I was lucky to attend the Sundance premiere of Kevin Smith’s highly anticipated horror flick Red State, starring up-and-coming actors Michael Angarano, Kyle Gallner, and Nicholas Braun, as well as established actors Michael Parks (Then Came Bronson, Twin Peaks, Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2, Grindhouse), Oscar-winner Melissa Leo, and John Goodman.  When I arrived at Eccles Theater in Park City, Utah, I was greeted by a huge line and a mix of protesters: half, serious religious picketers, half, ironical picketers, which included Kevin Smith himself, as well as a teen with my favorite sign that read: God Hates That I Couldn’t Get Tickets To Red State.  The film centers on a trio of high school youngsters (Angarano, Gallner, and Braun) who, out of a combination of sheer boredom and raging hormones, respond to a woman’s internet sex ad in the hopes of having an ill-planned, and ill-fated, gangbang.  Smith leaves his signature mark on this film with witty banter, unapologetic plot twists, and overt social critique, but his own style ultimately ends up hurting the film. Watching Red State was a hard-to-swallow experience, as there is as much good as there are short comings, and I was left with the frustrating—and not uncommon—sentiment that hidden somewhere in this film was the potential for greatness.

PrometheusLogoFor those who don’t know yet, acclaimed director Ridley Scott is currently working on two prequels to his sci-fi classic, Alien. Scott has expressed disappointment with the path that was taken with the Alien series after the second film, which was directed by James Cameron. While both Cameron and Scott have spoken about the urge to revisit the Alien universe, ultimately, it was Scott who made the first move. Scott has stated in the past that he felt that any sequels should experiment more with the evolution of the physical form of the alien xenomorphs in order to keep the mystery and suspense of the creature from the original film. Scott has also mentioned that he felt the story of the Space Jockey, the fossilized body and apparent victim of a chestburster that the doomed crew of the Nostromo discovered before their fateful encounter with the deadly xenomorphs, would be the proper story to tell in a sequel. According to all reports, this is the story Scott intends to tell with Prometheus, his Alien prequel which currently includes Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender in its still-forming cast.

As some may already know, the Alien series was my bread and butter as a child. As other boys in my elementary school became obsessed with football or video games or even the fairer sex, my young mind was deeply entrenched in acid blood, secreted resin, and gloriously gory chestbursters. It wasn’t long before I was known as that slightly creepy kid who spent his time drawing the disturbing creatures from a ‘70s sci-fi/horror film and managed to find a way to work the alien xenomorphs into almost every school lesson, despite many teachers’ resistance and confusion.

For the past several months, my life has been a whirlwind of work.  Writing, editing, studying, organizing, emailing, and trying to stay ahead of my various tasks while staying decidedly a day or two behind.  All this, while also managing a day job and attempting to maintain an acting career on the side.  Suffice it to say, I feel a bit like crawling into bed, closing the blinds, turning on a looped playlist of Richard Hawley, Elizabeth Cotten, Jens Lekman, and Nina Simone and waiting for summer.  Not that all of this work isn’t incredibly exciting and fulfilling, but it certainly takes a lot out of you.  I constantly feel the need to recharge my batteries, yet, when I sit down to watch a movie, I either fall asleep in the first few minutes or I am distracted by guilt throughout, considering all the work I could have completed if I’d only not fallen victim to my own sloth.  I have also recently completed a trilogy of books, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, (if you haven’t heard of it, don’t worry, you’ll be hearing a lot in the next year).  This young adult series was a fabulous look at a future American dystopia and offered gritty action, insightful social commentary, and marvelously strong, yet flawed, characters, all of whom come together to create a powerful story that will have you by turns laughing, crying, cowering in fear, erupting in anger, and hoping with every part of your being these people, whom you will come to love, will survive and, eventually, find happiness.  All of this to say that, as much as I enjoyed this series, I felt a bit like I was put through the ringer.  It’s a quick read for sure, but not exactly light.

For fans of all things horror and make-up effects, the Monsterpalooza convention returned to the Marriott Hotel in Burbank, CA, providing a chance for all to mingle with independent artists and industry professionals alike in an exciting yet accessible setting.  Presented by the Rubber Room and running from April 8-10, the convention exhibits make-up and special effects artists, vendors selling creature-feature DVDs, t-shirts, and posters, make-up and digital design colleges, a monster museum, and a number of well-known genre actors.  As a special treat, guests of the con can count on appearances by industry giants like Guillermo del Toro, Jon Favreau, and Greg Nicotero, wandering through the booths, celebrating the creature genre as much as the next fan.

As a continued foray into the B-movie and exploitation films of the seventies, Robert Rodriguez’s 2010 Machete more than delivered in tastelessness and violence.  Originally opening in theatres in September of 2010, the film was recently released on DVD and Blu-ray on January 4, 2011.  The feature-length film is an expansion of a fake trailer created for Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s 2007 Grindhouse double-feature, and, encouraged by their rabid fan base, it was quickly developed into a star-studded action movie.  Despite a cast that was riddled with Hollywood heavy-hitters and a story that included the uber-controversial immigration reform debate, Machete succeeded only in extending the same violence, nudity, and crudeness as was captured in its trailer.  

For director Robert Rodriguez, Machete was a project that was long in the making.   As a long-time friend and fan of actor Danny Trejo, who has made appearances in almost (if not) all of Rodriguez’s films, the director had intended to create an action film that encapsulated a Latin feel while geared towards a larger audience.  Although a script for the film was written in 2003 by Rodriguez, his full production plate kept him from focusing on the film until his shared Grindhouse project with long-time partner Quentin Tarantino in 2007.  A fake trailer for the Machete was included in the B-movie extravaganza, featuring actors including Danny Trejo, Cheech Marin, and Jeff Fahey, all Rodriguez standards.  Over the next three years, Rodriguez assembled his cast, starting with the Oscar-winning Robert DeNiro.  After securing such a big-named actor, the remaining casting came easily.  The final cast of Machete finally formed, including actors of the likes of Don Johnson, Steven Seagal, Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, Tom Savini (another continued Rodriguez player), and the “prolific” Lindsay Lohan.  

If you and I have ever shared a discussion about music, then you are probably aware of my admiration of Ben Folds (or maybe you just saw the signed poster of him giving the double deuce on my bedroom wall).  The man is incredibly talented, and he is constantly surprising people by doing the opposite of what everyone expects—be it ironically naming his band Ben Folds Five (despite being a trio), judging “The Sing-Off,” or covering Dr. Dre’s “Bitches Ain’t Shit.”

Despite knowing about his proclivity for eccentricity, I was still worried when he announced that he would not be writing the lyrics for his latest album, Lonely Avenue.  Instead, he would be putting music to poems written by Nick Hornby.  High Fidelity was great and all, but I was unsure about how Hornby’s lyrics would fit with Folds’ music.  Part of me worried that this album might be that bastard child that no one really likes to talk about. (I am looking at you, Weezer; Make Believe was awful.)

But, you know what, I was pleasantly surprised.  The lyrics on this album felt just as personal and heartfelt as on Folds’ previous albums.  There is more of a bitter sting to the songs.  Not that this is anything new to Folds’ music, but it does feel like it comes from other inspirations, and I think that it has helped him to grow as a musician.

Of course, I had to buy the deluxe edition of the CD, because I am that kind of nerd.  (The deluxe edition of Ben Folds’ previous album, Way To Normal, was how I obtained the aforementioned poster.)  It came with a book containing four short stories by Nick Hornby.  I enjoyed the book quite thoroughly, and it gave me a better appreciation of him as a writer.

As a final note, I would like Ben Folds and Nick Hornby to know one thing:  Some guy on the net thinks you do not suck and he should know; he’s got his own blog.

Confessions of a Latent Nerd

I haven’t always been a nerd.  Even now, I have reservations about labeling myself as such, not because I don’t want to be labeled a nerd; quite the opposite, actually.  I’m not entirely sure that I’ve jumped all the way into the geek pool.  I sometimes feel like I’m simply wading in the shallow end, and I fear being dismissed as a poser by the geek community while swimming confidently in the deep end.  I read mostly trade paperbacks, and I don’t have a pull-list at my local comic shop.  I love Star Wars, but I’ve seen the originals only a handful of times each.  I can’t say that I’ve seen more than a few episodes of any Star Trek series, and the only Star Trek movie that I remember anything about was the J.J. Abrams one.  I’m not entirely tech-stupid; I can hook up a receiver and know my way around A/V components.  I can manipulate, move, and locate computer files; I have been learning Final Cut recently, but my abilities on a computer seem to hit a wall when things start to go wrong. 

La Moustache Review

Emmanuel Carrere directs this adaptation of his own novel, La Moustache, creating one of the most odd, funny, and disturbing films I have ever seen.  My brother recommended the film to me (thanks, Ben!) and suggested that I simply watch it and not read anything about it, including the Netflix synopsis paragraph.  I did and I really enjoyed the movie.  In this review I hope to talk to you a little about the movie without actually describing what it’s about.  I will most likely fail, but it’s like Abe Lincoln said, “Does this beard make me look fat?”

La Moustache, starring Vincent London and the beautiful Emmanuelle Devos, is tangentially, an exploration of a modern, settled-but-not-stale relationship, and, more directly, it is the story of Marc (London) losing his grasp on reality.  His unraveling begins in a bath tub as he decides on a whim to shave the mustache he has worn for the past 15 years (see how I’m failing already).  From there we are plunged into an ocean of disturbing reveals and confounding twists for both Marc and the audience alike.  London’s acting is subtle yet powerful as he negotiates the relationship drama and the psychological torment in a completely natural and understated manner.

The IT Crowd Review

So, if, in the last two weeks, I’ve spoken to you in person . . . or on the phone . . . or over email, text, or Twitter . . . or if you’ve seen any of my updates on Facebook . . . or if you’ve casually eavesdropped on any conversation to which I’ve contributed . . . or even if you’ve actively ignored me while within earshot, then you probably have heard about The IT Crowd starring Katherine Parkinson, Richard Ayoade, and Chris O’Dowd.  And, you probably don’t need to read this blog (you still could though), because you’ve more than likely heard me spewing a mixture of praises, quotes, and instructions on where to find this hilarious British sitcom from writer/director Graham Linehan.  You may or may not recognize Lineham as the successful creator of two other UK sitcoms, Black Books and Father Ted, but, suffice it to say, he has grown into quite the sitcom heavyweight across the pond, having won numerous BAFTAs and even an International Emmy.  I can’t speak to these earlier shows, but his third major foray into the wide world of situation comedy is just brilliant, and you have to check it out!  I’m not kidding; you can finish reading this, but then, seriously, go check the show out.  It’s easy!  The first three series’ are streaming on Netflix, so there you go.  Wait.  Let me actually finish this for real.  The fourth season is only available on DVD, and millions of people are very excited that the fifth and sixth series have recently been confirmed for production.  

IDW’s Angel books have been giving me a buzz lately. That kind of shimmering excitement you’d feel as a kid when there were only two weeks left in school. The anticipation of IDW’s wrap-up is enormous and rides on three story lines (the flagship Angel series, Brian Lynch’s brilliant Spike mini-series, and the Illyria: Haunted mini-series) that will bridge the gap between IDW’s Angel timeline and Dark Horse Comics’ Buffy Season Eight. The final issue of Illyria: Haunted has arrived, and, while the mini-series itself has both moments of greatness and weakness, IDW has done a solid job of advancing the story of an interesting and difficult character.

SPOILERS BELOW

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