quick review - How to Train Your Dragon

Watching swooping dragons on the small screen made me me regret, inasmuch as I tend to regret such things, seeing the film on the big screen and in 3D. Still, How to Train Your Dragon looks magnificent on television and the story is ultimately too enchanting to be confined to single ideal mode of presentation. The film’s message of empathy yields a refreshing rebuttal to the usual xenophobia, and the awkward protagonist inhabits a persuasive coming-of-age tale wrapped in the universal theme of finding one’s place in the world. I’m not sure why the Vikings are made to sound like Scotsmen, but going with the principle that everyone loves a Scottish accent one can appreciate the gusto with which Gerard Butler and Craig Ferguson approached their roles as, respectively, the chief and the smithy. Our young hero is voiced by Jay Baruchel, who brings the same gawky charm to his role as Hiccup that he did to his role in The Sorceror’s Apprentice. Best of all is how the film gently subverts, without necessarily overthrowing, genre clichés to feel like honest storytelling instead of assembly line adventuring. How to Train Your Dragon is easily one of the most enjoyable animated features in recent years. And John Powell’s score is memorably beautiful too, enough to make the case for buying the soundtrack.


On Stranger Tides: Watered-Down Rum but Rum Nonetheless : THE FRONT PAGE ONLINE

The Hollywood blockbuster has always been vulnerable to film’s version of shock-and-awe: Too much is never enough. After their previous entry in the Pirates of the Caribbean series, the entertaining but ultimately exhausting and overstuffed At World’s End, screenwriters Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot (and other filmmakers) take mercy on our senses and return to the focused storytelling of the film that started it all, The Curse of Black Pearl. It’s all relative, of course, and this fourth film — “suggested” by Tim Powers’ imaginative novel On Stranger Tides (from which the film takes its title and a few ideas, but that’s about it) — doesn’t fully abandon the bigger is better approach. Although Rosso and Elliot saddle Johnny Depp’s already larger-than-life Captain Jack Sparrow with mermaids, zombies, Blackbeard and the Fountain of Youth, at least this time the script doesn’t feel like the product of a kid’s attention deficit in a candy store.


quick review - Resident Evil: Afterlife

Say what you will about Paul W.S. Anderson, but he’s no hack. Among the directors who repeatedly pilfer from the Washowskis for stylish, well-staged, effects-laden action, he carves a nice B-movie niche for himself in much the same way Roger Corman did with horror flicks. However, while Anderson might be skilled enough as a director to offer some tantalizing adrenaline rushes, he isn’t much of a writer and the Resident Evil series fall victim to the sequel’s curse of diminishing returns. Consider the fourth entry off the assembly line, Resident Evil: Afterlife; a series of extended action sequences loosely connected by an illusory plot. The villains are not characters but boss levels in a video game dropped in when slaughtering zombies, or faceless Umbrella Corp soldiers, becomes tedious. There’s a hooded hammer-wielding giant borrowed from a rejected Silent Hill character sketch, thrown in without explanation. There’s superpowered Umbrella Chairman Wesker (Shawn Roberts, who makes the classic villain’s sneer seem dull), who survives an entire army of Alice clones…and more. And around these villains are characters – the word almost needs quotation marks – like Ali Larter’s Claire Renfield and series protagonist Alice, played by Milla Jovovich as if she fancies herself a better actress in a better film. Although Afterlife tries to hit the usual post-apocalypse survival motif, by the end of the film it’s clear that audiences have been duped by the attempt to confuse non-stop action with plot and character. Dispensing with asking questions, let alone answering them, characters are left in essentially the same lurch at the end of the film as they were in the beginning. Of course, the inevitable cliffhanger promises more to come. But remind me: what’s the rational for Umbrella Corporation’s continued operation in a world without an economy, without a consumer base, without any form of social order? A better question: does Anderson even care anymore?


Not Your Ordinary Music Fest: ‘This Is Drop Dead’ : THE FRONT PAGE ONLINE

For nine years, New York and other cities around the world have played host to a scrappy DIY bacchanalia dedicated to drinking up, as the official website puts it, “Art in every aspect of Life.” Still young and independent enough to be considered underground, unlike other DIY-fests that have since sold out, the Drop Dead Festival (DDF) has become an international showcase of iconoclastic musicians and artists from a scene that might loosely fit under the umbrella of goth/death rock/punk if its members didn’t often achieve a more singular, category-defying individuality. Enter This Is Drop Dead, a documentary that presents a snapshot of the 2006 DDF in New York, by cinematographer Jessica Gallant and Theatre of Ice co-founder Brent Johnson. From the DVD cover: “Sixty-six bands. Three days. One Festival.”

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Bin Laden is Dead, Bin Laden Lives On : THE FRONT PAGE ONLINE

The death of Osama Bin Laden prompted me to revive The Recreational Nihilist, beginning with thoughts of a long dead, but still famous, Greek king and general.

"King of the Greek Molossian tribe during the Hellenistic era that spanned from 323 B.C. to 146 B.C., Pyrrhus of Epirus was considered by Hannibal himself to be the time’s greatest military commander, perhaps second only to Alexander the Great. He was a staunch and able opponent to the Romans, as demonstrated in encounters such as the Battle of Asculum that pitted roughly equal forces against each other. After two days of fighting, Pyrrhus achieved victory through a strategy of using light infantry to draw Roman forces out into the open and pit them against war elephants and special troops. Eight thousand Roman soldiers were killed. Among the Greeks, the losses amounted to 3,000, including officers. Pyrrhus is reported to have said, “One more such victory and we shall be undone.” Today, of course, the general lends his name to the term Pyrrhic victory — a victory achieved at a very high cost, enough to make the success rather pointless."

Read the rest here: Bin Laden is Dead, Bin Laden Lives On : THE FRONT PAGE ONLINE