Friday, February 29, 2008

Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure

Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure

We live in an age where superficiality has taken a backseat to transparency. The veil is slowly being lifted to reveal the Emperor is really naked. People seem to be less afraid to come out with their secrets, and this book is a testimony to that. SMITH magazine asked it's readers to describe their life in six words, no more, no less. Well, that list was compiled, and now a book is published titled Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure. The book contains a multitude of 6-word memoirs ranging from funny to sad, from shocking to comforting. There are celebrations of life, as well as confessions of lives being wasted. This literary confessional booth was done in a creative way that allowed people to tell their stories, and at the same time invite readers to join in. This book reminds us how complex life is, and how some of us have a lot more in common than we think.

Chris Walla - Field Manual

Field Manual
Chris Walla

Unless you've been in a cave for the last few years, you probably have heard the band Death Cab For Cutie. They have taken the indie world by storm with their unique style of alternative rock. One of the masterminds behind DCFC is guitarist/producer Chris Walla. Well, Chris recently took his musical skills and put out a solo album. Field Manual is his latest release through Seattle based Barsuk Records. You can see how much influence he has in DCFC by listening to this. If you heard it, and didn't know it was his solo album, you'd be tempted to think it was DCFC. The vocals and melodies match exactly what you'd hear on one of their CD's. Having said that, if you enjoy listening to DCFC, this one won't disappoint. Overall, it's an album with catchy hooks and well thought out lyrics that establish Chris as a premier musician/producer.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Our Dumb World: The Onion's Atlas Of The Planet Earth

Yes, if you haven't already noticed, we live in a dumb world. Just open your eyes and see that half the shit around us is quite comical. From politics to the cultural differences that exist, there is just too much to laugh at. Well who better to outline this "dumb world" other than the satire professionals, The Onion! They put out a book titled, you guessed it, Our Dumb World: The Onion's Atlas Of The Planet Earth! I think it's impossible to look at any page in this book and not laugh. Nothing is left untouched as they poke fun at all the countries of the world. Dripping with sarcasm and wit, this hilarious book is the perfect tool to produce gut-wrenching laughter along with learning about the cultures of the world. And along with that, just look at the cover and see that they include 30% more Asia AND a free globe inside the book! Not a bad deal.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Justice League New Frontier

Justice League New Frontier
"Own it on DVD now"

There's a global threat to "cleanse" humanity. And the only thing that can stop it is the Justice League. The only thing is, there is no Justice League yet. But there will be.

We need to go back to when it all began.

I'm sure most people are familiar with the Justice League. Wouldn't it be great to take it back to when it all began? To see how the team got together? Well with WB releasing Justice League New Frontier, you can see just that. Justice League New Frontier takes you to the time when this league of heroes was formed. Everyone from Superman, Batman, and Flash all the way to Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter are here. With cutting edge animation, a cast of legendary heroes, and intense action scenes that helped the film earn a PG-13 rating, you can be assured that it'll be a wild ride. For an animated film, the dialogue and theme is a bit more mature than your typical Saturday morning cartoons, which should appeal to anyone tired of stories being dumbed down. Throughout the film, you get a glimpse of the superheroes' strengths and weaknesses, and how they must pull together to defeat the threat posed to humanity. The film wastes no time in developing what turns into a fast-paced action story. Overall, it was great film to see when this cast of heroes were brought together to form the legendary Justice League. The DVD is out now and ready to be owned.

Monday, February 25, 2008

28 Weeks Later DVD

28 Weeks Later

The virus is back.

Oh no, not again!

The brilliant film 28 Days Later by Danny Boyle showed us a world where humans get infected with a "rage" virus, turning them into bloodthirsty zombie-like creatures, and tearing up anything in their path. In short, London got wiped out, with the exception of a few surviviors. The sequal, 28 Weeks Later, continues the story where, supposedly, all the infected have died of starvation, and now London has been declared virus-free. So a NATO team led by the U.S. Army comes in and attempts to rehabilitate the city. But as we know, something always goes wrong in these kinds of situations. You can't help but notice the parallels between the U.S. troops patrolling London and the situation with Iraq. Not sure if the director intended to make that statement, but it's so hard to ignore.

So, survivors are shipped back into the city, with heavy monitoring done by the Army to prevent another outbreak (yeah right!). Now before I go on, there is a side story to this. There's a young boy who apparently has DNA that makes him immune to the virus. This boy Andy is extremely valuable, as he provides the only hope in finding a cure. But, there's another story about his family. In the opening scene, there are a group of survivors hiding out in a boarded up home. Two of these people are the boy's parents, with the dad being played by Robert Carlyle. Suddenly, the home is attacked by the infected, and in a state of panic, the dad leaves the mom behind and heads for the river to save his ass. Now, after the 28 weeks, when rehabilitation begins, daddy is reunited with his children, Andy and Tammy. What daddy failed to mention is that he left mom to die. Or did she? Well it seems that the mom is immune to the virus, and didn't die as the dad assumed. That would explain why Andy is immune to it. And as you would assume, it's only a matter of time before the outbreak occurs again. Without providing too many spoilers, let's just say mom is carrying more than vacation souveneirs! Soon, all hell breaks loose as the plan to rebuild London slowly breaks down. The infected are running rampant again and the Army has no choice but to issue CODE RED, total annihilation of the city. The rest of the film is a quest to stay alive by the two children, an Army sniper, and a medical officer. There are plenty of jumpy scenes to scare the hell out of you, along with this intense feeling of dread as you relate to the survivors. One other highlight for me was when the medical officer and two kids are moving down an escalator in a pitch-black London Underground. The only thing guiding them is the night-vision goggle wearing officer. That scene gave me a chilling feeling reminiscent to how I felt during the end of The Blair Witch Project.

Overall, this sequal didn't stray away from the story of the original. It stayed faithful while leaving room open for a third installment. The question is, will there be another sequel? I certainly hope so. Otherwise, France is screwed.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Comic Relief: The Greatest… and the Latest

Comic Relief: The Greatest… and the Latest

Laughter is good for the soul. It's also good when you can use that laughter to turn into raising money for charity. Comic Relief has been doing just that for 20 years. And this month, Shout! Factory has released Comic Relief: The Greatest… and the Latest on DVD. I remember myself as a young 10 or 11 year old kid sneaking up late to see this on HBO. This was the real deal! Here is where you got to hear the comedians raw and uncensored as compared to when they had to be "clean" on regular TV. And this was all before we had Comedy Central. Now as an adult, I was finally able to watch them again on DVD. There's over 4 hours worth of Comedy Relief material on here! This is the ultimate collection of stand-up comedy fit on one DVD. Perfect for whenever you need to put something on for a good laugh. And the timing couldn't have been better for this release, as it's Comedy Relief's 20th anniversary.

Peanuts: It’s The Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown

Peanuts: It’s The Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown

It's hard to imagine a holiday going by without a Peanuts special to go along with it. Peanuts has become such a huge part of American culture, I wouldn't be surprised if it gets it's own holiday. I think most people can relate some childhood memory with some Peanuts special. On February 19th, Warner Bros released Peanuts: It’s The Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown on DVD. I felt like a kid again watching Charlie Brown and the gang get ready to celebrate Easter. There were plenty of laughs all throughout with moments like Marcie frustrating Peppermint Patty while making Easter eggs by frying, baking, and making soup out of them. Then there's Lucy cheating on an Easter egg hunt by planting the eggs herself. But among all the conflict the gang gets wrapped up in, the "Easter Beagle" shows up just in time on easter morning to deliver eggs to the kids. As an added bonus on the DVD, there is another holiday special "It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown", which made this an enjoyable DVD to watch.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

30 Days Of Night

Barrow, Alaska is about to be hit with 30 days of night. Some of the town's residents flee during this time, and plan on returning when the darkness ends. Others decide to stay behind and tough it out. The only thing that these ones staying behind don't know is there's a different kind of darkness entering the town. Vampires. Vicious vampires that are hungry for flesh. And they have 30 whole days without sunlight to run around the town and feast on the poor townspeople. Welcome to 30 Days Of Night.

I just finished watching the film yesterday and it lived up to all my expectations. It was dark. The darkness the town was in exactly matched the tone of the film. It wasn't slow and drawn out. The sound effects were as chilling as the cold in Alaska. And the vampires? Well let's just say these ones aren't related to Béla Lugosi. Man, they are fierce. All together, they make for one hell of a vampire film.

I have found in the past that the horror films that rely strictly on blood and guts to carry the film usually suck. They lack the psychological aspect that is so desperately needed to carry a good story. Now right up front, I can tell you this movie is gory as hell. But don't let that fool you into thinking it's one of those films. The story is clever and really gets under your skin. Once the vampires arrive and start feeding on the people in the town, they do it so fast that you hardly have time to catch your breath. You'd think the entire population was wiped out in 10 minutes. But, there are a few stragglers that manage to survive. But at the rate these bloodthirsty creatures are moving, it's only a matter of time before they are found. And they need to do something fast to figure out how they will survive. One of those survivors, is the town sherrif Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett). Led by him, the survivors must work together against odds very much against them to survive. But how can you when there's no sun? When there's not many places to hide and the weather is freezing outside? That's exactly what makes it a great film. It brings you to this point of desperation where hope seems unattainable. But, then again, that's when sacrifice and bravery must come out to help make it through. It's when the worst type of fear like this has to be faced if anything can be done.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film. The effects were believeable, the story was pretty original for a vampire film, and it showed a group of characters who, despite being faced with their own personal hell, stood up and faced it.

30 Days of Night comes out February 26th on DVD. And along with the film, the extra features offer valuable info such as how the special effects were done, and how they actually succeeded in creating the town of Barrow, Alaska. One place I'm glad I will never get to see.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

American Gangster DVD

Well, American Gangster is finally out on DVD. For those of you anxiously waiting for this release, the wait is over. This soon to be classic film now joins the ranks of great "gangster" films such as Scarface, Casino, and Goodfellas.

In American Gangster, Denzel Washington plays Harlem's mercilous drug kingpin Frank Lucas, with Russell Crowe Richie Roberts hot on his tail. The movie also includes appearances by some of hip-hop's elite such as Common, T.I., and RZA. Directed by Ridley Scott, this film takes you into the underbelly of NYC's drug world during the 70's. And Frank is as ruthless in the film as you'd expect any gangster to be. Just how ruthless? I would say lighting someone on fire and shooting a guy in broad daylight would definitely qualify. And Denzel owns the role as Frank as his portrayal is as accurate as can be. I can't imagine another actor playing this role. On the other side of the spotlight, we have another Oscar winner playing the guy who's trying to bust Frank. Richie Roberts is a cop who doesn't quite have his life together. His marriage is falling apart, and one of his closest partners on the job turns out to be a junkie. But the one quality that Richie has going for him is that he's an honest cop. And in this world of corrupt cops, one of which is portrayed by Josh Brolin, Richie's integrity remains intact. Speaking of corrupt cops, it's worth mentioning that Frank is not the only "bad guy" in the film. The very people who are supposed to be protecting the people are actually in cohorts with the drug dealers. It goes to show that things are not always as black and white as we think they are.

Overall, this is a film with a story that grips you from the beginning, and doesn't let go until the ending credits roll.

With the DVD version, you get treated the option of watching the rated or unrated version, along with the second disc that contains a bunch of special features, making the set a collectible for any movie lover.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Renfield: Slave of Dracula

Renfield: Slave of Dracula
Barbara Hambly

By now, it is obvious I enjoy a good scary story. Vampire stories in particular really peak my interest. So I was naturally intrigued when coming across Renfield: Slave of Dracula. Just as Wicked provided a spin on The Wizard Of Oz, Renfield: Slave of Dracula tells the story of Dracula from the perspective of everyone's favorite insect eating lunatic, R.M. Renfield. Most people are familiar with the classic story by Bram Stoker. As for me, I saw the film, but never read the book. So I didn't have much info to compare Renfield to the original. Written by Barbara Hambly, Renfield: Slave of Dracula tells this haunting story through the mind of Renfield. Since it's written like this, you are given a clearer picture of what drives Renfield to madness. There's more to him than just being a full-time lunatic. At the beginning of the story, I found myself getting impatient, as a lot of it was written in the form of letters, either by Renfield or another character. But as the story progressed, the pace quickened and things started to come together. One thing that stood out for me was the account of Renfield's horrifying dreams and poor Lucy Wenestra's transformation from innocent girl to vampire. The author portrayed these scenes so vividly that I really was able to picture them in my head. Like I said, I never read Bram Stoker's version, so I'm not sure if this one strayed away from it. But for me, it satisfied my urge to read a vampire story, even though Dracula's not the star of the show here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Killers - Sawdust

The Killers

From the moment I first heard the opening note of the song Mr. Brightside, it brought out something in me I haven't felt in a while. I immediately got hooked on The Killers' sound. After devouring the songs on Hot Fuss, and it's follow up Sam's Town, I got excited upon hearing the news that Sawdust was being released. Sawdust is technically "a compilation of rerecorded B-sides, rarities, covers and remixes". It's in the raw tracks like these where you see how good this band is. Take Shadowplay for example. This is a cover of the original song by Joy Electric. Even though it's a cover, The Killers add their own touch of class to make it one of the best hits of the year. I remember having a conversation with someone who said they are going too commercial. This latest album should crush any ideas of them going that route. Either way you look at it, this is a generous catalog of songs by The Killers for their fans. And on the inside cover of the CD, it's the fans that they dedicate this album to.

Friday, February 08, 2008

The Invasion DVD

It's not a new concept that movies speak truth to us on a hidden level. Some are so blatant, others more subtle. I can't decide after watching The Invasion which point it's trying to get across. There's a couple different ways you can take the message that this film sends out. A few noticeable themes to me were exchanging human will and emotion for peace and conformity, the decline of human emotion due to an over-medicated society, and the dangers of when a group feels it's their job to "fix" people and make them just as they are. (I'm also wondering if there's a hidden connection between Nicole Kidman in the lead role as a woman refusing to become one of the infected, and Tom Cruise's mission to recruit people to Scientology. Makes me wonder.)

So, about the film. An alien substance finds it's way to earth courtesy of a space shuttle that explodes while returning to earth. This alien goo, when touched (or ingested) enters your blood stream and literally sucks any human emotion out of you while sleeping. In other words, you're not yourself anymore. You have now become one of the infected, one of "them". Sound familiar? That's because this is a modern take on the classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In The Invasion, the virus starts in Washington DC, and spreads from there. Since it was filmed in DC, it's interesting to see the nation's capitol as a backdrop for this terror that's sweeping humanity. The only hope lies with psychiatrist Carol Bennell (Kidman) and her son, who happens to be immune to the alien virus. Upon finding out that the population has become infected and are trying to get her, a wild chase goes on with her running away from them everywhere from city neighborhoods to the underground DC Metro system. When realizing that her son is in danger after being taken away by her ex-husband, who is also infected, she races against time to save him, as well as herself. Nicole carries the film by portraying the paranoid yet heroic mom very realistically. As hopeless as it is trying to escape a society infected by an alien virus, it sure makes for a thrilling experience watching it on film. Some remakes of films usually come off as half-assed attempts at cashing in on a franchise. The Invasion doesn't do that at all. It will shock you, keep you holding your breath, and make you think.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Carnival Vol. II : Memoirs Of An Immigrant

Carnival Vol. II : Memoirs Of An Immigrant
Wyclef Jean

Today is real gloomy here in NJ. As I look out my window, all I see is dark gray skies and rain pouring down. But it's all good, because I'm having a party. Well, not a real party. I'm playing Wyclef Jean's latest album Carnival Vol. II : Memoirs Of An Immigrant, which sure as hell feels like I'm having one. If you remember Wyclef from the days with the Fugees, you'll remember the eclectic style he brought to their form of music. After their break-up, he branched out as a solo artist and showed his diverse influences. Doing everything from singing reggae style to playing his own instruments, he proved he was much more than your ordinary rapper. That talent was displayed on hits like Gone 'Til November, which still remains a classic to this day.

Now we are presented with Carnival Vol. II : Memoirs Of An Immigrant. Wyclef, never afraid to do collaborations with other artists, even those outside the realm of hip-hop, does so proudly here. A perfect example is on the slamming track Riot, where he brings in guest Serj Tankian (System Of A Down). Along with that, there's more cameos by artists like Mary J Blije, Paul Simon, Norah Jones, and In typical Wyclef fashion, the songs range from mellow and thought provoking to loud and energetic.

Like I said, this album is a party, courtesy of Wyclef Jean.