Fall in Love and When I'm Small have been tearing up the airwaves and commercials for quite a while now. I saw them perform earlier in the year and their performance was nothing short of spectacular. Sarah and Josh combine to bring you an electronic party that will have you dancing for the full 60 minute set. They come on at 5.

You can also see the talented Jenny Lewis if you're looking to score points with your girlfriend and hopefully get laid that night. It's just hard to get me to watch singer-songwriters or light indie rock live because it puts me to sleep.

I'll see the alternative rock pioneers The Replacements over Spoon mainly because Spoon plays Austin all of the time. And then I'll head on over to see Chromeo (who are always underwhelming) before the Great Divide happens. What's the Great Divide you ask? Well that's when all of the old people with their lawn chairs and prescribed pain pills head on over to see Pearl Jam while the younger kids go dance to Zedd and Calvin Harris. By the way, with a name like that, how is Calvin not black? Oh well, I guess Kelly Anderson is a pretty white name, so I guess you never know.

Anyway, enjoy the festival you degenerates. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


I live in a city where there are literally 500,000 musicians walking around with a banjo or some sort of an instrument like a piccolo trying to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. You also see randomness like Black artists walking around in robes and shower caps or Hispanic dj's rocking the Skrillex hairdo. Now admittedly a lot of them are really talented but there's just too much competition in this city. So when I saw the trailer for Frank, I couldn't help but laugh because I know that it's just a matter of time before someone walks around with a Mickey Mouse helmet on their head trying to start a band. Oh wait, DeadMau5 already exists! It's too late hipsters, it's too late!

Anyway, the movie Frank is about a wannabe musician in John Burroughs; he can only play about three notes on a keyboard and he writes these awful songs. But one day he runs into this crazy Avant-garde indie band with an unpronounceable name that is full of these odd characters, half of which spent time in a mental institution. Now due to an emergency, they needed a keyboardist for their show that night, so they decided to invite the incredulous John to come play with them. And after some hipster nonsense cuts their show short, Frank decides that he likes John and he invites him to live out his dream of being a part of a band and recording an album with them.

You soon realize that Frank (Michael Fassbender) is a musical genius but for some reason he refuses to take off his mask under any circumstances. He can however literally write a beautiful song about almost anything on the spot and he feeds off of his equally weird and talented band mates which includes the psychotic Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Clara has these weird anger issues and they all seem to be directed at poor John; which leads to some pretty funny exchangess between the two of them. You halfway expect her to physically beat him every time they cross paths. But it's her anger that makes her an integral part of the band and you can see her channel this anger through her music. And I have to admit that the results are pretty good.

Once Lenny Abrahamson (director) allows you to get a feel for everyone in the band,  he takes you through all of the ups and downs that an odd ball band like this can experience. And eventually everything culminates when they make their trip to Austin for SXSW with the hopes of being discovered.

Fassbender is one of the best actors in the game right now. He manages to bring life to what is essentially a live action cartoon character in Frank with his charm and his vulnerability. As you get to know him, you feel as though you'd do anything  Frank told you to do musically because it's like having Thom Yorke for your older brother. He's a bit crazy but man he sure brings the best out of you. I had almost written Gyllenhaal off as another old face killah (see Kate Hudson) but the craziness she brings in this film had me strangely attracted to her. She is probably the most memorable character in the movie and that's saying something when it includes a guy that wears a giant mask the entire time.

This movie shows you all of the weird quirks of a band and takes you behind the music making process as well, most of which is pretty comical, but ultimately its a film about relationships and chemistry. It shows you what makes a band and what can tear it apart.

I have to warn you though, this movie was made for music geeks like me. It's not for everyone but it is an original and hilarious film that gives you a pretty spot on look at the music industry. I found myself looking up the soundtrack online when I got home because their noisy and dark music is right up my alley. I rate this movie as FRESH.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Austin City Limits Day 2 Preview

At this point you're probably still in awe of the last performance Outkast will ever put on in the city of Austin and you're also probably wondering if chicken wrapped in a tortilla and queso is quite possibly the best food that you will ever have in your life! But if these are the most forefront things on your mind, then I'd say overall you're off to a pretty good start to a weekend that would normally be soaked in urine and self loathing. Or maybe that's just MY typical weekend? Why can't it be ACL weekend every weekend? This is the closest to normal I will ever get! Anyway, on to shows I will be seeing on Day 2.

Somehow this guy got lost in the mix with the other 120 bands that were putting random years in their names and I forgot how fun his music was. But The Chain Gang of 1974 takes the best parts of every 80's synthesizer group and puts them into one sound. He has the "I'm constantly on recreational drugs" look on his face and with his catchy beats he seems to get what makes music really fun. All he is missing now is the British accent and we'd have the rebirth of Tears for Fears! Well not quite but pretty damn close. It means another early start for you at 11:30 at the RetailMeNot stage.

Full disclosure on this next group; I actually know most of them and I was blessed enough to even sing with them on one occasion. Thankfully for them and their career though it was just for a special event and it wasn't under their Levite name but hey it was awesome still the same! And just because we are friends doesn't mean I'd hype them up if they weren't any good. They are an award winning Gospel group that brings different styles to their sound which include funky Creole music and even a few Caribbean elements. They are a fun show with truly gifted singers and musicians to pop in on before you go off to cover yourself in sin for the rest of the day. They're on at 12:15 at the Bevintel stage.

At this point I will head on over to hear Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue on the Honda Stage. I'm not normally down with mostly instrumental bands, especially jazz bands from New Orleans because it's typically a tired rendition of the real thing. And I'd rather hear that kind of music when I'm in the Big Easy and I have an older Cajun woman whispering indiscernible things in my ear. But these guys are off the chain! They are actually successful in blending jazz and funk, and they even throw in a little hip hop to boot. This group is full of sick musicians and there is no way that I can claim that I love music without seeing some of the best the business has to offer.

I am hoping that at 3:30 I can finally break my streak of missing Polica perform; every time they are in town I miss them. They are an indie pop group whose lead singer looks like the long lost sister of the Keiran and Macaulay Culkin but man she sure can sing. Whether it's through a golden throat or her natural voice, she carries this group that has RnB elements in their music from time to time. Show up and you are sure to find your future husband or wife here. Austin Ventures stage.

I can write a book on why you should see Interpol at 4:30 but I will try and contain myself here. For as long as I can remember music magazines have tried to compare countless bands and their sound to that of Joy Division's; but it wasn't until I heard Interpol that I finally found one that we could agree on. If you don't have Turn On The Bright Lights, then you need to download it this instant because it is one of the best albums to come out in the past 20 years. This is moody indie music at its best. Carlos D (bass) along with his bolo ties and his combat boots is no longer with the band because he felt as though he needed more time to dedicate to DJ'ing and writing poetry with Kobe Bryant. But thankfully Paul and Daniel are still there and it's worth popping in just to see Daniel dance around with his guitar.

I will pass on the cute Swedish pop group Icona Pop mainly because I will be the oldest person there by about 30 years but I reserve the right to change my mind if I get a backstage pass. Apparently Swedish women love Black men; so I'm hoping that we can get together, make the next Willow Smith, and immediately retire.

I will however be seeing Iggy Azalea and I am not proud of this decision at all. When I first heard her music I literally almost threw up in my mouth. An Australian with a fake ghetto rap voice??? But then I saw her and her asset listed as one of the top ten best butts in the business and I decided to give her another listen. Men are so easy. Her lyrics and her style are both still unintentionally comical but damn those beats draw me in every time. Let's be real, if she were black no one would have ever heard of her because there are plenty of black women out there with big butts that can rap that get overlooked everyday. But it is what it is, I'm not going to hate on her for giving the people (including me) what they want. I've always wanted an non criminal Aussie chick with a big butt that likes hip hop music. Maybe we can get together and make the next Drake and immediately retire. 5:30 at the RetailMeNot stage.

Lana Del Rey sounds like she should be making the theme music for every Bond movie that will ever be made from this point on. She has a beautiful and seductive voice to match her beautiful and seductive appearance. She is crazy talented but I cant help but laugh at her when she tries to rap from time to time. She somehow survived the SNL debacle and seems to be going strong and gaining more and more fans with her trippy pop sound. I'll be there for the spectacle more than anything else but I would suggest getting there early because her die hard fans are known to camp out super early. 6:30 on the Samsung stage.

Now we're down to the big acts. Major Lazer could be fun if half of their guest appearances show up but that won't happen. Diplo has talent so I'll split time between this electronic/hip hop dance party and the weird indie rock collabo of Broken Bells.

Last up will probably be Skrillex for me. Nothing wrong with dancing to some dub step before I MAYBE give Eminem a complimentary listen as I head out to see the Hunters perform a show at the Mohawk later that night. I really hope Chappelle comes out on stage instead of M&M's and just says "Spaghetti Spaghetti Spaghetti!" over and over again.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Drop

Watching a new release which stars an actor who has recently died is always strange for a number of reasons. First, there's always the nostalgia; it's hard to see them as whatever character they are portraying because all that's in your head is the relentless number of tributes and stories that have been told over the past few weeks. Second, you wonder if they would have actually gone through with making the film knowing that it was going to be their last. Do you really want Something Wicked to be the last thing that's on people's minds? Or are you one of the lucky ones like Brandon Lee with The Crow? And speaking of Brittany Murphy, it's also weird watching them on screen and still wanting to have sex with them. I know that on some level that's a little gross but is that any weirder than watching Breakfast at Tiffany's and wanting to have sex with Audrey Hepburn? No, it's not! So leave me alone. She was at her peak in 8 Mile by the way but moving on...

On the surface it looks as though James Gandolfini lucked out by getting to work with director Michael R. Roskam; the same guy that directed the excellent and brutal Bullhead, my favorite foreign film of 2011. I am just thankful for him and every Sopranos fan out there that his last work wasn't The Mexican starring Brad Pitt. "Hollywood is crazy...First they had The Mexican with Brad Pitt and now they have The Last Samurai with Tom Cruise. Well I've written a film, maybe they'll produce my film. The Last Ni**a on Earth starring Tom Hanks." Paul Mooney

In The Drop Gandolfini is basically playing a retired Tony Soprano. He and his cousin Bob (Tom Hardy) run a bar in seedy Brooklyn where they are part of an underground criminal organization. They play the smallest of roles in it however as they are just the drop bar for whenever the crime bosses need them; they basically just hold on to the town's dirty money for a night. Marv (Gandolfini) tried being a player in the game back in the day but it never really quite worked out for him, so now he just works for the Chechens as their lowly front man.

His cousin Bob is the quiet and simple bar tender who keeps his head down and tries to avoid any real trouble. He's always the voice of reason for Marv and is basically his right hand man. But both of their lives are changed forever on the night that their bar is held up. The Chechens don't seem to care that it supposedly wasn't their fault, they still want their money and they make this very clear to them by sending them quite a few brutal messages. Not to mention the fact that Bob's new girlfriend Nadia (Noomi Rapace) brings her own baggage to his life which includes the mentally unstable and dangerous Eric (Matthias Schoenaerts).

The movie moves a little slow and you wonder where they are going with it at times but as the story unfolds and everything comes to a head, you find that you have moved from comfortably reclining to clinching the edge of your seat.

Earlier this year I wrote about how Ryan Gosling is the new Billy Dee Williams; you can add him in any movie and it instantly makes the movie cooler, see Empire Strikes Back and Tim Burton's Batman. Well Tom Hardy is now the white Denzel Washington! He cool, super talented, can morph into any character you need him to, and he steals every scene he's in. All he needs now are the giant veneers! He absolutely owns this role, as do the other actors in this movie. Roskam does an excellent job of getting the best from everyone involved in this film and in creating one of the best throwback crime thrillers from the 70's.

I rate this movie as very FRESH and I suggest that you pop in.

Oh by the way, what's with Hollywood and the rise of Chechnya? Decades ago all of the bad guys were British, then they moved on to Germans, Russians, and eventually made their way to the Yakuza and every Muslim on the planet. Now all of the evil men in the world are from Chechnya? I guess a random night in a Russian strip club went horribly wrong for some Hollywood execs!