C.A.T: War

U2 – War (1983)
U2 already had a “Classic Album Tuesday” but you know what? Screw it. I already reviewed one of my favorite albums from 1983 many months ago, so today is another dosage of Ireland’s favorite sons. Still continuing the year-by-year countdown we come to 1983, marking the release of my favorite U2 album.

An album of strong political themes with a hard rock edge, War would become U2’s first #1 album and spawn two of the band’s most successful singles of the 80s. Like a group charging off to battle, U2 is brimming with angst and attitude on their third album that despite it’s 80s packaging still holds up beautifully.

Obviously you have to love the hits here, U2 classics like “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, “New Years Day” and in some countries “Two Hearts Beat as One.” Though every track seems to carry on the same kind of passion and energy, it never slows down and let’s you rock out while giving you something to think about too.

Normally I don’t care for bands with a political agenda but with U2 it feels more genuine. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” for instance chronicles a true massacre that happened in their own country while they were growing up. These are things they’ve in ways experienced or been surrounded by in someway, therefore it feels natural.

I believe War to be one of this band’s greatest works and perhaps the best album to start with if you’re considering listening to the band for the first time, yeah yeah yeah!

Favorite Tracks: “New Year’s Day”, “Seconds”, “Sunday Bloody Sunday”

Toys Will Be Toys

Toy Story 3

It’s needless to say that this third installment of the Toy Story series had its work cut out for it, seeing as the first two films were fantastic. But you can always count on Pixar to deliver that high standard of excellence, as Toy Story 3 is every bit as good as the first two Toy Story films.

This time around we find Woody and the gang trying to cope with the fact that their beloved owner Andy is on the merge of moving on to college. The toys then end up in a daycare center only to find that the place is being ruled with an iron fist by a neglected Teddy Bear (voiced by Ned Beatty). Then as was the case with the first two movies, the toys try to break out and return to Andy before it’s too late.
Basically this film succeeds because it has everything you’ve come to expect out of a Toy Story movie. There’s plenty of witty humor, a whole lot of heart, and another tearjearking story about a bunch of plastic toys trying to find their way in the world. Pixar even throws in a fairly dark climax at the end in which the toys face their own mortality head on. It’s hard to imagine many kids movies that have this much emotional resonance, but that just proves how enduring this loveable cast of characters are.
I really wish I wasn’t the designated reviewer of Pixar movies, because there just simply isn’t a whole lot to criticize about the fabulous movies they turn out. And Toy Story 3 is no exception as it serves as a fitting finale to what might very well be one of the greatest franchises in movie history.

C.A.T.: 1999

Prince – 1999 (1982)

For the sake of keeping our chronological CAT streak going I figured I’d take a look at Prince’s 1982 release despite the fact that I already this CAT a while back. But that album’s not really a classic, while 1999 most certainly is, as well as the album that truly broke Prince through to the mainstream.

The album starts out about as strong as you could ask for with the fantastic singles “1999” and “Little Red Corvette”. Both of these songs provided Prince with his first bona fide hit singles and still stand as excellent examples of that early eighties synth-pop sound. The rest of this double album is filled with plenty of that same poppy goodness, despite the fact that many of the songs feature some pretty lengthy running times.
In a way the album represents Prince at his most intensely creative and adventurous. He plays every single instrument on the album, and manages to create a sound that still feels very musically dense. And just as on any of Prince’s best music, he manages to blend funk, dance, pop, and rock in a way that only the Purple One could do.
1999 also represents Prince at his most sexually charged, as pretty much every song seems to be about sex in one way or another and Prince makes no bones about it. But I guess it was this provocative nature as well as his incredible musical prowess that made him one of the biggest musical artists of the 1980’s.
Favorite Tracks: “Little Red Corvette”, “D.M.S.R.”, “Lady Cab Driver”

Yay Team

The A-Team

We expect a different kind of movie in the summer. We spend the rest of the year looking for bleak dramas wrought in angst and tears, in the summer we look for pictures featuring comedy, action or both. Last year, there wasn’t much in that department, a summer marked with crap like X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen. 2010 is already off the a pretty good summer with The A-Team, one of the most enjoyable action movies I’ve seen in a while.

Based on the popular TV series, The A-Team is the story of how Hannibal, Face, Murdock and B.A. became the greatest team in the world, and how they got burned and were forced to go underground. It is a story that perhaps feels a little too much like the launching point for a franchise, and suffers from “too many betrayals” syndrome, but ultimately is enjoyable enough. Although it is a bit odd that there is so much going on in this story despite the filmmakers treating the audience like morons – most notably by flashing back unnecessarily. I feel your contempt, director Joe Carnahan.

Liam Neeson plays Hannibal, the rugged leader of the team. He is basically bringing his Taken game, although a little more comedically. Bradley Cooper is Face, who it turns out is basically Bradley Cooper: likable ladies’ man. Sharlto Copley is Murdock, the psychopathic pilot. Copley proves that he can act, bringing enough accents and charisma to keep up with his more famous castmates. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson has the hardest job, playing the iconic Mr. T role of B.A. Baracus. He does fine in the role, he’s certainly not distracting. Jessica Biel, Patrick Wilson and a few other familiar faces are along for the ride too.

But The A-Team is mostly about the action. And the action is good. There’s that ridiculous sequence from the trailers, where the team tries to fly a tank. There’s a great heist on wheels. And plenty of crazy fighting too. Maybe I’ve just started getting used to it, but I didn’t find the shaky cam stuff as distractingly annoying as I have in the past, although there certainly are a few sequences that could have been more followable.

Don’t buy The A-Team on DVD. This isn’t something you’ll be coming back to again and again. I don’t care if it has director commentary. There’s not that much depth here. This is the kind of movie that demands to be seen in theaters. With a big screen, a loud sound system and a rowdy crowd, this is the quintessential summer action experience we’ve been waiting for.

It’s All Greek to Me

Get Him to the Greek

We’ve mostly been playing catch up here at the blog ever since summer cast it’s mighty sun. It’s hard to get motivated so don’t be surprised to see a handful of late or even relatively uninspired posts. It’s hard to stay focused with so much free time I suppose.

So here’s one we saw recently despite it being released awhile back. The return of Forgetting Sarah Marshall’s Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) teamed up alongside Jonah Hill who was also in FSM but is now a different character, messes with your mind huh? So I think everyone by now knows the gist of this, an ambitious music scout (Jonah Hill) proposes an anniversary concert of rocker Aldous Snow’s legendary show at the Greek Theatre… But first he has to get him there, hilarity ensues!

More or less it’s everything you’d expect a rock n’ roll comedy to be. Lots of sex, drugs, rock and roll and a helluva a lot of puking. Actually there was probably more party scenes than I’d anticipated but these often led to some of the best scenes in the movie. Mostly it was Jonah Hill’s stoned out shenanigans that kept me laughing but Russell Brand gets in a few good laughs here and there, somehow they’re a fairly good combo together and are a joy to watch.

It’s definitely on the higher end of recent comedies but it’s not perfect. It seemed to start out slow, relying more on socially awkward situations than big jokes. I understand that they have to set up the movie but I felt like there could of been more opportunities for big laughs. Come to think of it I don’t think I ever really let out any belly laughs, mostly a few dozens chuckles.

Another point of interest would be the surprising breakout performance from Sean “Diddy” Combs. For a guy who spends most of his time going to parties and wearing fancy suits he’s got some fine comedic chops that work well in this movie’s favor. So it’s another win for writer/director Nicholas Stoller, I wonder if his Muppets reboot with Jason Segel will be this raunchy?

T3: Best of Dennis Hopper

I’d been planning a Dennis Hopper “Best of” film memoriam ever since I heard he was sick but unfortunately this post is happening much later then I would of liked. This list being my personal picks of Dennis Hopper’s best roles. Naturally I can only see so much in so little time but I think I hit on most of the ones worth mentioning. Something I want to establish is that this order is based off of his best performances not best movies.

10. Land of the Dead (2005)
as Paul Kaufman

It came down to this and Red Rock West for the ten spot but I had to go with Land of the Dead just for the little quirks that make up Hopper’s performance as the tyrannous Paul Kaufman. Playing the snooty mayor of an upscale city during a zombie apocalypse, Hopper chews the scenery as an uptight douche that you love to hate. What’s really great about Hopper’s performance is the subtle mannerisms, like one particular scene where he’s picking his nose. It’s as if they’re letting him do whatever he wants and in Hopper’s case that only can mean a more entertaining performance.

9. Apocalypse Now (1979)
as The Photojournalist

Hopper is just one of many in this epic but it’s a crucial role nonetheless. Inspired by the disappearance of Vietnam photographer Sean Flynn (son of actor Errol Flynn) Hopper’s character is sort of a “what could of happened to Sean Flynn.” Which in this case means he’s a crazed photojournalist living in the jungle and worshipping the god like Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando). It’s an exhilarating part of the film and Hopper brings a fair share of energy and intensity to the role.

8. Speed (1994)
as Howard Payne

Speed is by no means a great movie. It’s a typical action flick with some great stunts and most importantly “explosions” but what sets this apart from most action flicks (aside from the explosions) is that it actually has a good villain. A lone nut bomber with a fiery temper played to a tee by everyone’s favorite rebel. There’s something about Hopper that stays burned in your mind, it’s a certain intensity and there isn’t a slow moment when he’s onscreen.

7. Mad Dog Morgan (1976)
as Daniel Morgan

Known by few was a little sub genre in the 70s known as “Ozploitation” which basically translates to “really violent Australian movies”. This Aussie western tells the true story (though I’m sure much has been changed) of Daniel Morgan an Irish outlaw who went on a violent spree in the Australian outback in the 1860s. It’s a manic performance from Hopper that lands this role a spot on this list. Going in and out of a strange supposedly Irish accent, Hopper grabs your attention with a character that perfectly suits the real life eccentricities of the man. You’ll be hard pressed to find a decent copy but it’s an intriguing curiosity.

6. The American Friend (1977)
as Tom Ripley

Hopper plays a displaced cowboy named Ripley in this German neo-noir film directed by Wim Wenders. Befriending a German frame maker with a terminal blood disease named Jonathan (Bruno Ganz), Ripley turns him on to becoming a hit man to try and make some money to support his family. It’s another shady character for Hopper, who’s part doesn’t really expand until the last half, but it’s as the film goes on that we see there’s more to him. That he really does want to help his friend and from then on it becomes sort of a buddy picture. It’s a solid performance and really interesting film worth checking out.

5. Out of the Blue (1980)
as Don Barnes

A quiet and surprisingly dark indie film, Out of the Blue was Hopper’s return to directing after the ill-fated film The Last Movie nine years earlier. An underrated drama, Hopper plays the ex-convict father of a rebellious punk/Elvis loving teen named Cebe. A coming of age story, Hopper plays a character that although loves his daughter can’t even begin to contain his own personal demons. It may sound just like another Dennis Hopper “loose cannon” role but it’s more subdued than you’d expect and surprisingly emotional.

4. True Romance (1993)
as Clifford Worley

Fairly high considering the few scenes Hopper has, but they’re easily the best scenes in the movie. Hopper plays Clifford Worley an ex-cop of the film’s protagonist who just wants the best for his son. It’s probably one of the few good natured character’s Hopper has played and he easily steals the show. His scene between a drug lord (Christopher Walken) on the topic of “the origin of Sicilians” is hilarious and thrilling at the same time and it’s one of Hopper’s best scenes… Ever.

3. Easy Rider (1969)
as Billy

There’s few movies you can say “defined a generation” but this was one of those few. A film that embodied the free spirit, rebellious mentality of the time and Dennis was a big part of that. Taking on dual roles as director/co-writer/co-star to Peter Fonda Easy Rider would help pave the way for the up and coming filmmakers of “New Hollywood”. Here Hopper plays the more or less carefree Billy a rebellious biker and companion to Wyatt (Peter Fonda). Really it’s a buddy picture with seemingly simple characters but they do have a kind of depth under the surface and are nothing short of iconic characters.

2. Hoosiers (1986)
as Shooter

So many of these roles seem to be tied together by the same characteristics. Words like “eccentric” and “manic” and “pissed” but it’s in Hopper’s only Oscar nominated role that he shows he’s more than just a badass. Easily his most sensitive and sympathetic role is that of alcoholic father Shooter. It’s one of those roles that just breaks your heart and is just one of the many reasons why I consider Hoosiers perhaps the best (or at least my favorite) movie about sports. Check it out if you want to see a side of Hopper you may not of known existed.

1. Blue Velvet (1986)
as Frank Booth

WIth his two biggest roles released in the same year, there was much debate that Hopper’s nomination for “Best Supporting Actor” was really for Blue Velvet but that it was two controversial of a role. Anyhow Blue Velvet is a Neo-Noir classic with much to praise, including one of the greatest film villains of the 80s. Frank Booth is one sadistic s.o.b. sucking down Nitrous Oxide and taking part in various acts of sadomasochism. He’s dark and disturbed character that can easily thrill any viewer. It’s easily the best developed character Dennis Hopper ever played and should live on as his most impressive role.

So there you have it a long career filled with plenty of hit or miss roles but most importantly it’s what he contributed to film as an energetic performer and a skilled director.

Honorable Mention
River’s Edge (1986)
Red Rock West (1993)
Rumble Fish (1983)

C.A.T: Tattoo You

The Rolling Stones – Tattoo You (1981)
There’s a lot of hip, influential albums I could’ve picked for 1981 but instead I’ll go with the 1981 smash hit Tattoo You by everyone’s favorite group of rowdy senior citizens. Strangely enough I think this is the first time we’ve done a “Classic Album Tuesday” for the Stones, anyhow this is a great rock record and possibly their best of the 80s.

Hastily compiled of old demos either overdubbed or rerecorded Tattoo You was basically thrown together just so the Stones would have an album to promote on their 1981-1982 American/European Tour. Even if this was the case the Stones somehow managed to capture lightning in a bottle with an album calling back to the bluesy rock of Sticky FIngers.

It’s got everything you could ask for in a Stone’s record. It’s got your hit singles, “Start Me Up”, “Waiting on a Friend” your bluesy swaggering numbers like “Slave”, “Black Limousine” and your ballads like “Heaven” and “No Use in Crying”. It’s the Stones doing what they do best, jamming and cutting loose.

The last Stones album to hit number one on the charts, you could argue that it was the last great album until A Bigger Bang about 24 years later. Anyhow it’s a must listen for classic rock or Stones fan. Maybe we’ll even revisit it if we ever do a Stones retrospective… That would be epic.

Favorite Tracks: “Hang Fire”, “Start Me Up”, “Waiting on a Friend”