Sunday, January 28, 2007

Keller Williams: Dream



Written by Fumo Verde

Fumo here with one of the best-sounding CDs I've heard in a while. Dream-- wow, that's a big name to fill, but fill it he does. This disc contains sixteen tracks with some top musicians from every aspect of the music spectrum, folks like Bob Weir, Bela Fleck, Michael Franti, and the String Cheese Incident. With a line-up like that, I must be dreaming, but it’s not just my dream because Williams fulfills many of his by playing with all these amazing artists.

Each track has a totally different sound from the one before it, giving the CD a "cool mix" style. "Play This" is the first track and it starts off fast and hard, which Williams explains why in the liner notes. I've often wondered how an artist gets idea for songs. "Play This" was something that came about after he was asked if he could write a song that could be played on the radio. Williams listened to a certain station for a while and that's what gave him the inspiration. It kind of has that Punk-Shout-Rock-Sing quality you might find on any billboard-pushing FM station nowadays, but Williams gives it a little twist.

Switch over to "Cadillac" and you find the trio of Williams, Bob Weir, and Bob's dog, Jackson Hamlet Weir, recorded at Weir's house in California. The root of this tune has a definite blues sound with a little bluegrass feel to it. "I love to cover Dead songs, and to have Bob Weir sing one of mine is a dream come true,” Williams says on the liner notes. He also said that he wrote the song with Weir in mind. The story is about a guy going to pick up his Cadillac. "Red and white/ creamy leather/ Roof stuck down/ praying for better weather." Both men play acoustically as Jackson barks in the background for effect. I play first each time I turn the power on my player.
From here we'll jump over to "Cookies," a jam tune where Williams laid down the tracks and then sent it onto to Fareed Haque, an associate professor of guitar at Northern Illinois University. Haque is an accomplished guitarist but he also plays an instrument that is a cross between a guitar and a sitar. The sounds off this track are unbelievable and though it's time is just less than five minutes, I still consider it a damn good jam.

Williams didn't set out to make an album with all his favorite people doing what he thought they should do. He made it with them in mind, and gave them the freedom to use their talents, and if that changed the original way he first had a track, then so be it. He found out that by letting the other artists add to his dreams, they became more vibrant and colorful.

Keller Williams is a great jam artist with witty lyrics and a light-hearted tone who brings fun back into music. Dream can be described only by its name because it was a dream for him to have worked with his hall of fame, and it is a dream for those who hear it. An abundance of sound that is sure to please the ear, the mind, and the soul. As crazy as this world can get, sometimes we just need to kick back and dream, and here's the soundtrack to do that. Have fun.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

THE MASKED MOVIE SNOBS PICK THE WORST FILMS OF 2006



Caballero Oscuro
The Pink Panther

I like the original Pink Panther films. I like Steve Martin. I even like Beyonce. But the combination of all of them in the latest ill-advised studio remake is the worst idea and execution of the year. Remember when Steve Martin cared about his films? Remember when he was funny and sometimes even dramatic and wasn't just cashing a paycheck? Steve Martin couldn't successfully replace Peter Sellers under any circumstances, and he's not helped by the incredibly weak material patched together into a less-than-serviceable final product. The sight gags are obvious a mile away, the plot is completely common, and there's absolutely no chemistry between any of the stars. In short, it's a frustratingly mundane attempt to pander to the masses that fails miserably on all counts.



Cara de Pescado
The Break-Up

Choosing a film to win the honors of being the worst film all year is sometimes as difficult as selecting the best, other years it is quite easy. Picking the worst of 2006 fell somewhere in between as I could pick three films I didn't like at all. Do I pick one that had some enjoyable moments but had jokes that went too far to the point of being old and unfunny, a dumb film that pissed me off more than it made me laugh, or do I pick one that was just uncomfortable? Since I at least liked the bear and chicken in Borat, and Material Girls did have a few moments where I at least smiled, I decided to go with The Break-Up. It was advertised as though it would be some cute Romantic Comedy, but there was nothing romantic nor comical about the movie.

It is uncomfortable when you're with friends who are bickering or siblings who fight a lot. The Break-Up is 105 minutes of that sort of uncomfortable squabbling. I don't need to waste over an hour and a half of my life watching people fight when there is no point to it. They don't resolve their problems, nor do they even seem to try. Vince Vaughn didn't even look attractive in it. No, the only two good things about The Break-Up were Jennifer Aniston's butt and the condo. I am looking to buy a home, maybe they could have sold it to me and quickly gotten out of my life.



Hombre Divertido
Poseidon

When asked to choose my worst movie of 2006, many came to mind: The Break-Up, Accepted, How to Eat Fried Worms, and Nacho Libre. Oh Nacho Libre was bad, and so disappointing, but it was not the worst movie of the year. Now, granted, I did not see every movie this year, and I am sure there are some very deserving films out there, but for me; it rises and sinks with Poseidon, a horribly under-utilized all-star cast, underdeveloped story, poor special effects, and a complete failure in comparison to the original.

How it was possible to take the 1972 classic Irwin Allen production, and turn it into the shipwreck that it is I have no idea, but I must applaud the lack of effort put into this.

Irwin Allen knew that the key to the success of a disaster film is to give us characters that we care about, and that is done by developing the characters prior to the disaster. He did this brilliantly in The Poseidon Adventure. We got none of that in Poseidon.

I said it when I first reviewed it, and I’ll say it again: This film is a snooze fest from start to finish that generates little excitement or interest.

Recommendation: Wait for it to come out on DVD, and then rent the original.



Mil Peliculas
Silent Hill

The worst film I recall seeing was Silent Hill. The egregiously boring based-on-a-videogame turd. The plot, story, characters and sound were dreadful, other than that it was fine. I would recommend banning everyone but its cinematographer from any future work in the film industry. Although all he did was copy the video game's look exactly he did not manage screw that up. Can't really supply a synopsis as I have already deleted this abomination and sent all its links to my mental recycle bin.



Sombrero Grande
RV

When a drama is seriously awful, it can often turn amusing for all the wrong reasons. Sometimes, as is best illustrated with the infamous Plan 9 From Outer Space, the film can become all the more enjoyable for its laughable qualities.

But what happens when a deliberate comedy is downright awful, when not a chuckle is to be gained and there's certainly no serious or dramatic enjoyment to be had? Well then you have the worst kind of movie; one that offers no legitimate entertainment...a movie like RV.

Unlike other no-doubt laughless wonders that came out this year (Date Movie, Deck the Halls, etc.), RV is one movie I made the mistake of actually presuming might hold the promise of a few laughs and so subjected myself to watching. With the cancellation of the genius Arrested Development last year I was eager to see actors Will Arnett and Tony Hale show up in post-Bluth family roles, but in RV Hale has little more than a cameo and Arnett is utterly wasted in the “villain” role by the incompetent script and inept direction.

Egregiously ill-conceived in just about every way, RV offers painful, lengthy set-ups that lead to such comedic gems as Robin Williams getting soaked in liquid fecal matter. The ill-deserved egotism of director Barry Sonnenfeld shines through in every belabored camera turn that focuses on his mug which he has plastered larger that life on the side of the titicular recreational vehicle.

RV is utterly worthless; a laugh—or even smirk—free “comedy” that will remain the worst time I spent in all 2006 watching a movie. This RV is to be avoided as if it were barreling down the road toward you.



El Bicho
American Dreamz

From the trailer, American Dreamz gathers subject matter from politics to pop culture in what could have been a brilliant, biting satire about the current state of America and its citizenry. Instead, what is delivered is a Saturday Night Live parody. Unfortunately for the audience, it’s the unfunny, last sketch of the night that begins at 12:51 A.M. as filler between commercials before the host says, “Good night.” I sat in a theatre where no one laughed and if I hadn’t been reviewing the film, I would have walked out after about 40 minutes from sheer boredom.

Writer/director Paul Weitz has obviously generated a great deal of money from the American Pie franchise because I don’t understand how this film got made. The “comedy” was non-existent. Only someone surrounded by yes-men and ass-kissers would think this script was ready to go. Put an unknown screenwriter’s name on the front page and it would hit the trashcan so fast a sonic boom would have been heard from miles around. Other than the people who need a paycheck and maybe Hugh Grant, who is given a chance to play off-type, I don’t believe anyone read this script before agreeing to make it.

American Dreamz has aspirations to be something grand but its ideas are so obvious they are rendered lame. American Idol purposely picks contestants that are bad so we can laugh at them. No. Who knew? Thanks for the revelation. Chaney controls the President and what he says. Really? Never heard that before. Now, I’m no fan of the President, but the film paints him as borderline retarded, distracted by shiny objects. I’m not sure if it was supposed to be funny or commentary since it accomplished neither. Weitz and his lackeys need to realize that just because you have an idea does not make it good, unique or funny. If he had reviewed this film, he would have thought it both brilliant and humorous to have the headline read: American Nightmarez.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

ROCKY BALBOA



Written by Hombre Divertido


The fifth sequel to the Academy Award winning 1976 film Rocky makes for a nice trip down memory lane albeit a bit…rocky.

Judging from the success of nostalgic programming on television such as Where Are They Now?, E! True Hollywood Story, I Love the ‘70s, …‘80s, …‘90s, etcetera, fans enjoy taking a look back. On this front, Rocky Balboa delivers.

Writer/director Sylvester Stallone reprises his role as the rags-to-riches-to-rags boxer we last saw in Rocky V, fighting his former protégé and then heavyweight champ Tommy Gunn in an old school street brawl. Rocky is now a restaurateur, who entertains the clientele with stories of his battles. He still hangs around with his brother-in-law Paulie, played again by Burt Young, who is still as crotchety as ever.

Rocky and Paulie reminisce through a large portion of the film, and there are several homages to previous outings. Pedro Lovell reprises his role as Spider Rico, the fighter we see Rocky battle at the church in the first film. Spider gets free meals at the restaurant Rocky runs. Though played by a different actress this time out, Rocky once again tries to help Marie, the young girl he walked home and gave advice to in the first film. Rocky gives her and her son jobs in the restaurant, which is now convienently filled with both memorabilia and characters from the previous films.

As in the fifth film, Rocky is still trying to build a relationship with his son, who is now out on his own, but frustrated with living in his dad’s shadow.

So, we are given a nice update as to where Rocky is now, and it is an enjoyable update. Unfortunately, we then have to move on. Inspired by the comeback of George Foreman, Stallone decides to bring Rocky out of retirement. Not a bad concept, but so poorly executed we are left to wonder if perhaps Sly has not taken a few too many punches.

After a computer-generated fight between the former champ Rocky Balboa and the current champ Mason “The Line” Dixon, played by Antonio Tarver, airs on ESPN, Rocky is inspired to give boxing another go. He applies for and receives his boxing license, but not without a passionate plea to the governing body. In said plea, we have not seen a monologue so poorly delivered since we saw Rambo’s tirade to Colonel Troutman (Richard Crenna) at the end of First Blood.

The promoter and manager for Dixon see Rocky’s interest in fighting as a golden opportunity to make some money, and in a transition worthy of a club fighter, we find ourselves at a press conference announcing the fight. Tony “Duke” Evers (played by Tony Evans), Rocky’s trainer after Mickey’s death is there even though he has not been seen previously in the film.

The fight is set, and Rocky begins training to the music you may have heard before. Though Duke explains the limitations of the training regime due to Rocky’s age, we see him doing most of the things we are told he no longer can. This makes little sense, as does the fight we see.

Rocky's son and Marie’s son join Paulie and Duke in the corner, though no previous experience is ever revealed. The boxing sequences are horribly executed which is such a surprise since the fight sequences in previous films have been highly touted. Antonio Tarver may be a great fighter, but he can’t act, and he can’t act like he is fighting.

If the inspiration for this film was indeed the return of George Foreman to the ring, certainly nothing was learned from Foreman’s efforts, as Rocky attempts to box with the much younger and faster opponent rather than just cover up, plod forward, and look for that punchers opportunity like Foreman did.

This film starts off as a well-written, acted, and executed story of a man coming to grips with what he once was and has become. It then deteriorates into nothing more than a parody of its predecessors.

Recommendation: Watch Rocky, then watch Rocky Balboa on DVD up to the point where he decides to fight again, turn the TV off, drink a glass full of raw eggs, and go for a run.

Monday, January 08, 2007

STREET FIGHT



Written by Fumo Verde

I have always considered American politics as a game of strong-arming and intimidation, and this film has sure cemented my belief in what we like to call "democracy." Politics in the city of Newark, NJ, is definitely a hardball, fast pitch game, but when an old incumbent feels threatened he can and will use whatever means necessary to keep power. This story focuses on Cory Booker, a 34-year-old Rhodes Scholar from Oxford with diplomas from Stanford and Yale Law School, and his battle against long-time incumbent and only the second African American elected as Mayor of Newark, Sharpe James.

In 2002, Marshall Curry set out to make a documentary about the campaign in Newark NJ, but instead stumbled into a fierce battle. Within Street Fight’s first five minutes, Booker is canvassing an apartment building in an effort to make himself known to its residents. He is a member of the Newark City Council and believes he can do better than incumbent James. As Booker talks to the constituents, the Chief of the Housing Authority appears, letting him know that not only is being asked to leave, but the police are waiting outside to escort him if he won't. "The police" is too generic a term because rather than the expected beat cops, Booker discovers the Assistant Chief and the top Sergeant of the Newark City Police. "This is one of the harshest districts in the city. Police rarely patrol here, but I show up and they roll out the big brass. What's the deal?" Booker wonders as he gets into his car.

Next, Curry gets permission to follow the James campaign, but once they find out that he is following Booker too, he is threatened and told that he is not allowed to film the Mayor. “Threatened?” you ask. Yeah, on camera. Curry is good like that; he knows his rights and isn't easily bullied. He's also smarter than the James’ people and gets a reporter to follow the Mayor. On Election Day the reporter is on a bus full of James supporters, heading out to put "boots on the ground." Funny thing about these supporters for the Mayor of Newark, New Jersey, is that they are all from Philadelphia, PA, the city of brotherly love. When these good Samaritans are asked what would bring people from a different state to do this, the number one answer was money. Half of them had no idea who Sharpe James was, and I bet the other half had no idea of where New Jersey was.

If you think that's a little messed up, how about this: both James and Booker are of African descent and registered Democrats. James proclaims at many a rally and in most Jersey newspapers that Booker was not black, wasn’t a registered Democrat, and received money from the KKK and other crackpot groups. Don't mind the issues; hammer your opponent with nonsense. When Booker holds a small town hall meeting, the people ask, "Do you really live in Newark?" "How much money did the KKK give you," and "Ain’t you a Republican?" As the camera fades to black, a little boy turns to Booker and says, "Are you White?"

Other examples of entrenched power are the abuse of city services. Those who openly support Booker are punished, such as three cops who are placed on foot patrol in some of the worst parts of town. The Newark Fire Authority gets into the act to by closing down three shops that show back Booker. Many other shopkeepers said they knew fines and closures would take place if their allegiance was known. The Federal government steps in to enforce the policy that city workers, such as the police and firemen, are not allowed to remove campaign signs until after the election. Yet the Newark Fire and Police are out removing Booker’s signs left and right, while amazingly James’ are untouched.

I believe that our political system is better than what most of the world has, but is it truly? I was totally enthralled by this film as it played out in the streets. Booker tries to get the people to listen to him by going door to door, as James intimidates and bullies. I also believe that when James first got to office he was full of ideas and hope, but once the taste of power and the thrill of using it became the norm, he, like others in that position, was willing to do anything to keep it.
Hands down, Street Fight shows you what we all hope doesn't happen in our cities. Unfortunately, this film sheds light on the dirty, underhanded dealings that a large percentage of our elected officials engage in to avoid the questions and the issues that honestly make differences in our everyday lives. If you want to learn about American politics, here's a crash course. Put on the pads because you will be bruised.

Filmmaker Marshall Curry is going to have a hard time topping this one with what he does next, and I can't wait to see whatever it maybe.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS



Written by Hombre Divertido

The Pursuit of Happyness is just that. You will have to ask yourself if that one hundred and sixteen minute pursuit is worth the happiness gleaned. Reluctantly, I say no.

This is an enthralling film with a fine performance by Will Smith as a man facing one roadblock after another while attempting to not only provide for his son, but also improve their lives.

Based on the true story of Chris Gardner broadcast three years earlier on 20/20, this film takes us through a seven month period in the life of Gardner and his son that includes his wife abandoning them, the loss of more than one domicile, and an attempt to complete a six month internship that comes without a salary.

Smith portrays Gardner with a stoic sense of resolve, and Jaden Smith (Will’s real life son) gives a well-coached performance as Gardner’s son Christopher. Together we watch them deal with situations that would push many beyond their capacity to cope, and can’t help but be drawn into this well paced and directed story.

So, why my reluctant negative to the question posed? Too much of a bad thing followed by not enough good. It’s not difficult to see our ending coming as Hollywood rarely tells us tales with unhappy conclusions, and without being specific; our ending is a happy one. The problem is simply that we as an audience invest so much into our relationship with the characters, that to have the happiness conveyed to us as nothing more than a few paragraphs displayed on the screen is extremely unsatisfying.

The show business creed of always leaving the audience wanting more is generally a good one, but in the case of The Pursuit of Happyness it is nothing but a source of frustration as we know there is no more of this story to come. A sequel would fail, and thus we are left to ponder how our hero copes with his newfound success.

Smith certainly deserves the accolades he is receiving for this performance, and the story garnered both tears and applause in the theater during my viewing, but this is an incomplete story. Perhaps it was the Hollywood unwritten policy of keeping films at two hours, or the failure of the writers to determine a vehicle in which they could properly convey a level of success bestowed upon our characters without instilling a fromage factor upon the endeavor. Either way; after investing the time and feeling the pain, we deserved more satisfaction.

Recommendation: Wait for the DVD, and watch it with Enemy of the State, so you get a chance to see what happens when Will Smith takes control of a situation.