He made a movie or two, now movies are made about him. That’s just how influential Alfred Hitchcock is to cinema. But if you’ve ever wondered if maybe Hitchcock was a quantity over quality man – after all, he did make what I believe is legally called a shitload of films – let us direct you to some title that are, let’s say, his top movies. I shy away from saying best because, and I don’t remind you this enough, these are our personal favorites, not necessarily the best. With that disclaimer out of the way, all that’s left to say is “rosebud.” Wait, wrong director.
Last week I wrote about Cody ChesnuTT’s ambitious The Headphone Masterpiece. Following his lo-fi epic is Landing on a Hundred, ChesnuTT’s first album in ten years. Who knows why and how ChesnuTT fell off the radar for so long. All that matters is that he’s returned with a neo-soul album that’s more polished and professional than anything he’s ever done.
Partially recorded in the same studio Al Green used to record in, Landing on a Hundred is a heartfelt tribute to the sweet sounds of seventies soul. ChesnuTT is backed by an accomplished ten piece band that includes a brass section just to give that extra bit of umph! The results sound highly reminiscent of Green or Gaye, but the songs themselves never reach the same level. All the ingredients are there but they never come together in a way that’s truly memorable or savory.
ChesnuTT played with genre on The Headphone Masterpiece. Here ChesnuTT is full on soul, which he certainly has the voice for. Additionally, there’s a strangely appealing dynamic between ChesnuTT’s upbeat melodies and bold lyrics. “I used to smoke crack back in the day” opens the uptempo “Everybody’s Brother”. ChesnuTT likes to tell love or redemption stories without sugarcoating anything.
The downside to Landing on a Hundred is that it takes about twenty-minutes to get to the best material on the album. The peppy “‘Till I Met Thee” opens the album but it’s about a minute too long, the same could be said for almost every song that follows it. What was great about the short song-lengths on The Headphone Masterpiece is that it always left you wanting more. HP is an album that I constantly revisited. Landing on a Hundred is pleasing to the ears, but it wears me down. It took me a good few days to work my way through the album. There’s some inspired moments, but overall it’s a minor footnote in soul music. Either way I’m glad to see ChesnuTT’s return and hope he continues to deliver his brand of un-P.C. pop soul.
Favorite Tracks: “Love is More Than a Wedding Day”, “‘Till I Met Thee”, “Where is All the Money Going”
Following the success of The Fighter writer/director David O. Russell has returned with another sharp dramedy that does what he does best: family disfunction. Based off of Matthew Quick’s 2008 novel of the same name, Silver Linings Playbook is the story of Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) a man recently released from a mental health facility. He was sent there after brutally beating his wife’s secret lover and now must learn to cope with rage brought on by bipolar disorder. Pat moves in with his parents Dolores (Jackie Weaver) and Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro), but because of a restraining order cannot reconnect with his ex-wife. Along the way he meets another damaged soul in Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) an equally neurotic individual with an edge. The results are sometimes funny, sad, awkward, and sometimes all three at once.
I am not going to lie, Silver Linings Playbook was exactly what I expected. I enjoyed it for the most part but like The Fighter it feels very by the numbers for David O.Russell. The familiar beats and rhythm of the film, I was never too surprised by anything. What the film does well is that it provides strongly developed characters performed with great care. Say what you will about Bradley “All About Steve” Cooper but he’s very good at tapping into the brooding animosity of this character. Jennifer Lawrence is as usual solid, but I struggle with watching her play a character obviously beyond her years. Even if I can get over the fact there is a 15 year gap between her and the Coop, her character is supposed to be the widow of a three-year marriage. It doesn’t matter how good Jennifer Lawrence is the character was clearly written for an older actress and it’s distracting.
Silver Linings Playbook is more than just it’s two magnetic leads. Jacki Weaver provides laughs and empathy as the Coop’s mother and De Niro… He’s De Niro! It’s definitely been awhile since I’ve seen De Niro in something worth seeing and he doesn’t disappoint. De Niro plays an obsessive Philadelphia Eagles fan overwhelmed by superstition. My only complaint is that he’s not on screen enough. Fortunately, his betting ways end up playing a crucial role in the film’s last half when it becomes parlayed with a dance competition. Now that’s a final act I can get behind! Oh yeah, and Chris Tucker is in this as one of the Coop’s eccentric friends from the mental facility. I haven’t seen Chris Tucker in awhile and he’s good here. I have no idea why he disappeared for so long and no idea why he decided to return to acting with this but I’m glad he’s back.
Critics are calling Silver Linings Playbook an early Oscar frontrunner, I don’t understand why that is. The performances are definitely good, I could see the Coop maybe getting an oscar nomination and maybe Jennifer Lawrence getting a supporting nomination. Still, I can’t imagine this winning anything. If it wasn’t for the fact this came out during Oscar season no one would be talking about it. Not to say it isn’t good, but Silver Linings Playbook doesn’t give us anything we haven’t already seen before. I’d put it on par with Russell’s The Fighter. Silver Lining’s Playbook maybe even a little lower because The Fighter had a much clearer breakout performance in Christian Bale. Plus there’s nothing I enjoy more than Mark Wahlberg playing a blockhead. Not even a movie that mentions the Seattle Seahawks more than once.
Given the way Halo 3 ended and that state of the franchise, it’s hard to not find Halo 4 at least a little bit disappointing. The third game ended with the Master Chief adrift in space, heading off to new adventures. Series creator Bungie put out O.D.S.T. and Reach, two fun side stories that basically wrang all the fun out of the war with the Covenant and old-school Halo gameplay. When 343 Industries took over the franchise, it seemed everything way poised for a new direction for Master Chief. But when the game begins, Master Chief is exactly where you left him, rocking his classic assault rifle, and quickly fighting the Covenant again. This game’s aspirations are right in the title, it’s simply Halo 4.
I’ve never been a big fan of the Halo lore. The game’s stories are usually unnecessarily confusing, especially since a lot of the storytelling seems to be done in media outside of the games themselves. That said, I am firmly against people calling Master Chief, ‘John,’ which sadly does happen a few times because it seems this game’s aspiration is to humanize the series’ chief character and his AI buddy Cortana. It turns out that AIs go “rampant,” or crazy, after a certain number of years and Cortana is past that deadline. So, along with fighting off the Covenant and the new aliens they find on the planet they were orbiting, Chief needs to get home to save her from herself.
That central theme is strong, but the rest of the story is confusing, at least to someone who forgets the story between games like I do. There’s lots of talk about Forerunners, Precursors and Prometheans, and I’m not sure I ever really understood what it was the main bad guy was trying to do – or even why they call him what they do. It’s like the meet him, he doesn’t introduce himself, and they all decide to call him a word that I’m not even sure is a real word. Instead of starting with a clean slate, 343 dove right back into the well, and I’m not sure they’ll be able to climb out.
So what’s new? There are three new Promethean enemy types that will join the familiar Covenant species as targets for you to shoot in the head. There are a few new guns, most notably the Promethean ones, which serve as really cool versions of the basic pistol, SMG, assault rifle and sniper rifle. There’s a new mech you can pilot, way more powerful than even a tank. There are some new armor abilities. Not too much, but enough, I reckon.
The campaign is probably about eight hours long on the grown up difficulties, which is fine. It still mostly feels like a Halo game, meaning you follow a strictly linear path, but most of the combat takes place in open arenas where you have more freedom than you would in a lot of modern FPS games. I’ve read that some people felt Heroic, the “true Halo experience” difficulty level, seemed harder this time around, but I was alright with it. Hard enough I wasn’t embarrassed every time I died, easy enough I didn’t die every skirmish. Along with all the shooting there are the requisite vehicle sections, which are neat and keep things a little bit fresh. But honestly, I’m really sick of shooting these same guys. The new enemy types don’t add enough. I’m tired of killing the same aliens that I’ve been killing in these games for the past 11 years.
What I’m not tired of is Halo multiplayer, which has taken a definite Call of Duty influence. Leveling up still unlocks cosmetic armor upgrades, but not players also have loadouts to customize. You choose the weapons you spawn with, armor abilities, and even perks, such as a fast shield recharge or better radar. It seems like a big change, but no, not really. The weapons you spawn with are just the base-level ones, you’ll still have to go find a Spartan Laser or sniper rifle on the map if that’s what you want. Competitive multiplayer is basically what you’d expect from this franchise, just a little COD-ed, since well, those games are popular and people have come to expect things to be like this.
On the cooperative side, gone are the Firefights of old and in are Spartan Ops. What are Spartan Ops? They are vaguely story-driven missions doled out as episodes on a weekly basis. They even come with neat CG cinematic to set up each episode (and add even more lore that the people who aren’t playing these will later find out is important, maybe). I like this a lot, and if 343 keeps to their plan of adding seasons to this mode, I think it does a really great job extending the lifespan of this title for people like myself, who get weary of the matchmaking.
By the way, this game looks really good. The Xbox 360 is an old ass machine, and frankly, Halo 4 should not seem as pretty as it does. The sound design is also top notch, the guns have a lot more punch than I remember them having. Even the new music is pretty great, super cinematic. I guess what I’m getting at is: this game probably cost a lot of money to make.
And games that cost a lot of money to make, especially one that has the power to change the destiny of a huge franchise, probably aren’t going to take that many risks. So what is Halo 4? More of the same, a little different. The story has more heart than any of the other Chief-centric games, but the lore is still off-putting. There’s a fair amount of new stuff, but it doesn’t really change anything, and especially doesn’t get in the way of the old stuff. And in the end, if you want to wear cool space armor and shoot lots of dudes, this is still probably your best bet.
Here is Disney really trying to be Pixar. Wreck-It Ralph, a movie that opens with a cute, unrelated short film, is essentially a new take on Toy Story. It is set in a world much like our own, save for one difference: video game characters are alive and do things while arcades are closed. Wait, actually two differences: arcades still exist and children go play in them every day AND video game characters are alive and do things while arcades are closed.
Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) is the villain of “Fix-It Felix,” a game that looks to be the reverse of Rampage, in which players (as the aforementioned Felix, played by Jack McBrayer) repair buildings destroyed by Ralph. The problem is, Ralph is pretty sick of being the bad guy. So he decides to prove himself by entering other games and winning a medal, so that he might bring it back and be accepted by the other characters in his game. But, you know, you shouldn’t do that.
This movie starts out extremely well. There are lots of references to classic video games, even some slightly obscure ones (for example, Tapper gets a lot of play). Unfortunately, Ralph stops jumping between games pretty early on, when we get into the world of “Sugar Rush.” At this point, all the heavy product placement switches from video games to candy, and we’re left mostly to deal with the movie’s invented world and characters.
Those characters are played by a pretty solid cast. I wouldn’t say Reilly or McBrayer are anywhere near outside of their depth, but they both play roles they are good in. Sarah Silverman I think is actually the MVP cast member, doing a pretty great job bringing a lot to her role as a mischievous little girl. Jane Lynch rounds out the cast, and while I’d never complain about her being in anything, I didn’t think her voice quite matched the character she was playing, a tough space marine. I would have rather the part been played by one of the few video game VO actresses who get that part all the time, like Jennifer Hale. But this is a Hollywood movie, that’s not going to happen.
People were talking so positively about Wreck-It Ralph that I got pretty excited about seeing it, but I don’t think it’s a must-see. I don’t see a lot of animated movies, so I don’t have much of a frame of reference, but I thought it was pretty entertaining, and plenty enjoyable enough for an adult. The kids sitting in front of Colin and I at theater were jumping up and down during the movie, so I guess it was good for them too. I just wish it had done more with its premise. At least there weren’t any Angry Birds cameos.
How long have we been waiting for Spielberg’s Lincoln? Wikipedia tells me that Liam Neeson was cast to play the man back in 2005, no score and seven years ago. Back then, John and I said it was perfect timing for a Lincoln biopic, as he was a popular talking point for politicians at that time, with the Democrats poised to take back congress and the most exciting presidential election of my lifetime looming. Since then, politics have only become more polarizing, until this year’s election, when voters all around the country said they had had enough of partisan bickering and wanted the government to start getting shit done. Maybe it’s always a perfect time for a Old Abe movie, even if we do still have the bitter taste of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter in our mouths.
As much as this is a story about our 16th president, it is a story of passing of the 13th amendment. It begins on the battlefield, in a gruesome scene that reminded me that Spielberg has an amazing talent for showing the brutality of combat. We meet Abe shortly after, he is already the man most of us think of – calm, intelligent, a born leader. It is late 1865, he has already won reelection and the Civil War is nearing its end. But before that can happen, the president needs to get the 13th amendment through the House of Representatives and abolish slavery for good. So he begins the process of accruing votes and winning over those that would support the amendment.
Daniel Day-Lewis plays Abe, and that’s probably enough for you to know how good the performance is. He conveys the weariness of the president, a man constantly at odds with everyone and everything about doing what is right. Tommy Lee Jones is Thaddeus Stevens, the thirteenth amendment’s chief supporter in the house, and he’s a ton of fun. The rest of the cast it top notch – from Sally Field to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, everyone in this movie is someone, it seems.
With a title as broad as Lincoln, I expected to get an overview of the man’s entire life, but really, the focus is just on the amendment. I would argue the movie ends shortly after the amendment’s passage, with a quiet, dignified moment. Spielberg goes on a little further than that, but he didn’t need to. I guess that’s the thing with Civil War movies, they have to be long.
By only seeing Lincoln so late in his life, when the myth has already gotten bigger than his sizable frame, he is given somewhat of a mythic stature. He’s portrayed down-to-earth and not above playing politics, but he also seems to always be the smartest man in the room, by a country mile. The kind of leader we all wish we had. I’d like to think I’m a pretty patriotic person and a movie like this, with a deep, obvious admiration for our heritage, is something I can eat right up.
About three weeks ago Cody ChesnuTT released his first album in ten years. Of course this got me to thinking about ChesnuTT’s vastly overlooked 2002 debut The Headphone Masterpiece. It also made me realize that Cody ChesnuTT is one of the greatest rock stars that never was. There’s no reason Cody ChesnuTT shouldn’t have been the next Lenny Kravitz. Though I don’t think Lenny Kravitz has ever been close to capturing the same kind of truth as Cody ChesnuTT. As a songwriter ChesnuTT excels in the genres of; pop, rock, R&B, and even hip-hop. Fortunately, that’s all well documented in the sprawling, lo-fi double album The Headphone Masterpiece.
As good as The Headphone Masterpiece is it’s not surprising it went unnoticed. The album is a staggering 90+ minutes and were talking about 90 minutes of lo-fi. The album sounds like a collection of demos because that’s what it is. All the songs were recorded in ChesnuTT’s home studio on a 4-track recorder. Some songs are more realized than others, but there’s still a stunning amount of great material. ChesnuTT dabbles with everything from acoustic guitars, to drum machines, to other electronic doodads. You never know what’s coming on album like The Headphone Masterpiece.
Where to start with this rock behemoth? How about “The Seed”? A song you may remember when it was remade as the excellent “The Seed 2.0” by The Roots. The track featured ChesnuTT and stands as one of my favorite rock/rap collaborations. It was that song that inspired me to explore the world of rap music. So yeah… Important. Another highlight would have to be “Look Good in Leather” which was used in some commercials a few years back. I love it. How can you not be happy when listening to that song. Some songs are overbrimming with optimism while songs like “Bitch I’m Broke” are probably on the other end of spectrum.
Like a musical diary The Headphone Masterpiece captures a wide range of moods and topics both simple and complex. It’s a shame that it didn’t lead to a more fruitful career in music but ChesnuTT has hung in there. Check back later this week when I’ll review his new album “Landing on a Hundred”.
Favorite Tracks: “Look Good in Leather”, “The Seed”, “Upstarts in a Blowout”