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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Nicsperiment's 2016 Summer Break Movie and TV Show Mini-Reviews

It's been too long since I've done one of these, and with 2016 halfway through tomorrow night, it's time to take account of everything I've seen. Also, for some reason, this set of reviews begins with a bunch of 9/10's. I don't know how that happened. Also, did I need two commas in that second-to-last sentence?

10 Cloverfield Lane -- 9/10
Balls out psychological suspense in a completely unpredictable film--it's a film that can go anywhere at any moment and essentially does (Ed. note, yes, that's what "completely unpredictable" means). Can't wait for more films in the Cloverfield series.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi -- 9/10
It's a shame that critics let politics get in the way of a film that doesn't. This is a noble dedication to the brave men who fought and died that night, and easily the best thing Michael Bay has done since The Rock was released 20 years ago.

The Americans: Season 4 -- 9/10
More slow burn intensity from the best TV show of the 10's.

The Angry Birds Movie -- 6/10
Drug along on family night, I was prepared to completely hate this, but beyond all of its juvenile antics are some very clever lines, i.e., "I don't think these Pigs are kosher.

The Big Short -- 9/10
Cuts between fictionalized drama and documentary to make last decade's stock market crash easily understandable...and sensationally entertaining.

Bates Motel: Season 4 -- 9/10
Bates finally becomes the great show fans always knew it could be, with focus shifting entirely to the central conflict of Bates vs Bates, and away from silly side-plots. Awards shows are popularity contests, else Farmiga and Highmore clean up this winter.

Captain America: Civil War -- 7/10
Speaking of "winter" and "central conflict," the plot of this overstuffed superhero film just doesn't work, relegating Captain America to a supporting player in his own film, and as someone who can lie to and hurt his friends instead of the moral "do what's right at all costs" First Avenger.

Central Intelligence -- 5/10
One of the most average movies I've ever seen: not bad, not good, not that funny, not that exciting, reasonably entertaining, but completely forgettable.

Deadpool -- 7/10
Not as revolutionary as its marketing department would have you believe, but a lot of fun. It makes the most out of its small budget with a couple of great set-pieces and a career-defining turn by Ryan Reynolds.

Ex Machina -- 8/10
(Starting with the same word again) Not quite the straight up masterpiece that its first 20 minutes promise, but certainly one of the best movies ever made on artificial intelligence. Can we please stop making smart robots before this really happens?

Green Room -- 10/10
Man, these reviews are feeding into each other nicely because this is absolutely a masterpiece, a violent masterclass in "trapped in a room" filmmaking. If this doesn't blast into cult status post-Yelchin's unfortunate demise, the world isn't fair...wait, crap.

The Jungle Book -- 5/10
Personality and emotion-free journey into one of the most beautifully realized CGI worlds ever created. They should have started the film when Mowgli was a baby, instead of diving in after everything that would connect you to the character has already happened.

The Nice Guys -- 9/10
Hollywood doesn't make low-key, non-CGI infected action movies like this anymore...except this one. The chemistry between Crowe and Gosling is magnificent, as they hang out, joke, try to solve mysteries, and get into scrapes and all kinds of mischief--PLEASE MAKE ANOTHER ONE OF THESE, WARNER BROS!!!

The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story: Season 1 -- 9/10
A staggering work, capable of incredible empathy, and a nice redemption for showrunner, Ryan Murphy. The only thing keeping it from perfection is a single scene that (perhaps accidentally) implies that the prosecution stumbled into getting O.J. to try on the gloves because of a spurned sexual encounter between the two lead prosecutors.

Sicario -- 4/10
I just watched this overrated movie, and I can't think of anything to tell you about it. That/s about the most damning thing I can say, beside perhaps, "this movie killed my parents."

Spotlight -- 9/10
I love the metaphorical title here, as this true-story film shines a light on the Catholic Church's priest pedophile cover-ups of the last half-century. Its just-the-facts tone may lack artistry, but its clear storytelling and respect for the subject material more than make up for that.

The Visit -- 8/10
The first decent movie M Night Shyamalan has made in well over a decade. It's a ton of fun, scary...and maybe...just maybe...there's a twist.

X-Men: Apocalypse -- 8/10
Man, I am feeling at odds with the critics a lot these days...maybe these new millennial reviewers want something different from a movie than I do? I love Bryan Singer's X-Men movies, and he brings the same feelings of fun and teamwork (along with smoothly conveying the loneliness and isolation the mutants always feel below the surface) that he's brought to all of his X-Men entries to Apocalypse.

The Witch - 9/10
A low key, pitch-black horror film that isn't afraid to get as dark as it wants to be, yet is subtle throughout much of its run...til that crow starts feeding. Not a film for those who lack patience--this movie takes its time as it builds its suffocating atmosphere...this has been a good decade for horror films.

Zootopia -- 7/10
If you can get past its heavy-handed "we're all the same and carnivores don't even have to eat herbivores" moralizing, this is a fun little movie, with a great, diverse score by Michael Giacchino.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Launching Today: Dreamcast Reviews!

I really like to blog about things only three or four other people care about, and that is why, today, June 27, 2016, I have started Dreamcast Reviews, a blog dedicated to 1999-2001's Sega's Dreamcast. I have made it a point this decade to blog about the media that is important to me. Dreamcast certainly's awesome!!!
This summer, I'll be focusing on a series of review face-offs between Dreamcast fighting gamesr, and the first is between the highly esteemed Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike and Street Fighter Alpha 3.
So to the three other people who care about this: I hope you some how stumble upon this website.
Go, Google, Go!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

For Some Reason I Have Started Yet Another Blog

It's Saturday, and that means it's time for me to start another blog. This time it is dedicated to the one and only Sega Dreamcast, which had the greatest run of any video game system that was only produced for two years. I posted a tribute to the Dreamcast here over five years ago, and my fondness has only grown since then. Hey, why not make a blog?
Launching on Monday, June 27th. it's the Dreamnaysium...or Hall of Dreams...or just Dreamcast Reviews...or something. I haven't made the final call yet, but whatever it's named, it's coming on Monday.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Ninety Pound Wuss -- Short Hand Operation


Man, I hate to write my last Ninety Pound Wuss review with a negative bent, but Short Hand Operation is a bit of a disappointment. Frontman, Jeff Bettger aka "Jeff Suffering," promised at the album's release that it is "quite possibly…the best record I'll ever record." That's an unfortunate statement that can generally only come from someone who is young and naive. Short Hand Operation isn't even the best record that Ninety Pound Wuss ever recorded.
Referencing my previous 90lbWuss review, an album's cover can be revealing. In this case, the cover is an unmemorable garble of words, representing a largely unmemorable album. Short Hand Operation offers a lot of uninteresting, nearly mid-tempo songs--at least mid-tempo for 90's punk and Ninety Pound Wuss. Very little stands out from a musical perspective, as it seems the band have largely abandoned the variety found in their sopohmore album, Where Meager Die of Self Interest. That previous album was unpredictable, going from light-speed punk, to sludgy grooves, to hardcore face-breakers. Despite Suffering's newfound interest in keyboards, everything on Short Hand Operation feels by-the-numbers...
Except, "Nostalgia," a lovely oddity that features a melodically sung chorus(!), and the wistful instrumental "It Seems So Far Away," which evokes exactly the feeling of its title. These two songs run back-to-back, an island of aural pleasure surrounded by a sea of musical gray. There's a cool lyrical through-line of longing in Short Hand Operation, with the line "it seems so far away," repeated in different places, but this makes little difference when the listener is bored to tears.
I'm glad that Bettger has stuck to his convictions throughout the years (which any google search will reveal), but I hope he's changed his mind on at least this: He's done better than Short Hand Operation.

1999 Tooth & Nail Records
1. Short Hand Operation 3:09
2. Fulfilled 4:26
3. Torment In Tension 3:14
4. Outbreak 2:21
5. Nostalgia 4:33
6. It Seems So Far Away 4:24
7. Nolo Contendre 3:01
8. Hope 2:35
9. Letting Loose 2:51
10. Not Like Me 1:53
11. Intermediate Laceration 4:59
12. What I Am 3:39
13. Second Stage Of Adolescence 3:06
14. At The End Of It All 3:48

Monday, June 13, 2016

NInety Pound Wuss -- Where Meager Die of Self Interest


Album covers are important, or used to be important. Ninety Pound Wuss' self-titled debut album features a bright yellow cartoon cover, promising fast punk songs and good times. The blue-hued cover for Where Meager Die of Self Interest signifies something...different.
The difference between these freshman and sophomore albums s is heard immediately. Opening track, "Backwards Thinking" starts with an awesome, iconic drum and bass grove that soon adds stabs of guitar and Jeff Suffering speaking in the background...and then all hell breaks loose. The speed-punk of the debut album is here unleashed, but it is far meaner, Suffering's vocals tortured screams instead of the more jubilant yelping of the previous album...but then the song changes gears again. At the minute mark, "Backwards Thinking" falls into a slow, dirty, head-bobbing groove, before reviving the intro and exploding into the punk section once again to violently close the song.
Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of fast, two-minute punk songs here, and while they're darker, some are still a bit fun. Suffering can still give a snotty impression of Johnny Rotten meets Mike Herrera when he wants to, but he and Ninety Pound Wuss are too restless here to do the same thing for very long. This makes for a cacophonously diverse album, featuring Suffering's angriest lyrics yet, many of which seem to breathe fire toward those who would attacks or shun the weak and oppressed. His anarchist Christian ideals are still on his sleeve, but these are undoubtedly the words of a more mature man than the Suffering of self-titled.
Most importantly, though, or most important to me and my friends back when Where Meager Die of Self Interest wasn't a nearly twenty-year old album, there is a song here called "Queen Maggot."
"Queen Maggot" is a microcosm of the entire album, kicking off with another iconic bass and drum groove, punctuated by some cool guitar harmonics. Then controlled chaos breaks out, with Suffering screaling (I don't know, I just made it up) like he's being jabbed in the gut with a lit torch, before the song breaks into yet another sweet groove, slows to almost nothing, then ignites into no-longer-controlled chaos.

To speak more bluntly, there's a huge leap musically and lyrically here. Where Meager Die of Self Interest is a very cool record. I'm a big fan, and I really hope that this band's resume is one day rescued from obscurity. They were cool and different from your stereotypical mid-90's Tooth & Nail punk band. They tried valiantly to push the envelope. I must say, though, that the raw, unrefined vocals are an acquired taste. If you can either get behind them or get used to them, you will most likely enjoy this album. If you can't, you'll probably have to look elsewhere. Also, you'll probably want to skip the next review.

1997 Tooth & Nail Records
1. Backwards Thinking 2:39
2. Broken Circles 1:43
3. The Dawning Of This Night Divine 2:57
4. Queen Maggot 3:55
5. Heresy 2:00
6. Unscarred Act Of Trust 4:16
7. Senseless Accusations 2:04
8. The Party's Over 1:43
9. Sick And You're Wrong 1:38
10. Premonition 3:21
11. Last Time Lost Count 1:19
12. Junk 2:40
13. One Track Mind 2:17
14. Blank Stare 13:30

Friday, June 10, 2016

Ninety Pound Wuss -- Ninety Pound Wuss


I can be and have been dogmatic about certain areas of my life, but I generally like music if it sounds good, regardless of genre. I had friends back in the day who wouldn't listen to MxPx because they "weren't really punk"--they just "sung about girls and stuff." Well, an odd song here-or-there otherwise, that's pretty much true. However, much of MxPx's late 90's work is excellent, regardless of how punk it isn't. Those same friends could not have taken the same tack with MxPx's label-mates, Ninety Pound Wuss, who played just as fast as the Bremerton Bombers (I just made that my knowledge, no one has ever referred to MxPx as the Bremerton Bombers...but we have to ask ourselves...why not?), but actually stood for something beyond teen romance and having a good time. Wuss vocalist, Jeff Suffering, applies his deeply held Anarcho Christian beliefs to the entirety of Ninety Pound Wuss' catalog, "entirety" entailing this self-titled debut, as well. I say "deeply held" because, much like my own religious beliefs, Jeff Suffering, nee Bettger, still holds them twenty years later. This guy means what he is sort-of-singing (he sounds like Johnny Rotten, minus the sneer, but with a heaping-helping of screamy grit), and that passion comes out in the music. Might as well make this two paragraphs.
Bettger and his bandmates certainly sound sincere, even if their 1996 trade-craft can succinctly be described as "fun speed punk." Much like the brightly colored album cover (and corresponding back cover), Ninety Pound Wuss doesn't forgot the "good time" part MxPx was so skilled in conveying, and even if the lyrics do gouge a little more deeply than your typical mid-90's Tooth & Nail punk band completely composed of teenagers, this album is a blast, unlike this run-on sentence. Ninety Pound Wuss would change it up a bit on the next two (which I will review shortly!), but everything this self-titled album is can be conveyed by its eighteenth(!) track, "Something Must Break." It's fun, fast, and chaotic, but it means something.

I would be remiss not to mention my six year-old son's opinion: "Daddy, this is too crazy. Why do all these songs sound the same?"

1996 Tooth & Nail Records
1. Perseverance 2:34
2. Act Up 2:32
3. Girl Song 1:45
4. Telephone Wire 1:32
5. Daylight Savings Man 2:42
6. A.S.D. (Apathetic Selfish Destruction) 2:15
7. Misplaced Society 1:03
8. Shedding Blood 2:20
9. Red 2:42
10. The New Age 2:47
11. Responsibility 2:27
12. Olympia 1:39
13. Legalism 1:23
14. It All Goes Off 1:56
15. Freedom 2:03
16. Cut Throat 2:03
17. Spiritual Small Guy 2:29
18. Something Must Break 1:53
19. I Am (Everything) 2:28

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Why Disney Is Trying to Tank X-Men Apocalypse (A Conspiracy Theory)

Pictured above: Disney

So last night I went to see X-Men Apocalypse. I generally think that Bryan Singer's X-Men films are pretty great, so I was surprised to see plenty of negative advance reviews for Apocalypse, as well as a general sense of negativity in the press. In the weeks leading up to the film's release, the newsfeed under my e-mail seemed to have a negative story on Apocalypse daily. As all of Singer's previous X-Men films have received strong reviews, this seemed quite strange to me. Still, I have seen every X-Men film in theaters, even the mostly bad non-Singer ones, and I decided I wasn't going to sit this one out.
Within the first few minutes of Apocalypse, I found that I was enjoying the film just as much as the other Singer X-Men films. Halfway through, I wondered what all the negative talk was about, and found myself waiting for the film to get bad. By the end, I was grinning, and most of the nearly sold out audience I attended the film with was applauding.
So what gives? Why does this film have a negative aggregation of reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (under 50% of reviews reported as positive), when Captain America: Civil War is at 90% positive?
I've seen Civil War. It is a mess. I don't think it is a bad movie, but the conflict between its two main characters feels forced and unbelievable, the film suffers from a glut of characters that renders its titular protagonist a bystander, and its climax finds Captain America acting wildly out of character (I am referencing an unnecessary and cruel lie that Captain America tells a friend when it is quite clear that such a lie is no longer necessary).
I can see someone objectively enjoying Civil War more than Apocalypse, but 42% more? That's ridiculous. The Cinemascore's for Civil War and Apocalypse are, respectively, A and A-. Cinemascore measures audience reaction to films. It can turn in some head-scratching results at times (the new Alice in Wonderland also has an A-), but it is generally the best unbiased indicator of a film audience's opinion of a particular film's quality.
It is clear that audiences' opinion of Apocalypse far differs from that of the film's early press. Why?
Here's why:
Disney owns Marvel Entertainment, but they don't yet own the film rights to all of Marvel's properties. The most lucrative Marvel franchise Disney lacks the rights to is X-Men. The film rights for X-Men are owned by 20th Century Fox. Every cent that an X-Men film earns is a cent that Disney doesn't get. Disney likes to get cents. They have everything to earn by Fox's X-Men films tanking. Not only does this give more box office priority to Disney's films, but it brings Fox this much closer to selling the film rights to X-Men. And who is waiting there to scoop them up?
That's right. Disney paid to have negative stories and negative early reviews for X-Men Apocalypse planted in the media. Later reviews will generally follow the thread of previous ones.  Before you know it, X-Men: Apocalypse, a comic book film just as good as all the recent Disney-produced comic book films that have received positive reviews, is sitting at 48% on Rotten Tomatoes, and "only" making $80 million over the holiday weekend.
Disney is one step closer to taking over the world.